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Peaceful resolution with environment

November 21, 2008 12:36 am


Insulated concrete form walls were built by Quinn Construc-tion of Glen Burnie, Md. Windows are key to the design. hhaikido7.jpg

This rendering shows the completed studio. See more at hhaikido1.jpg

A crane operator prepares to lay a structural insulated panel, or SIP, on the new building's room trusses. hhaikido3.jpg

Structural insulated panels are stacked up at the studio job site. The pavilion in the background was completed earlier.


At a construction site on Hickory Ridge Road in Spotsylvania County, the emphasis is on harmony. The new building going up there, called a dojo, is for the study of aikido, where students will learn the Japanese martial art based on the individual living in harmony with his or her surroundings.

But that's only the half of it. The entire project, from the land on which it sits to the roof that will top it off, is designed to blend with nature and have minimal environmental impact.

The project is moving toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation through its use of green construction techniques. The accreditation identifies it as a healthy place to be, and capable of energy savings that will help defray the initial costs over time.

It is a harmonious combination, and one that organizer and chief instructor Aviv Goldsmith hopes will set a green example and boost his student body as well. He currently operates a studio elsewhere in Spotsylvania.


"It all starts with the site," said Goldsmith. He began work on it four years ago, calling on the Williamsburg Environmental Group, which fashioned an enviro-friendly site. It includes shallow basins that become temporary ponds to capture rainwater and let it seep into the soil, and native vegetation planted as a bio-filter for the runoff.

Goldsmith said he plans to capture remaining runoff from the building in barrels for reuse.

The effort has won an innovation award from the Environmental Protection Agency and accolades from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

A large portion of the 20-acre site will be mowed just twice a year--but never between April and October--to allow the high grass to hold the soil and absorb water while creating wildlife habitat.


For the studio building itself, Goldsmith knew what he wanted, but to execute his plan he called on architect Jeff Owens. Owens describes his central Kentucky firm as one that designs buildings that blend function, beauty and good Earth stewardship.

"We're trying to blur the lines of inside and outside space so there can be an interaction of activity for the students inside and outside the building," he said. That's accomplished by using large amounts of glass, whether as windows or sliding glass doors.

The building's orientation plays a key role as well. It faces south, allowing it to benefit from the sun's warmth during the winter. Overhangs and trees will limit summertime sun infiltration. By taking advantage of the sun, and the body heat of students engaged in physical activity, little additional heat will be needed.

Owens' firm created a "solar study" that provides a virtual look at how the sun will strike and enter the building over the course of the day, and how that will differ in summer and winter. It also shows where trees should be planted for the most benefit. Visit owensar .htm to have a look.

The building is built on a concrete slab and constructed of rebar-enforced insulated concrete forms. The foam forms are stacked to make walls and then filled from the top with concrete.

The wood roof trusses and framing are from Eagle Rigid Spans, whose Web site points out that it takes 17 times more fossil fuels to produce a ton of steel than a ton of wood. Manufactured wood and plywood that encapsulates insulation provide the strength necessary to create wide-open interior spaces for students to use.

Beneath what will be a light-colored metal roof are structural insulated panels by FisherSIPS that sandwich thick foam panels between plywood sheets.

Continuing the use of concrete, a natural and plentiful building material, the exterior walls will be covered in PermaCrete, a stucco-like product that's stronger and more flexible than concrete to resist cracking after continued freeze-thaw cycles and intense summer heat.

To put it all together, Goldsmith brought in Ian Conrad of Conrad Green Enterprises of Purcellville, one of a limited number of Virginia contractors who handle this type of construction. Conrad said that because of that, he's staying busy during the downturn and now has three jobs going at once.

Goldsmith said all of the construction methods used in the building could be broadened for larger commercial applications, or scaled down for smaller residential projects.


Goldsmith said he used a bit of persuasion to fine-tune the project. He will use conventional but highly efficient 16 SEER heat pumps for a four-zone heating and air-conditioning system. The contractor changed his recommendations, which were based solely on the building's dimensions, once the construction method was dialed into the calculations. Units just half the size that would normally be required will be sufficient.

He negotiated as well with Spotsylvania zoning officials, who based paved parking-lot needs on typical school operation requirements. Instead, the county agreed to a smaller parking area, reducing runoff.

Once construction is completed, Goldsmith's wife, Master Gardener Donna Pienkowski, will take on the strategic landscaping. She will place trees so that their foliage will shade the building in summer, but allow sunshine to warm the building after the leaves drop off.

Goldsmith said he is looking forward to a spring 2009 opening for the building.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

Aikido is described as "a non-violent martial art that focuses on self-defense, personal growth and conflict resolution."

School manager Aviv Goldsmith said the dojo he's building is modeled after the Iwama Dojo in Japan, and aims to harmonize with nature like those in Japan do. But the similarities end there. Japanese dojos are very primitive, lacking the showers, air conditioning and locker rooms that the new dojo will have to cater to American expectations.

Goldsmith emphasized that aikido, while having belts that signify skill levels, is also designed to be a way of living one's life peacefully and in tune with nature.

Goldsmith said he came here after living in Nevada for 17 years because of the climate. He said he could have chosen anywhere in the east-central part of the country, but that the perfect site turned up along Hickory Ridge Road in Spotsylvania County, about a mile south of Massaponax and a mile west of U.S. 1.

He hopes the school will increase awareness of aikido in the area. Through his contacts in the martial art, Goldsmith wants to host international aikido seminars at the site in the future. Visit for a closer look.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.