February 9, 2009

The Tulane University School of Architecture recently broke ground on their fourth URBANbuild prototype home. The URBANbuild program was started after Hurricane Katrina as a collaboration between a Tulane design studio led by professor and local architect Byron Mouton, and the Neighborhood Housing Services. NHS is a nonprofit organization that obtains the building lots, establishes the budget for each URBANbuild project and eventually finds a family to live in the student-built structures.  Essentially, NHS is the students' "client," and for better or worse, this forces the design studio to deal with many real-world issues that they wouldn't normally confront in architecture school.



Each of the three previous URBANbuild homes were designed around a particular construction technique: the first was stick-built; the second was built using metal framing construction; the third home, the construction of which was document on the Sundance Channel television show Architecture School, was built from Structural Insulated panels (SIPs). In this new 1,200 sq ft prototype, students are exploring methods of sustainable construction, with the goal of earning LEED silver certification. The home's sustainable features include low-VOC paints, Low-E insulated glass, reflective roofing, a solar shutter / hurricane shutter system, and LEED conforming HVAC systems. The basic form of the fourth prototype is relatively simple compared to the previous homes, but it will be activated by the impact-resistant shutter system that's been designed to provide shade, privacy, and security as required by the future residents.


Those who saw the Sundance show know that the URBANbuild process works something like this: each student in the studio designs a home over the course of one semester, after the final critique an in-studio vote decides which design will be built and that home is constructed by students over the course of the following semester.

Despite their ostensibly contemporary design, each of the the URBANbuild prototypes is inspired from an understanding of traditional New Orleans vernacular architecture, and the fourth prototype home is no exception. Its basic form, high ceilings, front stoop, shutter system, and even the exterior materials can all be traced back to the more traditional homes in the Central City neighborhood. As New Orleans continues the painfully slow process of recovery, it's inspiring to see a university working so closely with a nonprofit agency to bring thoughtful, progressive design that helps improve lives and restore neighborhoods.


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