Students to design, build home in new, multidisciplinary initiative

Mark Clayton

Mark Clayton

Students from all disciplines at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture will design and build a single-family residence during the 2012-2013 academic year in a subdivision near downtown Bryan as part of the new collegewide Real Projects initiative.

“Architecture, construction science, visualization and landscape architecture and urban planning students and faculty will all contribute in a truly interdisciplinary effort,” said Mark Clayton, a professor of architecture who is spearheading the project with other faculty.

Students are partnering with the Brazos Valley Affordable Housing Corporation to design and construct a home in the Falls Creek Ranch subdivision, a relatively undeveloped area with a rural flavor approximately three miles northwest of downtown Bryan.

“The project will provide students with a learning experience focused on public service and environmental sustainability,” said the Real Projects proposal put forth by 15 faculty members representing all four of the college's academic departments.

To spotlight the initiative and recruit student participants, a Real Projects Inception Symposium will be held 7 p.m. Sept. 12, in the Preston Geren Auditorium. The project launch will include a panel discussion with project faculty and college administrators.

The yearlong project, Clayton said, will provide students with first-hand experience in all stages of creating a structure. Architecture students engaged in the project will address energy-efficient building design, construction science students will learn about scheduling and cost estimating, and planning and land development students will learn about regional, global and societal impact of development.

“They will learn in a professional, practical setting, breaking down the notion that 'school' is different from the ‘real world,’” said the project planners. “Students will understand that what they learn can have great value in their activities as an employee, entrepreneur and volunteer.”

Instead of devoting entire courses to the effort, Real Projects is structured so that interdisciplinary material is introduced into existing courses to strengthen departmental curricular objectives rather than replace them, said Clayton.

This fall, design students will learn about residential construction methods and create digital models of the house, construction science students will perform a “green” construction analysis of the project and estimate its construction costs, land and property development students will analyze the project from a land development perspective, and landscape architecture students will prepare designs for the home.

Students will also receive diverse, interdisciplinary perspectives in lectures by faculty from participating departments involved in the project, said Clayton.

Construction will begin once the site preparation and permit acquisition has been completed by the BVAHC. During the winter break, students enrolled in the Real Project mini-mester course will continue building the home.

“In the spring semester, we’re hoping a construction science student, as an intern with BVAHC, will manage subcontracting for the electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, roofing and other skilled work,” said Clayton. “Student groups could also perform some subcontracts, such as drywall, painting and landscaping. And, by May 2013 the house should be ready for sale.”

The home will be made available to buyers who qualify via income and other factors, said Clayton.

Faculty who created the proposal view the 2012-13 effort as the first in a series of Real Projects with a strong component of social service to disadvantaged populations, which may include building more houses, landscape features or small buildings, and monitoring the energy use of completed homes.

The initiative, said the proposal, also addresses the profound societal challenges of meeting the housing needs of the estimated nine billion people that will be on the planet by 2050 while simultaneously reducing buildings’ energy use.

Real Projects, its creators said, will challenge students to make wise decisions in a timely way to accomplish the clear objective of building a structure in an intensive, project-based learning approach.

The initiative is funded through a college reallocation of funds directed toward high-impact learning, specifically service-based community projects.

posted August 9, 2012