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The University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum is a celebration of the diversity of Minnesota’s natural resources, both inside and out.

The almost 90,000 square foot facility, located on the U’s St. Paul campus, features four different exhibit areas — space, evolution, the future, and Minnesota’s biomes, a planetarium, and four large classrooms. The museum’s grounds include a geology exploration area, solar and weather stations, and landscaping with native wildflowers, grasses, and trees.


The building, by the Minneapolis studio of Perkins and Will, also features sustainably sourced building materials from across the state, including thermally modified white pine from Cass Lake by Duluth, Minn.-based Arbor Wood Co.

Arbor Wood provides thermally modified wood, primarily sourced from the United States’ North Central forests to designers, architects, and makers across the country. 


Thermal modification is a process that replaces the use of chemicals to enhance an inapt wood species performance with heat and steam so it is suitable for a multitude of applications both indoors and outside,” says Kelly Bartz, president of Intectural, which curates and distributes innovative, sustainable architectural materials, including Arbor Wood. “The high heat modifies the cell structure of the wood and makes it highly resistant to rot while greatly reducing expansion and contraction.”


Arbor Wood was used to clad the exterior of the museum as well as some interior embellishments. 


“Perkins and Will was researching thermally modified wood and came across our process,” says Bartz. “They wanted to ensure they could domestically source and produce the product in Minnesota, all within 500 miles of the project and we were a perfect fit.”

While the species used wasn’t a standard product in Arbor Wood’s product line at the time, the company sought out a source for the white pine and was able to ensure all of the white pine used in the project was harvested, sawn, kiln-dried, thermally modified, milled and installed within the project's requirements.


“While all wood species are affected by thermal modification, they don’t all respond the same,” says Bartz.


The company traditionally works with hardwood, such as ash and red oak which, through multiple cook temperatures, darkens in color and brings an unexpected tropical look to the lighter indigenous wood species.


“White pine is a softer wood and because of the amount of sugars in it doesn’t darken the way our other products would, but that was what Perkins and Will was wanting,” says Bartz. “What they achieved is incredible. The exterior of the building is so dynamic.”

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Editor at The Forum, Mortarr

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