Penn State students help create affordable, sustainable housing in State College

Owning a home is often considered part of living the American Dream. But as housing costs have risen, that part of the dream has become more and more unattainable. Instead of just talking about the problem, Penn State architecture and engineering students and faculty decided to become part of the solution and have received a USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) Central PA Chapter Leadership award for their efforts.

In 2014, they began GreenBuild, a collaborative project with the State College Community Land Trust (SCCLT) that would lead to the construction of affordable, energy-efficient homes for two State College families, laying a foundation not just for the families’ future, but for the future of housing in the area. The GreenBuild duplex, located at the intersection of University Drive and Royal Road in State College, is the first place winner of USGBC’s “Innovative Project, Residential” award. Initially designed by students as a class project, the homes attempt to offer solutions and lead to the construction of affordable, energy-efficient homes in State College.

“Rather than just talking about why housing is so expensive, the question became, ‘what can we do to create affordable housing?’” explained Chris Hazel, 2017 graduate with a master of architecture degree, who is working as a research technician in the Energy Efficient Housing Research (EEHR) group, an outreach arm of the Hamer Center for Community Design in the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

The net zero-energy duplex was originally designed for the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Race to Zero Student Design Competition, where the students won awards for Design Excellence and Systems Integration Excellence. Architecture faculty Lisa Iulo, director of the Hamer Center for Community Design, and Scott Wing, associate dean for academic affairs and outreach in the College of Arts and Architecture, served as faculty advisers, along with Ali Memari, professor in the College of Engineering and Hankin Chair of the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC).

The students’ competition entry evolved into a real-life project thanks to partnerships with SCCLT, West Penn Power Sustainability Fund, Henry Architecture and Design, Paul Macht Architects, Weber Murphy Fox, the Borough of State College, community members, and Envinity, Inc., a local green design-build firm that won the bid to construct the duplex.

After breaking ground in June 2017, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in May, and the families moved into their new homes in July. Construction along the highly visible thoroughfare generated excitement about the project and, in turn, sustainable design, leading to frequent visits from curious stakeholders, news crews, and community members.

Faculty in the Stuckeman School are looking to leverage the educational takeaways in the classroom. Hazel maintained a construction blog documenting the project to completion in order to share processes and teach best practices. Iulo is already developing ideas for new projects and collaborations with SCCLT and other regional housing organizations.

“Engaged scholarship projects like this epitomize the best of Penn State, bringing together teaching, research, and outreach,” said Iulo. “The positive impacts and opportunities of this collaboration are many, and I look forward to continuing to work with students, colleagues, and community members on future projects.”

Peg Hambrick, SCCLT chair of GreenBuild, said she is pleased that the project has generated a lot of buzz about housing that is both affordable and energy-efficient.

“When we started the project, some people questioned whether building one duplex would make a significant contribution to the affordable housing market,” admitted Hambrick. “Since we have completed the building and opened the project to professional and community visitors, I hear comments about applying GreenBuild’s concepts to their own projects. I am confident that this prototype has sparked interest in building green throughout the Centre Region and beyond.”

The team, including Penn State representatives, will attend the USGBC awards ceremony in Harrisburg on Nov. 1.

For more information about GreenBuild, visit the SCCLT website at http://www.scclandtrust.org/greenbuild.html.

 

Media Contacts: 

Stephanie Swindle Thomas

Work Phone: 
814-865-8113

Public relations, College of Arts and Architecture 

Last Updated September 10, 2018