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New Homes

"Quilting Bee" New Homes In Hurricane-Devastated Areas


Texas A&M University researchers are using a "quilting bee" approach with other universities and communities across the Gulf Coast to build new homes for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

"We borrowed ideas derived from the southern art of communal quilt-making to help us devise building processes and procedures that fit the culture of the Gulf Coast," says Pliny Fisk, a Texas A&M architecture professor. "Our first building using some of these ideas to help rebuild the area devastated by Katrina started construction in early December, 2005.

"Quilting new homes using community supported architecture - we call it CS-Arch - borrows from the concept of community-supported agriculture, in which farms and communities partner to link production of food with its consumption," he explains. "CS-Arch links community volunteers, construction experts and local businesses to build healthy, locally manufactured housing and other buildings. Once a set of shared procedures has been created, outcomes of such cooperative efforts are economical, environmentally friendly and disaster-safe buildings, resulting in a regionalized building system using a wide range of natural and human resources."

To quilt communities, Texas A&M's architecture department and its Center for Housing and Urban Development have joined with the Austin based Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems Mississippi State University's architecture department and its Rural Town Center, the Healthy Building Network, the National Council of Churches, LZT Architects and EcoRetro Systems to come up with the GroHome Building System. This system uses a finite system of parts that can fit together in an infinite number of ways, much like the pieces of fabric and the patterns of stitching used to make a quilt, and is based on advanced, fast, economical, healthy building methods from foundation to roof. Although the proposal has yet to be fully funded, the finished product would incorporate a wide range of Texas A&M resources and centers, including the construction science and landscape architecture departments, the Center for Hazard Reduction Recovery.

"CS-Arch starts with an inventory of local resources that can be incorporated into the building process, so manufacturing methods, skills and procedures filter economically and strategically into the community from the outset," says Fisk. "By identifying and utilizing these resources, relief that is pumped into the region will continue to circulate locally.

"Next, individual homeowners receive simulation building kits to help them understand basic building procedures and identify the components they need. With the GroHome system, families can start small and expand their homes as the family grows or when they can finance more space. Sequential building allows a household to deal in relatively small financial steps, saving considerable money while building equity for the next level of financing, an important consideration for those who have suffered losses in the wake of natural disasters."

As part of the reconstruction process, Texas A&M and its partners plan to build a series of pre-fabricated community based manufacturing centers to house several scales of production, from complete pre-fabricated homes to small, easily manageable, do-it-yourself building components. However, the GroHome procedure also can be designed to diversify manufacturing beyond the usual modular building system where fabrication occurs under one roof. A set of simple protocols is provided for components to ensure compatibility and performance and enable use of a broad range of building materials and methods. This system of shared structural, thermal and dimensional performance standards allows for a flexible manufacturing network where each shop and trade operates autonomously, so that a number of manufacturers can participate within any region, quickening response and improving the quantity of delivered homes.

"Our first manufacturing center is being started in Jackson, Mississippi," Fisk says. "Part of CS-Arch involves carefully building relationships with local industries so that centers complement, rather than compete with, area businesses."

Although CS-Arch uses local resources whenever possible, it also depends on bringing in experts in issues of toxicology, evidence-based economic design, energy and manufacturing efficiency, and cooperating with citizens.

"Reconstruction of areas devastated by natural disasters offers a fantastic opportunity to use both human and natural resources to the fullest," Fisk says. "In the Gulf Coast, CS-Arch is poised to rebuild a healthy landscape, bio-remediate toxicity and provide management practices to enable nature to continue doing her work. Such an approach will ensure that sustainability becomes embedded in future development."

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Pliny Fisk