Students: Designing Sustainably and Building Sustainably

Students Learn the Difference Between Designing Sustainably and Building Sustainably

American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) at Lawrence Tech University in Southfield MI has partnered with other community organizations in order to give something back. A sector of the student organization known as Freedom By Design recently completed a shed to replace a damaged existing structure for a struggling family.

The project was designed by current students studying at LTU. The design was then approved by the Southfield Building Inspector, and was built by the students at the Detroit Carpentry Joint Apprenticeship School. The project provides the students with real world experience and the opportunity to implement their education and skills. According to one of the students working on the project “As a group Freedom by Design considered using reclaimed materials for the shed construction. Since we were working with the Detroit Carpentry Joint Apprenticeship School for the construction of the shed and we wanted the shed design to blend in with the context of the neighborhood brand new and traditional building materials made the most sense” (Ellen Rotter). Additionally, the project closely follows a tight budget, practical design and build ideas, as well as attempts at sustainable design. Budget, as well as practicality, cause limitations with sustainability. Therefore, the students must be creative in their design solutions and resources. This project taught the students involved that, occasionally, sustainable attributes are easier applied in design than in actual applications.

Initially, the students had intentions of reusing as many elements from the existing structure as possible. However, due to practical reasons, it was necessary to purchase all new supplies. For instance, reusing any part of the existing shed would require earlier replacement and maintenance to parts of the shed. Therefore, using materials that will age at the same rate is a practical build decision that must outweigh the sustainable design ideas. Material selection included Texture 111 that is a 4’x8′ sheet of OSB and finished on one side to look like wood. OSB is a wood product and therefore rapidly renewable. Oftentimes, OSB is manufactured using the waste of other manufactured wood products. The shavings, chips, and other small, unusable parts are glued together to create OSB sheets. These sheets were primed to be ready to paint on site. The concrete for the foundation was donated by Superior Materials in Farmington.

The completed shed served as wonderful learning experience for all the students involved. The students involved in the AIAS were able to gain knowledge of the limitations of sustainable design. The experience will help the students understand future struggles with sustainable design and ensure probable design solutions. They will be able to incorporate appropriate sustainable solutions to differing project levels.

For more information, visit:

Samantha Smigelski