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Freshman Architects Erect Community of Micro-Dwellings at Sculpture Park

Students construct sections of a micro-dwelling in the Materials and Methods Shop in Parker Hall. Photo: COURTESY OF DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published April 21, 2011

“They’ve gone from drawings and models to building a full-scale project.”
Christopher Romano, Clinical Assistant Professor

Freshman architecture students from UB have designed and are building a 96-foot-long string of wooden micro-dwellings in Griffis Sculpture Park that will open to public later this month.

Assembly of “The Living Wall” will conclude next week and students, faculty, other members of the UB community and invited critics will gather for an opening reception and dedication at 1 p.m. on April 29 at the main entrance of the sculpture park at 6902 Mill Valley Road in East Otto, Cattaraugus County.

The installation will stay up for at least 18 months, and visitors will be able to climb on, over and through the interconnected micro-dwellings. Click here  for information about Griffis Sculpture Park.

“Creating a full-scale structure gives first-year students an opportunity to see, firsthand, what the design and construction process is like from start to finish. They’ve gone from drawings and models to building a full-scale project,” says Christopher Romano, clinical assistant professor and one of four coordinating faculty members overseeing the students’ work.

The other faculty members are Shadi Nazarian, clinical associate professor, and Nicholas Bruscia and Matthew Hume, both adjunct assistant professors.

This year’s Living Wall, which consists of 12 micro-dwellings, is the second of its kind. Last year’s freshman class erected a similar community of tiny buildings, but faculty members say this year’s project will be distinct for several reasons:

  • Last year’s Living Wall was straight. The shape of this year’s wall is closer to that of a boomerang, with a bend in the center.
  • Some of the pods that form this year’s wall are about 12 feet high—significantly higher than any part of last year’s wall.
  • This year’s wall contains a wider variety of geometries, with some individual units incorporating curved or pyramidal forms.

Working in groups of six to seven, about 80 students were tasked with creatively transforming uniform, wooden volumes measuring 6 by 6 by 8 feet to incorporate an entrance, day lighting, natural ventilation and a minimum of five sleeping spaces.

The collaboration required at every phase—from design through construction—is giving students a taste of what the profession of architecture is like in the real world. Teamwork is a critical skill for architects, who must work not only with each other, but with clients, engineers and contractors as well.

The students currently are fabricating their projects in the architecture department’s Materials and Methods Shop in Parker Hall on the South Campus. After assembling the structures at Griffis, members of each group will spend 24 hours living inside the creations.

Occupying the spaces will give students a better understanding of the successes and shortcomings of their designs, the faculty members say, adding that building and inhabiting a common structure also helps to instill a sense of community among freshmen, who will be learning and studying together for three more years.