Built by Hand
A lot of courses claim to be hands-on, but for students in Professor Joseph Trumpey’s Green Building class, it’s no exaggeration.
That’s because Trumpey’s Art & Design course, which is cross-listed in LSA’s Program in the Environment, required students to apply the information and skills they learned about sustainable building practices to construct a brand-new building at the U-M Biological Station in Pellston by themselves.
“Students are anxious to engage in hands-on learning,” says Trumpey.
During the winter semester, Trumpey’s students explored how conventional “green” methods compared to the environmental impacts of natural building methods. They visited several sustainably built structures in Southeastern Michigan, and they learned how to safely use tools.
Top image courtesy of University of Michigan Biological Station
During the month of May, Trumpey’s class put their new skills to work by breaking ground on the Straw Bale House at the Biological Station, the first student-constructed official U-M building in 100 years.
From sunup to well after sundown, the crew toiled six days a week working on everything from the foundation to three heavy coats of earthen plaster. They raised posts and beams and trusses, and they installed the roof, windows, and doors and a large wraparound deck. They milled lumber for the project using logs Trumpey salvaged from U-M’s Ann Arbor campus. They also installed their own handmade ceramic tiles.
The class proudly noted that they were the first majority-women crew to build any building in U-M’s history.
“Students were excited that they would make something of value that potentially has a very long life span,” says Trumpey. “They learned that it is possible to have buildings that are constructed around a set of sustainability values that resonate with their own values, and they developed a keen eye to critique a building based on how it relates to its site, the sun, energy, people, materials, and its carbon footprint.”
The Straw Bale House, U-M’s first fully off-grid and solar-powered building, held its opening festivities on May 28, 2017. The event was attended by dozens of appreciative members of the Ann Arbor and Northern Michigan communities.
“It was inspiring to see the students’ passions develop, along with their dedication to the project,” says Trumpey. “They learned the pride that comes from making something. They developed a strong relationship with each other and also with the building. They developed myriad new confidences—everything from hammering, power tools, team work and communication, to thinking larger than they had before.”
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