This week marked the grand opening for a very unique pavilion raised by TimberHomes Vermont last summer. At the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts, trustees, patrons, and nature lovers gathered to celebrate The Ramble, a new section at the gardens created with children and families in mind. A lavish gala was held in The Ramble, where guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a lively conversation amidst one of New England’s botanical hidden gems.
TimberHomes’ contribution to this innovative new space was a 24’x33′ timber frame pavilion constructed of white oak and easter white pine. Solid hardwood posts rise up from stacks of stone, and soaring braces intersect with elegance purlins roofed with intricate cedar shakes. The pavilion is adorned with copper gutter and rain chain, and slate-colored fascia frames the perimeter of the roof in a way that echoes the surrounding natural landscape.
But what makes this pavilion most unique is its roof. While technically a variation on a gable, one of the simplest roof shapes, the pavilion roof at The Ramble changes pitch along its length, resulting in a twisted slope that feels at once astoundingly mathematical and strikingly organic. One might call to mind visions of an autumn leaf or simple camping tent when gazing upon this marvelous timber frame. For being made of such rigid materials, it looks as lightweight as a feather falling slowly from the sky. To stand beneath its irregular shape gives the feeling of being truly outside in the natural world while sheltered from the elements by the very materials of which nature is comprised.
TimberHomes was contracted by R.P. Marzilli Landscape Professionals to build this feature of The Ramble. On a mostly sunny week in early July, a team of four traveled down to Boylston, MA and completed this raising in under a week. Working long days in gorgeous summer sun, the crew assembled the bents in a staging area and then brought them up to the site where they were fixed to concrete piers. Both massive bents were up by the end of the first day, and purlins and braces were on by the end of day three. One the fourth and final day, while Tropical Storm Elsa dumped over 2 inches of rain on the crew, they heroically decked the entire roof and finished just as the storm was passing and sun was coming out. These kinds of intense, rewarding raisings are the kind of work this crew lives for!
To construct this complex twisting-pitch roof, the purlins needed to be cut individually according to its location on the roof. A series of saw rips were made on the top face of each purlin, and then that face was planed down until all that remained was a perfectly helical face on one side of an otherwise perfectly square timber. On the underside, oddly shaped housings were cut so that the purlins would fit onto the bent plates at an angle, again each one custom according to its unique position in the frame. Tedious checking and labeling was required to ensure that these unique timber frame elements made their way to site and onto the pavilion in the correct order.
As the crew packed up on Friday afternoon, trees still dripping from the day’s rainy deluge, it was difficult to envision the finished gardens given that the pavilion was more or less in a field of mud, The Ramble not set to open until the following year. So, when the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill invited TimberHomes to its ribbon cutting this spring, a visit was in order. What had once been a mud pit with stacks of masonry stone and half-developed park features lying about was transformed into a beautiful spring garden that looked as though it had been there for decades. Guests were treated to a variety of gourmet snacks and cocktails, and the gardens’ CEO and president of the board of trustees gave a speech commemorating the vision, mission, and work that brought The Ramble to life. A paif of very cute youngsters in springtime dresses enthusiastically cut the ceremonial ribbon, officially opening The Ramble. TimberHomes’ involvement in this project was cited by many as our favorite job last year, and it is the hope of the company that many more opportunities to build unique timber frame pavilions will present themselves in the near future.