Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Desert Lab

Many of you may be familiar with "Sambo" Mockbee's Rural Studio, an offshoot of Auburn University's architecture program that allows students to learn through the process of actually designing and constructing low income homes in rural Alabama.

Well, a similar design/build laboratory framework has been established by Mary Hardin at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her and her students are exploring alternative construction methods (rammed earth, paper bale, straw bale) in order to develop affordable housing options for local communities.

The program grew out of an initial project to construct a new classroom facility for the University's Athletics and Recreation Department. Since that time, students have already built multiple structures with methods they developed and tested themselves, including the Habitat for Humanity Straw Bale House pictured below.

Habitat for Humanity Straw Bale Residence (model and interior).

Prof. Hardin has also used the rammed earth techniques explored in the program to design a project with the Dean of the College of Architecture, Richard Eribes. The result is a striking and energy efficient design that blends perfectly with its desert surroundings.

The Elser House was constructed using rammed earth techniques.

The design/build method employed by both Auburn and the University of Arizona present exciting possibilities for moving architecture schools away from merely theoretical exercises and toward more practical experiences and applications. The socially responsible focus of both these programs is also refreshing, as the emphasis on bringing good design to affordable housing is long overdue

Via Land+Living.

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