Design Build at the Lama Foundation

This week we are featuring another blog post from one of the AIA AEF Traveling Scholarship Recipients.


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During the summer of 2013, fifteen students enrolled in ENVD Praxis Design/Build Studio to work with the Lama Foundation to design and build a small shelter. Instructors Jade Polizzi and Stephen Eckert led the group on this eight-week design and construction experience. Students sourced materials, produced construction drawings, worked within a budget and completed each phase of the construction.

The tiny hut is nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains near a campground used by Lama Foundation retreatants. The location is Questa, New Mexico, about 30 miles north of Taos and the client, the Lama Foundation, is a non-profit educational retreat center. Inside the structure views abound and the bright desert light refracts off the interior wood, creating a cozy and peaceful ambiance. The structure is 108 square feet, yet with high ceilings and attention to detail it feels much larger. The interior contains a full size bed, a fold down desk (which also houses a cabinet for the solar electrical system) and a bench for removing one’s shoes.

The final product is simple, durable, and made with many recycled and sustainable materials. The wooden 1-constructioninterior is adorned with colorful mismatched hooks, a whimsical wall etching, exposed trusses and a tiled mandala mosaic on the floor. It is a tiny functional building with beautiful details, built with care and pride.

The class utilized the CINC (Center for Innovation and Creativity) facility to finalize the Buff Hut design and pre-fabricate some of the time intensive construction elements. During the first four weeks, the class built the lenticular truss chords and webbing, framed the walls, and cut the tiles for the entrance mosaic.

The construction was completed with two 10-day trips spent at the Lama Foundation. Students camped on site and integrated construction with the daily routine of the Foundation. During the first trip, the foundation was dug, formed and completed. Next came the structure; the deck, walls, and trusses were set into place. Before returning to Boulder the building was dried-in with sheathing and a roof deck.

Between the two trips to New Mexico, time was spent building the interior furniture and finalizing a plan for completion. The second trip to New Mexico resulted in the building coming to life. This included: soffit framing, installation of windows and doors, interior and exterior siding, roofing, and furniture assembly. The space now came to life.

In the end each student gained construction experience taking part in multiple aspects of the building. Whether it was mixing concrete for the piers, nailing siding with the pneumatic nailer or cutting tiles for the entry mandala every member of the team was necessary for the success of this project.2-students

The final hut is beautiful both inside and out yet in the end all construction is temporary. What was really created over the period while design and construction unfolded? We traveled many miles together, spent countless hours collaborating on a common creative goal, and learned to use tools and muscles in ways many of us hadn’t before.

There is something less tangible and much more important that was created while working together on this project. Laughter was shared and tears were shed. A partnership was developed between two organizations that on the outside seem to share different worlds and outlooks. And, best of all, new friendships were formed that will last a lifetime.

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