Take four master's students in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture, one In Rem house bought at auction, and a two-year program that challenges the students to create a living environment, and you have "Quad Space". The students who created it are Michael-John Bailie, Paul Dudkowski, Ernest Ng and Dan Stripp, and they invite all to attend a viewing on Saturday, October 17th, from 12 to 5 PM.
According to Ng, all of the master's students were split into different groups: sustainable urban environment, inclusive design, situated technologies and material culture. Ng explains that he and his partners, as the material culture group, were faced with using "materials as a design direction for architecture. So it's broader than the physical sense of the material." Some students choose to use models, but Ng and his partners decided that they could probably apply their assignment to an actual house, and that's what they did.
In the summer of 2008, the group was finished with their 1st year of grad school, and, hearing a rumor that houses could be bought for as little as $1 from the City of Buffalo, they started to look at real estate. Even though they didn't have a lot to spend, the four were particular about the condition of any potential house, along with its proximity to UB's south campus.
"We worked on UB's South Campus and lived nearby, so we knew we wanted to be close," Ng says. "Houses around there are expensive, and we knew we didn't have time to look for funding with one year to finish the project."
They started shopping the City of Buffalo's In Rem list in early October, and then spent a few weeks visiting houses and neighborhoods. "139 Howell fit our criteria," Ng says. They bid and won the small house for $6,500. They immediately set to work, removing a wood frame back addition that was in poor condition, leaving 400sq ft of house to work with. In the end, the students used loans and their savings to buy, deciding to do as much of the work they could by themselves.
Ng says they were spurred on by three things. One was the idea of abandoned houses going for a dollar or being demolished by the City, leaving neighborhoods with empty lots. Secondly, the students saw this as an easily doable project that would be to their advantage, as they would have to go through a full-scale construction process. So not only did the students design the house, but they also gained invaluable knowledge with hands on construction through practice rather than theory. "Besides," Ng says, "it was better than getting to the end of semester, taking the project down, and finding a way to trash it. We asked ourselves 'can we give our project new life after the academic side?'"
Aside from that, the students asked themselves how much space a person really needs to have in order to live comfortably. "We said, 'How do we divide the house into 4?' And then we went through series of design studies, models, drawings," Ng says. "We asked, 'How to cut the house up?' We had to consider time, paperwork, education fees, time. When we looked at the amount it would cost to have a contractor carry out our plans, we decided we might as well do all the work we could ourselves and put our money in the house. We each pooled $8K, and added more at end."
Ng explained that because the house sits on one side of plot line, they would "bump out" portions in the front, driveway side, back, and top floor, each within the minimum sq. ft. area required within housing codes. "The volume of each space needed to be equal because of how we had to squeeze shared spaces in around the common areas," Ng explains. "The private rooms had to be 7 x7, with a 7'6" height." They ended up with three cubes, covered in marine grade plywood, that cantilever out of the house, and one going north on the top. The tricky part was reestablishing the kitchen and bathroom, which were housed within the back addition the students initially took down. With the bump-outs, the students ended up with a 650 sq. ft. house.
Ng says the learning experience, from design to completion, with hands-on renovation all the way, was an invaluable learning experience. "We learned as we worked," he says. "We picked up contractor and developer's skills to go with our design knowledge." One can imagine that this all-knowing view of building and renovation will benefit future clients of the four in many ways.
And many local contractors have helped, lending actual work, materials, and sometimes just standing back, overseeing. "Alp Steel was a big contributor of materials, along with Danforth Plumbing, who also taught us a lot about plumbing and gadgets, and CIR Electrical helped with permitting. The City's permitting department was very helpful; we sat with them once or twice, and they were very helpful and glad we were dealing with the neighborhood. They hope more people will figure out good ways to deal with housing rather than demolition."
As one can imagine, the neighbors have been quite interested and curious since the beginning of the project. This weekend, they along with the rest of us, will get to do a walkthrough of one of the best class projects ever.