The Center Playhouse

The Powell Center for Construction and Environment (PCCE) recently demonstrated the potential utility and natural beauty of deconstructed building material for reuse in a new structure. A children’s playhouse using these materials was crafted in July 1999 to benefit the Children’s Expo Museum of Gainesville in their annual fundraising raffle. Local building contractors and a building construction school also submitted playhouses to the raffle.

Local response to both the design, but more importantly the quality of the material was impressive. The PCCE’s playhouse generated by itself a third of all donations. One family alone purchased approximately $80 in tickets in an effort to win the playhouse. The value that the community placed on the playhouse made of deconstructed material versus the new material of other structures was at its closest an outstanding two to one in ticket sales. This translates into approximately $2,100 in ticket sales for the reused materials versus the closest new material structure at $1,100. As this was a custom design the project costs associated the labor were substantially higher. Material costs, however were almost one half to two thirds of their new costs.

The Design

The structure’s design was inspired by the staff’s memories of tree forts and their simple aesthetics; clear geometry, classic forms, and a fully expressed structure. An interior escape hatch with rope ladder through the elevated deck enhances the feeling of the structure as a “fortress of solitude.” Additionally, amenities such as the bucket and pulley enable critical supplies (i.e. lunch from mom) to be easily transferred to the elevated platform ensuring the security of the fort’s occupants.

The Material

Heartpine today is extremely rare as it is cut from old growth Long Leaf Pine Trees. Most of these trees were cleared from the Southeast at the beginning of the twentieth century. Heartpine was prized by early settlers for its natural insect resistance and straightness. Today salvaged heartpine is equally appreciated for its deep red and amber hues and may sell for a premium if sold in the right market.

The heartpine lumber, (2 x 4’s, 2 x 6’s and 1 x 3 decking) was donated by Robert Pearce and taken from deconstructed additions to his 1917 home. Surprisingly, the deconstructed heartpine lumber took only an afternoon to plane and rough sand. Finnish sanding and the rounding of all wood edges occupied the greater portion of finalizing the project. No wood stains were used on the structure. A water sealer/repellant was utilized with great suPCCEss as this greatly enhanced and magnified the natural red and gold color of the heartpine. Of special note is the use of the deconstructed roofing fabric. The synthetic, translucent material was originally taken from the deconstruction of the pneumatic University of Florida O’Connell Center Gymnasium roof. A year after its deconstruction and subsequent storage in an open field the material was easily cleaned and in excellent condition.