retrospective: an online portfolio

Design Build

The Passive House project, which began in January, was completed during the summer and fall semesters of 2011. Members of the Design/Build studio assembled in July at the Minnesota State Fair's Progress Building in St. Paul, home of the Eco Experience. The build team had approximately four weeks to prepare the exhibit – a modified version of the cabin designed for the Itasca Research Station several months earlier. Upon completion, the same students were responsible for staffing the exhibit and fielding questions from visitors. Pairs of students were also tasked with presenting a lecture on the 'Sustainability Stage'. The file used by myself and Brittany Greenwood can be viewed below.

The cabin was dismantled following the fair and shipped to northern Wisconsin for reassembly. That work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2012 near Iron River.

The cabin used a double-stud system – two 2x4 walls set 11-1/4" apart and the cavity was filled with cellulose insulation. The interior studs were sheathed with OSB (which also acted as the vapor-retarder) while plywood was used on the exterior. An additional 3" of recycled EPS foam was then fastened to the exterior followed by an breathable ice and water shield. The interior was finished with reclaimed pine shiplap while the exterior was clad with reclaimed cedar siding.

The cabin was first and foremost an educational tool, a vehicle for explaining the Passive House principles to the general public. The focus, therefore, was on energy-efficient strategies: super-insulated windows and walls, an energy recovery ventilator (ERV), and careful window placement. However, the team also showcased numerous other environmentally friendly elements, many of which were do-it-yourself projects. These included a bench made of recycled glass-aggregate concrete, burlap screens, and gabions made from hardwire cloth.

After returning to Fargo, the team created a two-volume account of the project. Chronology gives a complete record of the design from start to finish. Voices is an assemblage of articles recalling discussions with curious fairgoers. Several pages from the latter volume can be viewed below.

It was truly remarkable to help construct the cabin my classmates and I designed during the spring. The pace was exhausting, but the team (most of whom had little to no construction experience) pulled the project together in a matter of weeks. More remarkable, though, was the evident care and craftsmanship on display – the cabin was a true jewelry box! It was fun conversing with total strangers about the design (though it was also grossly repetitive). Many people had assumed that we were representatives of a model home builder and were shocked to learn that we were, in fact, students.

The Passive House project couldn't have come at a better time. I had just completed a couple of frustrating semesters and was getting tired of school. The whole project re-energized me. Working closely with my friends was very exciting and a nice change of pace; actually getting to build it was absolutely amazing!


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  • For ARCH 771

  • Date Summer, Fall 2011

  • Type Passive House, Eco Experience, Minnesota State Fair, demonstration cabin, design/build

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