23, No. 3, Aug. 7, 2003
Student-built home intended to be catalyst for community
Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
(217) 333-5491; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
world experience Students
of UI architecture professor Osman Ataman designed
and built a house in East St. Louis, Ill.
If they build it,
residents will come.
That was the hope of 18 seniors and graduate students from the UI School
of Architecture who last semester participated in a hands-on building
project perhaps best described as a modern-day barnraising with a twist.
Under the guidance of architecture professor Osman Ataman, the students
took their design-studio experience to the streets – or more precisely,
to a largely vacant lot – in the Alta Sita neighborhood of East
St. Louis, Ill. There, they built a two-story, single-family home –
the first of many that Ataman hopes eventually will be built on the
site in a community that has been fighting the effects of urban blight
for many years.
Construction on the house was completed in early June. And the residents
did indeed come in the end. The house was sold through a local developer
to a low-income family from the area. The home was built for the most
part, Ataman said, by “enthusiastic but unskilled labor”;
exceptions included plumbing and electrical work done by professional
The actual construction of the house represented the final phase of
a nearly yearlong design-build project, organized as part of the university’s
East St. Louis Action Research Project. Since 1990, the community assistance
and development program has brought together students and faculty members
from the School of Architecture and departments of landscape architecture
and urban and regional planning to work cooperatively with East St.
Louis residents to address immediate and long-term community needs.
Last fall, Ataman’s students visited the building site and met
with members of the Alta Sita Neighborhood Association, which purchased
the four-acre parcel of land intended for the housing development. Students
created their own individual designs, following design specifications
requiring the homes to be between 1,500-2,000 square feet in size; one
to two-and-a-half stories, with two to four bedrooms; and a construction
budget of $103,000 or less.
“Though each group member developed their own design, it was not
done in a competitive sense,” Ataman said. “No one design
was better than another – just different. All of the schemes developed
by the students are doable, well-designed housing units.”
Ataman selected a design by graduate student Kasey Kluxdal, Elgin, as
the conceptual design for the house. However, he said, as the process
evolved, input from other students was incorporated into the design,
with the final design representing a collaborative effort.
During the spring 2003 semester, the students worked with Ataman and
the contractor to fine-tune the conceptual design. The work included
creating construction documents, researching various building materials,
redesigning windows and making other adjustments to ensure that construction
came in under budget.
“We made some aesthetic adjustments in order to make the house
fit to the neighborhood context, but still preserved our main design
concept,” Ataman said.
The experience students gained working on the real-time project, with
its built-in assortment of real-world problems and solutions, is invaluable,
“Students learned that design is only a small portion of the entire
project, which also includes [considerations involving] materials, cost,
client needs, environment and context. Everything we talk about, it’s
here. They learned how the architecture profession is run. Some of them
have graduated, armed with the kind of experience they need to set up
their own firms.”