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Students bring prefabrication and custom design together in an innovative house for Habitat for Humanity


Artist's rendering of the Habitat for Humanity house design. Artist's rendering of the Habitat for Humanity house design.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Dec. 2, 2008 – Prefabricated housing has long been stigmatized by "cookie cutter" dwellings that offer limited spatial quality, but two recent Virginia Tech graduates have worked with faculty to design and build an innovative house for Habitat for Humanity that takes advantage of the prefabricated housing process while providing all the attributes of a custom-designed home.

The house is scheduled to be loaded Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 a.m. at the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies Research and Demonstration Facility on Plantation Road, and placed at the home site on Montgomery Street in Cambria (Christiansburg), Va., beginning at 9 a.m.

The house is part of the undergraduate thesis project of Dan Gussman of Williamsburg, Va., and Brandon Lingenfelser of Blacksburg — two recent graduates of the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech.

Their faculty advisors were Joseph Wheeler, AIA, associate professor of architecture, of Blacksburg, and Robert Dunay, AIA, T. A. Carter Professor of Architecture, of Blacksburg. Research developed in two other projects is brought to this project for the New River Valley Habitat for Humanity: the international Solar Decathlon Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, and a house for ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition .

Helping Gussman and Lingenfelser on this project were Adam Elsea, a fifth-year architecture student from Roanoke, Va; Alden Haley, a fifth-year architecture student from Glen Allen, Va.; and Kalen Cannady, a fourth-year architecture student from Norfolk, Va.

This design includes two modules that are fabricated at the school’s research facilities. Each module was completed with as much of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing work as possible in place prior to transport to the home site. These modules will be placed on the site with an open space between them, then a volunteer crew of students and citizens from the community will frame the connecting floor, walls, and roof between the two modules. That middle space will accommodate an entrance, dining room, living room, and outside deck.

An important aspect of the design strategy is to have as little professional skilled work to be done on-site as possible in an effort to best utilize the volunteers who are routinely involved in the construction of Habitat for Humanity houses. This design/build research into prefabrication employs techniques to maintain superior quality control, stays within severe funding limits, and reduces time of construction on the open site. It is intended to provide a house of unique statue and image while remaining true to the Habitat for Humanity spirit of building.