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Living Laboratory Spirits of Thoreau and Corbu guide students on cabin project by Urs Peter Flueckiger
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Thoreau was particularly mindful of the cost of the shelter that he built for himself, going as far as to document the price of all his materials. Beyond reminding us of the cost – both financial and environmental – of our marks upon the landscape, Thoreau’s experience offers the lesson of knowing the value of building with one’s own hands. At Texas Tech, the Design Build studio requires students to learn about the strength and resistance of a particular material, the requirements of tectonics, and structural integrity. For two semesters they’ve exchanged the computer and the mouse for the nail and the hammer. The project is supported by a grant from the Texas Tech University Research Enrichment Fund and through the generosity of Fred Koch of the Pease River Foundation; F. Marie Hall; John Dea of Dea Doors and Windows; Mike Harendt of MBCI Metal Buildings; Rex Neitsch of EcoBlue; and Larry Harvey, AIA, of Chapman Harvey Architects. Flueckiger is an associate professor in the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University.
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Images by Urs Peter Flueckiger
As our planet’s reserves of water and energy sources become increasingly limited, architects must develop forms of architecture that incorporate – even celebrate – sustainability design practices. Toward that end, my students at Texas Tech University are engaged in an ongoing project that focuses on a variety of solutions. The result is a living laboratory designed for the harsh microclimate of Foard County about 45 miles west of Wichita Falls. This project proposes to construct a prefabricated dwelling as a model of sustainability, a laboratory to test and quantify sustainable architectural concepts. For example, the performance of a solar panel will be tested and measured, and the data collected will be compared to the performance of competing products. In that way the Prefabricated Dwelling as a laboratory will produce data on sustainable components, materials, and water harvesting technology that will help future architects to make crucial and lucrative design decisions and help them to envision how to retrofit existing homes with sustainable technology. Historical precedents for this project are the cabin Henry David Thoreau erected at Walden Pond near Concord, Mass., and Le Corbusier’s “Cabanon” at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in southern France. Both projects are studies of the minimal spatial needs for living. Furthermore, they are examples of structures that successfully relate to their sites and to specific environmental conditions. Both projects were built under significant budget constraints, which are seldom considered in the design studios of our architecture schools.