Students get their hands dirty in Design/Build class

As an architect progresses in their career, very seldom do they get their hands dirty. At the University of Miami however, Rocco Ceo, director of undergraduate studies at the School of Architecture, has changed that.

Ceo along with Jim Adamson, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, have taken a group of 12 students and together, along with some interns from an organization called Earth Learning, became not just the architects, but also the builders.

“It introduces the students to tools,” Ceo said. “It allows them to see how things are put together in three dimensions, at full scale, rather than on paper. They will approach their designs in different ways”

This is all part of a studio class called Design/Build. The class is open to fourth- and fifth-year undergraduates and graduate students with the purpose of getting the architect more acquainted with what he is actually drawing by building the project.

“We got our hands dirty,” said Etai Timna, 36, a graduate student who worked on the project. “You begin to realize how all the lines connect.”

Earth Learning recently received a grant for $750,000 by the USDA in order to promote its “perma-culture” around South Florida. The idea is to promote a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Their vision for this project: building a mobile “perma-kitchen” to go around Dade County and promote local farmers by cooking some food “a la perma” with their vegetables.

“The great thing about this project is that it will rebuild the local farmer’s food economy,” said Mario Yanez, 43, who is a former graduate from the University of Miami’s Business School and founder of Earth Learning.

On its website, Earth Learning defines itself as, “a collaborative that inspires people, ventures, projects, and activities through ecological learning experiences and is dedicated to growing a life-sustaining culture.”

“The idea is to be living in harmony with nature instead of harming it [and] also, to inform the public about how easy it is to be sustainable with food and how cost-effective it can actually be,” said Jacob Policzer, 27, a member of Earth Learning who is the manager for this particular project.

The students began designing their ideas for the kitchen two weeks before the project got started last fall. The students were split up into groups of three, constantly rotating team members so they could work with other students.

Once the design was complete, the students with Ceo and Adamson chose the best ideas to integrate into the project. A wall that folds down from one side of the mobile kitchen was a concept designed by the students. When the wall is down, it serves as a platform that transforms the trailer from processing kitchen to demonstration kitchen.

“We want to be able to take this to different schools and hopefully help the community,” Policzer said. “But not just limit this to low-income communities. This project would be available for almost any event.”

The mobile kitchen was originally a run-down mobile home donated to Earth Learning. The architecture students got together and tore the trailer down to the wheels and axles. Once that was done, they recycled the material and got to work.

“We design something to actually see it be built,” said Erik Ross, 22, a recent graduate from UM’s School of Architecture who is now a junior architect at Dove Architects in Coral Gables. His final semester at UM was spent diligently working on this project. “It gives us such a unique opportunity.”

The mobile kitchen is fully equipped with environmentally-friendly materials. The LED lighting along with the water heater are powered by solar panels attached to the roof of the mobile kitchen. All the wood that is used is recycled and the frame is made of aluminum skin.

“It definitely made my experience at UM unique,” Ross said. “Jim and Rocco are extremely great professors and through this project have helped me understand architecture in a different way.”