WholeTrees Architecture & Structures engineered and fabricated 560,000 pounds of tree trunks and branched timbers for the wooden columns and spanning trusses in the new Festival Foods Store that opened in early April in Madison, Wis. The store features 12 ash columns and 86 round-timber trusses culled from local parks due to infestation from an invasive and lethal insect.

An emerging Madison-based products and technology company, WholeTrees provides an incentive for healthy forest management by taking what would otherwise be forest waste and transforming it into a highly valued construction material. The company used scanning technology to digitize diseased ash trees as part of the development of a digital forest inventory software platform.

“The partnership between Madison Parks Department, WholeTrees, and Festival Foods has been an excellent example of how the city can work in concert with business to benefit both the private and public sector,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. “Festival Foods is graced with incredible pillars of reclaimed ash trees that needed to be removed because of Emerald Ash Borer, and in return the city received a monetary contribution for treating ash trees in a nearby city park.”

“We are excited to be a part of this green application of low-value trees in commercial construction,” said Otto Gebhardt, CEO and founder, Gebhardt Development, the project owner. “For our anchor tenant, Festival Foods, this beautiful structural product leverages their brand and appeals to their customer base.”

“The Festival Foods Store is the first of its kind,” said WholeTrees CEO Amelia Baxter. “These columns are supporting heavier loads than natural and branched timbers have ever been engineered to support; and the trusses are spanning longer lengths and holding more weight than tapered natural timber has ever achieved in 21st century construction.”

The load carried by the largest round-timber trusses is 29,000 pounds, with the longest truss spanning 55 feet; 200,000 pounds of service load is supported by the entire WholeTrees structure.

A service load of 200,000 pounds is supported by the entire WholeTrees structure.

“The use of an inverted gable truss in the Festival Foods grocery store was a natural solution,” said Roald Gundersen, AIA, principal architect/co-founder, WholeTrees. “The ash trees were selected from distressed stands to solve the engineering solution, but to also reflect the ‘native character to environment’ as [Frank Lloyd] Wright would have described it, and to keep the structure ‘married to the ground.'”

The design and engineering provided an efficient solution and beauty in repetition as the wood contrasts other steel elements in the store. In addition, the trusses were delivered to the structure with a five-degree camber, which aided in the efficiency of installation.

“Now that [WholeTrees products] are installed, there hasn’t been anything particularly tricky about the installation compared to normal construction,” said Bill Pennoyer, lead project manager at Tri-North Builders, which acted as the general contractor on the project.

WholeTrees has developed a proprietary manufacturing process with patented structural components, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant program. This process allows WholeTrees to cost effectively source and manufacture the small, unwanted portion of trees removed from routine forest thinning, such as diseased or invasive trees (called small-diameter round-timber).

Festival Foods Project Team

Owner/developer: Gebhardt Development, Madison
Architect: Bark Design, Madison
General contractor: Tri-North Builders, Fitchburg, Wis.
Structural engineer: Fink and Associates, Madison
Structural advisors: Forest Products Laboratory, Madison
Structural components: WholeTrees Architecture & Structures, Madison

According to the USDA, next-generation lumber and mass timber products are becoming the latest innovation in building. New technologies and building systems have enabled longer wood spans, taller walls, and higher buildings, and continue to expand the possibilities for wood use in construction.

“WholeTrees was founded to bring a new material — natural whole timbers — to 21st century construction markets,” Baxter said. “Our proprietary production process and grading technologies add value to this surplus resource. WholeTrees creates a profitable relationship with trees and encourages healthy forest management.”

Information provided by WholeTrees Architecture & Structures (wholetrees.com), a woman-owned business with pending Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) certification. WholeTrees provides architectural services for custom applications of timber in construction; engineering and consultation; project management and subcontracting; and research and development of technologies that enable the forest products industry to sell round-timber.