Architecture design-builds benefit students, communities

Architecture design-builds benefit students, communities
Projects in South Sioux City, Ogallala to open this spring

Courtesy photo
Nebraska students work on the Baxa cabin at the Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala.

College of Architecture students are giving back to Nebraska communities by designing and building two new facilities slated for spring completion.

South Sioux City and Ogallala will have their landscapes altered with new structures designed to expand partner amenities and enhance the quality of life of their citizens. Working collaboratively with local, state and private sectors, architecture students are putting the finishing touches this semester on the South Sioux City community orchard multipurpose facility and the Baxa cabin at the Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala.

Jason Griffiths, assistant professor of architecture, has managed and instructed the college’s last three design-builds made of cross-laminated timber, including one in Oregon. For design-build projects, typically the instructor collaborates with a nonprofit partner who is unlikely to be able to afford the expertise of a professional firm to construct a community-based, socially responsible building.

“It is important we partner with Nebraska organizations so the community sees and benefits from the outcomes," Griffiths said. "It allows us to play a direct part in the state and in the community we live in. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership.”

The nonprofit partners receive a unique, locally designed product and invest in tomorrow’s workforce.

“Working with these students is great," said Gene Maffit, South Sioux City parks director and project collaborator. "Seeing them work through all the different concepts and learning how to work together to get the best design is always a great process.”

Architecture students examine plans as part of the Baxa cabin project.

“Working with faculty members Jason Griffiths and Jeff Day has been great,” said Adam Smith, forest products program leader with the Nebraska Forest Service and project collaborator. “They are very innovative and engaged with their students and projects. If we had the opportunity to continue efforts with architecture, we would jump at it. In fact, Jason and I received a grant to continue cross-laminated timber work until 2020, so we are already planning future activities, and we hope to keep this partnership strong even after the grant is complete.”

Design-builds can have a transformative impact on a student’s education, reinforcing and solidifying knowledge gained in the classroom.

“As an architecture student, I have had a lot of experience with creativity, theory and application in the realm of computer modeling and scale models,” Aubrey Wassung said. “Design-build with Jason has taken my theoretical designs into a reality where those skills meet real-world applications. As a student working on the South Sioux City orchard facility from start to finish, I have developed skills such as a better understanding of design vs. construction, learning hands-on techniques of building, and the collaboration process between structural engineering, fabricators, suppliers, client relations, budgeting and even international customs.”

Architecture student Hasan Shurrab echoed those sentiments and expressed his appreciation for a greater understanding of the build process.

“I think being on site and having hands-on experience with the tools and the details broadens our vision as an architectural student," he said. "I was more aware of the construction process and the logistics needed to finish the building.”

The project has spanned multiple semesters involving several design studios, numerous collaborative partners and many hours of consultation, planning and design.

Both projects started in fall 2016 with different partners.

South Sioux City administrators and the Nebraska Forest Service staff first approached Griffiths about a possible student project involving a community orchard storage facility. Planning and designing concepts started that fall. Over the course of two semesters, the college and its project partners met numerous times on location and also on campus for client consultations, design critiques, budget development and negotiations with contractors and suppliers. They eventually chose Randy Voss Construction as the project general contractor to assist with building the 256-square-foot facility.

One of the unique design attributes is its use of ash for the building’s cladding. South Sioux City had an abundance of ash timber due to the emerald ash borer infestation that left thousands of dead trees in its wake. The city had hoped to use the ash timber in construction. Trees killed by emerald ash borer are still useable because the insect does not damage the interior portion of the wood.

The second design-build originated from a studio collaboration with Jon Garbisch, associate director of the Cedar Point Biological Station. The field research facility was in need of another residence cabin for summer students, and Garbisch and Griffiths thought it would be an ideal studio design project. After much planning and consultation with Garbisch, Griffiths and the design studio students created some concepts for the cabin. However, the project had no real prospects for being built until they found University of Nebraska Medical Center alumnus and donor Dr. Mark Daniel Baxa, who agreed to sponsor the build. Shortly thereafter, Nebraska facilities signed RBP Construction as the project’s general contractor and the dream of the 420-square-foot building quickly took off.

“It was extremely important for the team to have Mark play a part in the site’s planning and design,” Griffiths said. “We wanted him to see the concepts and part of the construction before he passed on. So the clock was ticking and it gave our project a sense of real urgency. As I understand it, Mark attended the Cedar Point Biological Station, and his work there enabled him to get accepted into medical school, and it changed his life. Mark held many fond memories of the Cedar Point Biological Station, and that’s why this donation was so important to him.”

The design-builds are in their final stages of construction. Griffiths has a team of students enrolled in independent study this semester working on finishing touches such as the windows, stairs, shutters and building exteriors and general preparation for the facility’s spring grand opening.

Project sponsors include Baxa, Bauman Family Tree Farm, D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, Structurlam, Smartlam and the University of Nebraska Foundation's Edwin Cramer Memorial Fund and Dana Family Fund.

Project collaborators include Smith, Maffit, Garbisch, Heather Nobert, forest products marketing coordinator, and Lance Hedquist, South Sioux City administrator.

Students involved in the design-build projects are Shurrab, Wassung, David Alcala, Abdullah Alghamdi, Rousol Aribi, Kevin Baitey, Dayna Bartels, Jose Cano, Hannah Christy, Sean Coffey, Joseph Croghan, Justin DeFields, Jacob Doyle, Danielle Durham, Alexander Eastman, Eric Engler, Mackenzie Gibbens, Virginia Gormley, Andrew Hicks, Phung Hong, Scott Kenny, Mallory Lane, Devin McLean, Julio Munoz, Paige Nelsen, Allen Phengmarath, Ryan Plager, Rachel Plamann, Kristen Schulte, Darian Scott, Adrian Silva, Salem Topalovic, Jacob Trail, Alfredo Vera, Bingcheng Wang, Evan Wermers, Ruslan White, Ezra Young and Mitchell Znamenacek.