Here’s how the tough lessons of the collapse made us more-responsible builders
Sean Groom showcases three of a America’s top architecture schools that are challenging students to shape the future of home building and design in “Breeding Grounds.” The programs—Rural Studio at Auburn University, ecoMOD at the University of Virginia, and Studio 804 at the University of Kansas—have wrestled with issues that might make good residential design more relevant to Americans: the need to address the cost of housing and the environmental impact of housing. Rural Studio’s 20K House project creates an alternative to mobile homes and offers a housing option to people who don’t qualify for commercial credit. The project takes its name from the highest realistic mortgage that someone receiving the median Social Security check can afford: $20,000. ecoMOD—builds modular houses and remodels houses for nonprofit organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Piedmont Housing Alliance. The program is intent not just on strong design, but on incorporating sustainable features within the budgets of an affordable-housing organization, typically around $150,000 per house. These include tight envelopes, advanced mechanical systems, alternative-energy components, potable rainwater collection, and green roofs. Studio 804 students are getting a crash course in hands-on construction, acting as developers, learning to deal with building departments and state development authorities, managing suppliers, and financing projects. While there is variety in the types and locations of the houses built by these three design/build programs, they all favor passive-design principles and build smaller homes that are resource efficient, make frequent use of recycled materials, and put a premium on energy performance.