Wash. U. students active in local sustainable project

| Staff Reporter

As sustainability efforts continue to influence campus culture, project uHome U City engages 13 Washington University architecture graduate students in designing five homes for the local Sutter Heights neighborhood.

University City had requested proposals from the design community in the summer of 2009 for residential plans that would fill five lots within the neighborhood. The homes are also expected to gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.

Megan Nasrallah from St. Louis architectural firm Arcturis; Donald Koster, senior lecturer at the University’s Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design; and Richard Reilly, who served as chief operating officer of the former company Boa Construction, collaborated on and submitted the uHome project proposal. University City then awarded them the opportunity to continue their plans.

For Nasrallah, the proposal’s sustainability aspects, and the collaboration between “academia, profession, municipality (University City) and builder” were compliant with Arcturis’ goals.

“The community and social aspects of this project aligned with our values,” Nasrallah said. “The project seemed like a good fit and a unique opportunity to engage Wash. U. in an atypical project, in an atypical way.”

In addition, GreenSpace Construction now collaborates with the project after Boa Construction closed in November 2009.

The uHome project starts with Wash. U. students creating the designs with support from Arcturis professionals. Designs will have to meet guidelines, including improved indoor environmental quality, efficiency in water usage, and innovation in design to be LEED certified.

Students are inspired by the challenge and the chance to influence the Sutter Heights community.

“I think that the social aspect is really important,” graduate student Laura Mark said. “I realize that you can’t just change everything and make everything better for everybody. But if you can make one person’s life better, then your efforts were worthwhile.”

Architecture graduate student Mark Epstein expressed similar sentiments.

“One of my biggest interests in architecture is [to] have an impact on people’s lives, and I think that even though [this is] a small project—it’s not a 97-story skyscraper—it’s very directly impacting people’s lives,” Epstein said.

Epstein also explained that many of the students involved in the uHome project are excited by the potential future construction of the homes.

“The aspect that hopefully this project will actually get built is very attractive to a lot of the people in our group,” he said.

Nasrallah said Arcturis staff also benefit from having new energy in the office, in addition to students gaining a valuable work experience.

Both Mark and Epstein appreciate their collaboration with Arcturis with regard to LEED certification, home design and experience with an architectural firm.

Those interested in purchasing a uHome would first have to qualify for construction loans provided by a local lender. Homebuyers would then work with the design team to adjust the designs for their needs. Depending on features within the home, prices will range from $120,000 to $200,000.

“We will have at minimum five model homes designed to be marketed that will be able to achieve LEED Platinum and will be in the price range that has been set,” Koster said. “Ideally, and I’m fully optimistic that this will occur, we will fully market the project and have identified potential homebuyers prior to the end of this semester.”

Homes should be finalized by November 2010, according to current plans.