Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Design students retrofitting mobile home in Boulder

PROJECT PROVIDES HANDS-ON WORK IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING - An article from the University of Colorado's Silver and Gold newspaper.

July 6, 2006

By Jefferson Dodge
Silver & Gold Record assistant editor

A group of CU students and faculty are retrofitting a mobile home in Boulder in a project that is not only creating attractive, energy-efficient, affordable housing, but also giving architecture students hands-on experience in making their designs a reality.

The approach involves rebuilding a trailer home from its chassis up, using inexpensive and energy-efficient materials, according to Michael Hughes of UCB architecture and planning, who is spearheading the project with several partners in the community and at CU.

Many mobile homes in use today were built in the 1960s or 1970s and are poorly constructed and insulated, he said. But they can also be a valuable form of affordable housing and an example of the "sustainable urbanism" concept that Hughes teaches in his classes. He explained that the term refers to the idea that high-density housing in urban areas can be a good thing when done properly, because it can reduce negative effects from things like sprawl and commuting. "Just because people spend less on a house doesn't mean it can't be a spectacular place to live in," Hughes said. "It's a matter of quality, not quantity."

Hughes and his undergraduate students began working on the inaugural "trailer wrap" project at the end of February, after securing donation of a mobile home chassis that was headed to a landfill and relocating the chassis to a Boulder trailer park. On one afternoon in April, structural columns and new support beams for the home had just been erected, and as students swept up construction debris, Senior Instructor Bruce Wrightsman of architecture and planning explained how tension cables would be used to support the walls. This spring Hughes was overseeing three different crews of student workers, and each crew worked two days a week. He expects to finish with the new home later this summer, and he said the final result will be an aesthetically attractive home with more interior space than a traditional trailer.

Hughes said the project not only teaches students about sustainability and creating sound architecture, it allows them to test their designs by actually constructing the project themselves. The trailer wrap also benefits the community, since it provides a model for generating affordable housing, with construction costs for the first project estimated at around $35,000.

Partners in the project include Thistle Community Housing, which donated funding; the Mapleton Mobile Homeowners Association, which donated the lot; and UCB facilities management. In addition, funding for the project was provided by the UCB Outreach Committee, the UCB Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement, the office of the vice president for academic affairs and research, the UCB service-learning program, the architecture college and the Children, Youth and Environments ( CYE ) Center for Research and Design.

Willem van Vliet, director of the CYE Center in the architecture college, said the trailer wrap project fits well with his center's mission, which involves working with the design profession and related fields to contribute to the health, safety and welfare of children and youth. He said the project is not just a demonstration of the feasibility of creating low-cost housing using sustainable methods and materials. It also is a prototype of experiential learning, in which students "can apply skills they learn in the classroom in the real world while addressing the local need for affordable housing," he said.

If the project is successful, the model may be expanded beyond local needs. Liane Pedersen-Gallegos, director of ethnography and evaluation research in the UCB Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences, was involved in early talks that led to the trailer wrap project. Pedersen-Gallegos, who has been involved in efforts by the American Friends Service Committee to construct housing at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, said a UCB student showed van Vliet an e-mail message Pedersen-Gallegos had sent regarding living conditions and the need for affordable housing at the reservation. "They have two or three families in a trailer house, and those houses are uninsulated and have black mold," Peder-sen-Gallegos said. That's when van Vliet brought Hughes into the discussion. "Michael ran with it," Pedersen-Gallegos said. "The history is very interesting, but Michael's the one who's done all of the hard work."

Whether the project will take off and become a model for a larger-scale affordable housing operation to benefit areas like Pine Ridge remains to be seen, and Pedersen-Gallegos said she has not even asked the Oglala Lakota Sioux at Pine Ridge if there would be interest in such a project there. But if there is, it wouldn't be the first time CU has been involved with a Pine Ridge project. Pedersen-Gallegos said that in 1969, faculty from UCB sociology helped create a baseline study of living conditions at Pine Ridge, which is located in what has historically been one of the poorest counties in the country. In addition, Pedersen-Gallegos said UCB faculty helped establish a tribal college at the reservation in the 1960s, Oglala Lakota College. "If we can bring it full circle, that would be wonderful," she said of the possibility that CU could help Pine Ridge once again.

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