A recent Time magazine article (30 Sep 2013), discusses Rural Studio, an arm of Auburn University’s architecture department. The reason the article caught my eye is because the Auburn program was the model behind a Utah program called DesignBuildBluff or DBB.
DBB started out as a NGO (non-government organization) under the tutelage of Hank Louis, a Park City UT architect with ties to the University of Utah and Colorado University. The organization has recently been turned over to the UofU. Because DBB works exclusively on the northern end of the Navajo Nation, I have occasionally interacted with the NGO. DBB uses graduate architecture students to design and construct unique houses for Navajos with a housing need.
Rural Studio has designed and constructed many different forms of infrastructure including churches, libraries, boys and girls clubs, and market stalls. They often use unusual materials, including carpet tiles and hay bales. And they also give visiting students a chance to work on ultra-low-cost $20,000 homes.
According to Andrew Freear who oversees Rural Studio:
We worked out, if there was a conceptual mortgage, what people on the lowest incomes would be able to pay every month. And that equated to $20,000.
One of the important secrets of constructing such a low-cost home is: local knowledge. According to Time author Belinda Luscombe:
A basement is cheap to build in the Northeast because the foundations have to be set deep in the soil to avoid frost, so builders know what to do. Muddy, temperate Alabama is another story. Local buildings and suppliers are set up to provide gabled roofs, thus they’re the cheapest. Freear also believes it’s important to acquire materials locally, not just to lower shipping costs and build relations with regional suppliers but also to enrich the community.
While building in southern Utah is going to be more expensive because of the need for better insulation, constructing low-cost functional homes is certainly a worthy goal.
Making homes water and energy efficient is also an important goal.