Sustainable community build projects – The eco house the students built

One of the exciting architectural developments that we’re seeing at this time of year is the rise in student design and build projects. Perhaps it’s a wish for students to get some hands on experience, perhaps it’s just that there is no other work around, or even their energetic minds are eager to do their bit change the world? Whichever it is,  it means  that we are at last seeing some genuinely fascinating experimental builds taking place, not restricted by client’s vision or time frames, but enlivened by a desire to bring exciting, innovative, low-tech structures to the world. And often bringing it to those parts of society that may otherwise have little experience of the benefits that good design thinking can bring.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I’d like to show you a selection of my favourite low-tech design and (student) build projects.

A few years ago i was lucky enough to be filming in Nova Scotia for my TV series Dream Homes; where I interviewed the architect Brian Mackay Lyons, who runs the annual innovative “Ghost” education and build program which harness and fosters some of this design energy. If you haven’t heard of him, check him out – enviable landscapes, stunning buildings.

Closer to Home MA students from the UEL Sustainability and Design course designed and built this community room on the White Hart Lane allotment site in Haringey. The students used only materials they sourced from within 10 km of the site, with 65% of it being recycled. They got  creative with the materials too, using old railways sleepers, bamboo and even estate agents ‘for sale’ signs in the structure (take a close look at the roof soffit). They managed to bring the whole thing in at under their £1,500 budget.

I love it, simple but elegant.

Another group of UEL Architecture students, working in conjunction with St. Luke’s Community Centre, London, designed and built a range of garden accessories. These ranged from functional pieces, including raised flowerbeds and compost bins, to aesthetic pieces such as a tree seat. All the structures were made using recycled scaffolding palettes.

 

Voluntary Design & Build is a really exciting group of young designers who, with the help of volunteers, design and build structures both here in the UK and abroad. They’ve been going for over ten years now and have completed a range of really interesting building projects. Their focus is on producing usable buildings for disadvantaged communities and other not for profit organisations. All of their buildings are bespoke as well as being sustainable.

 

At a time when universities are pricing many people out of education, it’s great to see projects like Samuel Mockbee’s experimental architecture school. The programme gives students the chance to gain first hand experience of building using local and recycled materials. Based in Alabama, USA, the Rural Studio aims to build houses in some of the US’s most disadvantaged areas. Summing up the project’s aim, Mockbee said: “Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place.” If you havent heard of them before – well I insist you take a look at them, truly innovative stuff.

Based in Bangladesh, the HOMEmade programme is aimed at architecture students in both Bangladesh itself and Austria. The aim is to work together with the local people on a model for a sustainable, modern architecture in a dynamic process and hopefully ‘improve the living conditions of the local population and strengthen the national identity while maintaining the current high level of sustainability with regard to home construction’. A worthy project indeed.

 

Back a little closer to home, students from the Sheffield School of Architecture set up a project at the Ecclesall Woods Sawmill to try and promote a creative use of timber in construction. Part one saw the team create a platform from timber, creating a new design language to be employed in other areas. This was followed by part two, which saw them build an elevated tree canopy walkway in the hope of encouraging funding for future construction.

 

What all of these projects show is that young people everywhere are taking a real interest in the buildings around them. They are innovating solutions to building problems using sustainable materials and community-based projects. The future of sustainability and the creation of better spaces lies in all of our hands and the enthusiasm of our minds to make better things .

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