One of the Life Sciences Building’s most striking features is the beautiful columns of wood that run the entire height of the building. Visible through LSB’s expansive, glass exterior, even casual pedestrians can’t help but stop and marvel at the wood’s beauty. So, where did the wood come from? You might be pleasantly surprised (and pleased) to learn that UW Biology’s own Principal Lecturer Scott Freeman and partner Susan Leopold Freeman made this beautiful project possible.
Conservation has strong roots in the Leopold-Freeman family. Susan Leopold Freeman’s father was Aldo Leopold, one of the founders of the modern conservation movement. His books have sold over 2 million copies and continue to be a guiding force for the environmental movement today. Growing up with such a rich history of conservation, Scott and Susan continued their family’s legacy and bought an 18-acre tract along Tarboo Creek, a little salmon stream on the Olympic Peninsula. They joined a network of community groups, including local elementary schools and government agencies, already working on 4,000 acres of watershed.
Scott and Susan later acquired an additional 160-acre tract on the Olympic Peninsula. Named Carl’s Forest in honor of Susan’s father and plant biologist Carl Leopold, the land is protected by a conservation easement and is managed for sustainable timber harvest. In Carl’s Forest, Scott and Susan saw an opportunity to collaborate with the Life Sciences Building project. Enormous Douglas fir trees stood tall in a 7-acre stand. At over 100 years old, they were among the first trees to grow after the old growth was cut in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Scott went to the LSB project managers and offered them use of the wood.
After a few initial meetings and ideas, one idea stood out above the rest – to install the wood along the entire height of the elevator core. The question then became, “how do we transfer 115-year-old Douglas firs from the Olympic Peninsula to Seattle?” With invaluable support from Paul Mahan, the wood was logged, transported, and milled by experienced professionals. Architecture firm Perkins & Will used a computer numeric control tool to digitize a map of Puget Sound and carve it into the wood. They also blackened the map with charcoal to create a stunning installation. All the pieces came together to form what essentially became a work of art, one that will be seen by tens of thousands of people.