Students Design Habitat for Humanity House to be Built

During the fall semester 2007 fifth-year undergraduate architecture students, Dan Gussman and Brandon Lingenfelser, have been working closely with representatives from the New River Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity on the design of a new house to be built. The house is one part of the students’ undergraduate thesis project that entails design research with faculty advisors Associate Professor Joseph Wheeler, AIA and T. A. Carter Professor of Architecture Robert Dunay, AIA. They intend to provide Habitat with an innovative house that expands the research and application of prefabricated construction, and utilizes the building of the house as an educational tool for students of the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech. This project benefits from research that was developed in two projects for the Solar Decathlon Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, and a house for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover/Home Edition.

Decidedly in opposition to conventional modular construction where the two parts of a house are seamed together to create a “double wide” home, the students’ design takes advantage of having the two modules by creating an open space between them that serves as an entrance, dining and living room and outside deck. Currently the team of faculty and students are seeking material donations, and are working with Habitat for Humanity to finalize materials costs between $35,000-$40,000.

During the winter/spring 2008 semester a team of students, faculty, and professionals from various trades will construct the two modules of the house at the college’s Research & Demonstration Facility located off Plantation Road. Each model will be completed with as much of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing work as possible prior to transport.

In late spring the modules will be transported to the site. A volunteer crew of students and citizens from the community will frame the connecting floor, walls, and roof between the two modules. An important aspect of the design strategy is to have as little professional skilled work to be done on-site as possible in an effort to best utilize unskilled volunteers who are routinely involved in construction of Habitat For Humanity houses. This design/build research into prefabrication employs techniques to maintain superior quality control, stay within severe funding limits, and reduce time of construction on the open site. It is intended to provide a house of unique statue and image while remaining true to the Habitat spirit of building.