New project aims to design, build, sell a new residence annually

Students in the "OregonBILDS 2" studio at the University of Oregon are designing prototypes for a series of classes that will design and build a residence every year, with profits from each unit's sale to feed a fund to make the program self-perpetuating.

A grant from the UO Meyer Fund for a Sustainable Environment helped to launch the idea.

While design-build options in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts have existed for decades, they've focused on pavilion-type projects. Associate Professor Rob Thallon's studio series, with a goal of annually designing and constructing a building with a complete envelope including functional systems, aims to change that.

"Students need to understand the integration of all the systems that go into a building -- the insulation, plumbing, heating, cooling, all those kinds of things you don't get when you’re doing a pavilion," Thallon says.

The studios will design up to five residences on a .3-acre site in west Eugene. It's hoped that construction of the first unit will begin in January 2014 on the donated site. Thallon is actively seeking community partners and investors.

The class series will bring together architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture and product design students. It will serve students at both UO and Lane Community College (LCC) in Eugene.

"We'll involve students from LCC's advanced technical training program in the design process so there will be a lot of cross-fertilization between Lane and Oregon students," Thallon says. Lane's program trains carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

"OregonBILDS" — Building Integrated Livable Designs Sustainably — will extend through the academic year. In fall, students will design the house, apply for permits, and develop a schedule and budget. Construction and further studio work will take place in winter and spring, and possibly into summer.

The Meyer Fund for a Sustainable Environment awarded Thallon $26,000 in 2010 after he submitted a grant proposal entitled "A Sustainable Model for Residential Design-Build Education." The grant enabled him to research other academic institutions doing what he envisions at UO: building one housing unit per year. He found just three: the University of Kansas, Tulane University and Yale University. He visited each, learning about legal and financial implications, risk issues and other concerns. He then spent a year assembling the curricula.

"OregonBILDS" will incorporate existing courses. "We're not trying to build a brand-new curriculum (but) we are looking toward potentially some sort of certificate program," Thallon says.

"OregonBILDS" likely will be organized as a nonprofit and initially plans to partner with NEDCO, a community development corporation in Springfield, Ore., that will help to identify and qualify buyers for the homes, which would sell between $150,000-$275,000.

The price will be kept low by a number of factors, starting with the donated site. "We get the land effectively for free and we get lots of free labor," Thallon says. "We get (other expenses) back when we sell it, and that’s what keeps our program rolling."

The program aims to consider all aspects of best practices in sustainability, from the building size to distance from mass transit. "We will want to make it a really good design," Thallon says. "We're not making a building for the sake of making a building."