The Catholic University of America

March 26, 2015

With Removal of Trailers, Architecture Course Reconsiders Waste

 
  A trailer leaves campus in early March.
 

For many years, Brad Guy, assistant professor of architecture and planning, has taught a course on how waste can be reconsidered as a resource in architecture. Normally the class would travel to abandoned buildings and similar work sites in surrounding states.

This semester, his class was able to meet on campus.

When Guy learned in summer 2014 that the 26 manufactured houses that make up the Curley Court residences for the last decade were going to be removed, he contacted staff from the Office of Facilities to arrange for his students to work in several of the buildings before they were hauled away. He wanted them to engage in deconstructing the trailers so they could carefully consider the materials and why they were used.

Being able to take apart a building on campus was the “largest deciding factor” in choosing an architecture elective, said Lillian Heryak, a master of architecture student from Cleveland, Ohio. “When I heard the course would involve deconstructing the trailers, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn in an environment outside of the traditional lecture or studio-based classroom setting,” she said.

The purpose of the course is to help students understand construction waste and how to minimize it — not only through reclamation of materials, but also by thoughtfully considering materials when designing and constructing buildings that may, in the future, need to be deconstructed.

 
Lillian Heryak (with dolly) helps to load furniture on a truck for Community Forklift.
 

After taking the course, students should also be able to describe the process of deconstruction and the principles of design for assembly/disassembly, and be able to plan for the reuse of materials in non-traditional ways.

In architectural drawings, “there’s always a disconnect between how the architect thinks the materials go together and how the contractor recommends to build them,” said Kaitlin Eckenroth, an architecture graduate student from Providence, R.I.

“I wanted to learn how the building materials go together in this context — why the builder chose these materials, and how I would do it differently,” she said. “What effects do the materials and construction methods have on the living space?”

The students sought to recover as much of the building materials as possible for reuse from one unit. They will design and build an exhibit from these materials. This exhibit will be used to promote the School of Architecture and Planning’s programs at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference to be held in Washington, D.C., in November 2015.

Through the process of taking one unit all the way down to the floor structure, students uncovered the unique aspects of manufactured housing construction — minimizing materials-use while maximizing sturdiness for transportation from the factory to a site.

Heryak indicated that she and her classmates were surprised by some of the building materials and the difficult process of deconstruction. “We came across staples, nails, and screws which were never meant to be removed and materials which weren't designed to be reused,” she said.

In addition to deconstructing and salvaging 1.5 tons of materials for their project, Guy and his students facilitated the donation of more than 7 tons of furniture and appliances to Community Forklift as well as beds to a local organization that provides shelter for veterans who are homeless. Community Forklift is an organization in nearby Edmonston, Md., that collects building materials to keep them out of landfills, and instead, resells them at low cost to the public.

The Office of Housing Services helped to donate additional surplus furniture to Community Family Life Services and other local homeless shelters.

“There are too many people sleeping on the street in this city to not try to find uses for our surplus furniture,” said Mary Kate Zabroske, assistant director of housing services.

 
  Student Andy Tran works to deconstruct a trailer in Curley Court as part of Brad Guy's architecture and planning course.

Guy said he enjoyed working with his students on these campus structures, and hopes to have the opportunity to do so again in the future. Through deconstruction, they are able to treat buildings on campus “more gently and creatively” than with traditional demolition, he noted.

The trailers were hauled away at a rate of about two a day beginning the second week of March. When the University posted about it to social media, hundreds of alumni commented, liked, and shared the news with their friends. Many fondly recalled which trailer they had lived in and tagged their roommates and friends they met while living there.

Once all the trailers and walkways are removed, the site will be restored to its original condition as a gently sloping lawn. This restoration is scheduled to be completed by mid-May. At that time, Heryak will graduate from CUA with her master’s in architecture.

“As an undergraduate, and now a graduate student at Catholic University, it has been exciting to watch the campus change and grow over the years,” she said. “This deconstruction project has been a rewarding experience to finish my six years at CUA.”

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