May 20, 2005
Vol. 35, Issue 9
Back Issues
Graduates embark on caring, creative courses
Bulloch takes circuitous route
2005 Sullivan Awards
Aunspaugh Fifth-Year fellows in studio art
Whitlow blends photography and writing to create a new form of graphic novel
Phan relies on father's advice: 'Education is the key to survival'
Research trip to China helps student decide between career as scientist or physician

A-School students get big picture through outreach program

McIntosh learns from patients, follows their stories
Taite creates permanent home for Nicaraguan Orphan Fund
McDonald founded U.Va. chapter of Innocence Project that frees the wrongly convicted
Claudia Aguilar is an advocate for Hispanic/Latino students
Welch giving physics new energy through creative teaching methods
Wise grad paving way for siabled students
Education grad Michael Townes puts his newfound faith into action
The Center for Undergraduate Excellence is where students thrive
Numbers make sense to her
Student film documents foot soldiers in Virginia's Civil Rights Movement
Korean-American student shares journey to self-discovery
Few can keep uo with this Jones


Hands-on involvement
A-School students get big picture through outreach projects

ecoMOD House
Model of the ecoMOD house students designed this year.

By Jane Ford

Developing plans to clean up a polluted river or hammering out the design for a sustainable, low-income modular house — these are two examples of hands-on, humanitarian experiences the Architecture School offers students.

Committed to bringing together the four disciplines taught in the school — architecture, landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning, and architectural history — classes offer valuable, collaborative opportunities to bring about change in Virginia communities.

“We have a unique strength combining the disciplines with outreach efforts and a very strong design ethic that not many other institutions combine,” said Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen.

Architecture students’ work and faculty research are engaging communities in outreach initiatives in an unprecedented number of undertakings. During the spring semester alone, projects such as ecoMOD in Charlottesville and MUCK, along the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, have allowed students to collaborate with communities and local organizations. The projects are lessons in how planning and design fit into the bigger picture of the built and natural environments.

“Outreach is one of the opportunities the school has in which to fulfill the mission as a public university,” said William Sherman, chairman of the architecture and landscape architecture department.

The Architecture School is partnering with Charlottesville’s Piedmont Housing Alliance to design and construct three sustainable, modular, low-income houses during the next several years. Twelve students in the fall semester and 20 this spring worked on the design of the first house. The focus of the initiative is on optimizing energy efficiency, integrating environmental site strategies and developing cost-effective prefabricated building materials and techniques. The project is run like a small architecture office with students responsible for every aspect of the design, fabrication and construction of the house. During the summer, students will construct and fabricate the modules for the first house design in a hangar at the University’s Milton Airport. By the end of August, they expect to be installing the modules on a lot in Charlottesville’s Fifeville neighborhood. The second year of the project will be devoted to a detailed, student assessment of the house, which will include monitoring its energy efficiency; and a post-occupancy evaluation that will include interviews with the owners, the neighbors and PHA.

The ecoMOD system is intended as a prototype that can be adapted by manufacturers or homebuilders for use in other markets in the mid-Atlantic region, said John Quale, assistant architecture professor and founder and director of ecoMOD. Faculty and students from the departments of architecture and landscape architecture, planning, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are participating.

The polluted Elizabeth River, which flows into the Chesapeake, runs through both a dense industrial corridor and an urban area that includes the cities of Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach clustered on its waterfront. Julie Bargmann, associate professor of landscape architecture, introduced students to revitalization issues along the river in her class, which she dubbed “MUCK,” in honor of the dirty state of the river and its clean-up process. The 10 landscape architecture design students and eight planning students were required to create schemes that inspire the community and neighborhoods to care for and provide access to the river, which in many instances is fenced off due to the contamination. They worked closely with the nonprofit, community-based Elizabeth River Project to generate proposals for promoting ways area industries can co-exist with communities and adopt ecologically sound revitalization practices.

The student projects included a habitat walk, featuring a floating garden that addresses water quality and demonstrates local ecologies; a canoe trail with watershed learning stations; a proposal to celebrate the river’s 400-year history of shipbuilding by creating a registered national heritage site; the creation of a “green map” for boaters on the Elizabeth River — part of the intercoastal waterway, which extends from Norfolk to Key West, Fla.; and a port expansion that would allow public access to the shore and wetlands by placing the port structure out in the water, rather than at the shore.

“The most amazing thing to see is when it clicks [with] the students that what they are doing is relevant,” Bargmann said. “That’s one of the best things I can do for them before they leave.”

ecoMOD – modular/sustainable low-income housing
Meredith Epley
Meredith Epley
Photos by Dan Addison

Fourth–year architecture major Meredith Epley said ecoMOD is more “rigorous” than other design courses “because you have to actually make the design work. I learned so much about the technical aspects of building. We, as students, took the responsibility for everything that has gone into the house. I feel so much more prepared to work in an architecture office” now.The ecoMOD experience also validated her belief in green architecture. “I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to design sustainably.”

Thomas Holloman
Tom Holloman

Tom Holloman, a graduate architecture major in the ecoMOD studio, praised the effort on a number of levels, such as the balance of the academic side of architecture with community involvement, the “realness” of the project and the opportunity for undergraduates and graduates to work together. “The collaborative effort of 20 strong-minded individuals who have good ideas increases the design and provides multiple options. In the end, it’s not a compromise, but an evolution of an idea through different people’s hands.”

Marilyn Moedinger
Marilyn Moedinger

Fourth-year architecture student Marilyn Moedinger believes that architects have a social responsibility to their communities and the world. For a few weeks each summer, she and her family travel from their home in Lancaster, Pa., to work as volunteers constructing low-income housing in the coal-mining regions of West Virginia. This summer her dad will join the ecoMOD fabrication and construction team for a week.

“I am sure he will take away ideas to apply to his work in West Virginia,” she said. “I have lots of ideas myself — nontraditional ways of doing things, more energy efficient and ecological ways of doing things.” A lesson learned from the project is that “affordable housing does not always include traditional design tools and can be accepted when the community is involved. Working with the neighborhood association, she said she was impressed with the give and take of ideas on both sides. “They were not scared off by the more modern design solutions” we presented.

MUCK – The Elizabeth River Project

Alan Aukeman
Alan Aukeman
Photos by Dan Addison

Graduate landscape architecture student Alan Aukeman applauded the opportunity to work with the Elizabeth River Project organization, which he said, gave a “different dimension to the project.” Sharing design solutions and ideas for working on neighborhood scale issues
exposed EPR to areas and solutions along the river that they had not previously considered, Aukeman said. “It’s an education for them and an education for us.”


Courtney Spearman
Courtney Spearman

“Working in a real-world setting makes it more compelling,” said graduate landscape architecture student Courtney Spearman. “The combination of practical skills we get in classes and the creative thinking we are encouraged to do will make me a better job candidate,” she added. A designer who is interested in history, Spearman also is currently pursuing a master’s degree in architectural history. Her Elizabeth River design involved a strategic action plan to influence planned development along Scott’s Creek that would link the new plans with the historic neighborhood and aging infrastructure.

Matt Robbie
Matt Robbie

Graduate planning student Matt Robbie, who previously studied planning for toxic brownfield developments, was attracted to the interdisciplinary aspect of working with landscape architecture design students and the ERP. “Planners can be point people to connect lots of different perspectives. The experience gave me a better idea of what the designer’s perspective is,” he said. Robbie’s project to create “waterhoods,” based on tributaries within neighborhoods that run into the Elizabeth River, was a continuation of previous work on watershed planning he did as a graduate assistant at U.Va.’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation. That effort, to assess Charlottesville watersheds and develop a strategic action plan for the city, garnered him and 11 other students in IEN senior associate Karen Firehock’s class, an award from the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association. Of both experiences he said, “The opportunity to work on a project that’s tied to an organization or government is incredible, and the opportunity to work on something as a team is a big part of it. It’s a taste of what it’s like to be a planner.”


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