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Three Cheers for the Three Little Pigs
by Lora Hart

The Story | Do Something | Pictures

Who knew that manufacturing their homes of materials they found right under their pretty pink snouts would put those porker’s on the cutting edge of a revolution in natural building? Students of The Rural Studio, an extension of the Auburn University Architecture program, knew when they chose to emulate the porcine models of straw-bales, used bricks and furse-y sticks for their fifth year thesis project.

Amy Holtz, Andy Olds and Gabriel Comstock began to explore the properites of waste corregated board (a fancy way of saying cardboard) as a building material in their second year during the planning stage of a charity house they were constructing for that years’ class project. “The production process for corregated containers is not 100 percent efficient” says 22 year old Andy Olds. “When boxes are produced, waste material is created. This material is baled and usually recycled, but when the cardboard is treated with wax to make it more water resistant it is difficult to recycle and sometimes ends up in landfills.” Although they didn’t choose to use cardboard for that assignment, the research they accumulated came in handy when the opportunity arose to design and build a student housing pod for their collaborative thesis.

The object was to utilize an unknown building material and discover how it would perform in a real life setting. Would the product resist sun damage, insect infestation and settling? Only time would tell, but they found that the structure was sound and very well insulated one day during a tornado watch. Many of their fellow students gathered in the pod to weather the storm and all agreed that it would take more than a big, bad twister to blow their house down.

And the project didn’t end with the completion of the thesis. Their next step is to design a canopy structure for the Akron Boy’s and Girl’s Club using reinforced blast-concrete as a protective skin on the cardboard bales. According to Gabe Comstock, not only is the reused cardboard a beautiful construction material which adds a unique design eliment, but building with it is a step in the right direction of environmental architecture. “We cannot continue to clutter the planet with excessive buildings and seas of asphalt without expecting a negative outcome”.

All of the fledgling architects are commited to promoting the use of “green” building practices. The split-benefit of following a career in environmentally friendly architecture gives the students the perfect opportunity to blend their chosen field with their social conscience. Keeping their eyes on the long term prize, these designing undergrads are learning how to keep America beautiful while not buying into the nasty “use it and loose it” attitude our fast-food generation has helped to foster.

“All in all I wouldn’t give up this experience for the world” offers Amy Holtz. “Everything is what you make of it and we at the Rural Studio are making the best of everything we have and giving it back to those who need it”.

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