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Small Built Works Goes Infill

UB Professor of Architecture Brad Wales and his Small Built Works initiative have been busy the last three semesters. Best known around town for installations such as artistic bus shelters around the edges of Allentown, the 18th Street Community Park, and the “Front Yard” at the Burchfield-Penney, they have been hard at work creating sustainable designs for affordable infill housing.

They showed the results this week at a presentation and reception in a great new west side space: the community room at PUSH Buffalo’s refurbished School 77.

Image credit: Nicholas Rajkovich

This work is the culmination of three semesters of student effort, including a design review that Buffalo Rising got a look at last fall in studio at UB. Buffalo Spree interviewed Wales about the project this spring.

According to UB’s description of the project,

Primary Design Objectives of SUN_FOOD_WATER are: 1) the House should be affordable based on Monthly Costs; 2) utilize PV panels & Passive Solar Gain for Heating; 3) provide a Greenhouse for Winter Food Production, possible Solar Gain, and to inexpensively extend Living Space; and, 4) re-use Rainwater.

Even though this is work coming from academia, it is by no means an academic exercise. This is real-world architecture, right down to preparation of construction drawings ready for bid and permit approval. Again, per UB’s description,

Teams of approximately four students will develop each house working with local General Contractors, Developers, a Structural Engineer, Plumber, and Electrician, as well as not-for-profit Community Based Organizations on issues of Constructability, Detail Design, affordable Systems Integration, Marketing, Cost Estimating, and Value Engineering. Students will complete Preliminary Analysis through to Construction Documents. It is possible we will fabricate some Full Scale Mock-ups of selected details in the UB Shop. The overall goal is to make a Building Permit Application at the end of the semester, and for the projects to be built.

Brad Wales told me that, unlike most student architectural work, this was not the result of a studio class, because it didn’t fit neatly into the course curriculum. Instead, the students did the work as part of elective courses over three semesters.

I was surprised to learn that this project fell so far out of the core curriculum, given the central role that house design has played in the history of architecture, with the three giants of architectural modernism, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier laying the basis for modern architecture while designing houses. According to one of the few American students to study at the Bauhaus, when Mies van der Rohe was the director of the school he was very exacting with the students regarding their house designs, telling them that if they could design a house well, they could design anything else well.

^ Brad Wales Buffalo Spree interview
Tonawanda double house model (by man kneeling)

Wales himself is no stranger to residential projects. This recent Buffalo Spree interview mentions several of them, that share a commitment to open interior spaces flooded with natural light, passive solar heating, and simple materials. As Wales told Buffalo Spree, his residential work for private clients, unlike public works around town, have been known largely through word of mouth, as he doesn’t even have a website featuring his projects. While that may not be about to change, he does feel that his work has something important to say, which is why he opened a show over the weekend at his gallery space in Allentown (street level at the Pilates Loft, 164 ½ Allen Street).

But the first of the houses slated to be built from the student project is what Wales considers a more conventional design than his own residential work. The double house will be built in Tonawanda on property owned by the land bank, BENLIC (about which I wrote an Artvoice cover story when it was launched seven years ago). The land bank needed a design that would fit into and be accepted by its neighborhood, and also pass muster with the land bank’s board of public officials.

As for some of the other designs, they can still be built with interest from developers or community organizations who own vacant lots. As Wales told Buffalo Rising last fall, he is in the mode of “gifting the permit-ready drawings to the right neighborhood, or situation, and moving to get these houses built in Buffalo.” He’s looking to partner with Community Based Organizations, developers, institutions, or anyone else that sees the value in these unique affordable housing opportunities. Wales told me they hope to have one a year built.

As we asked last fall: anyone interested?

Get connected: 716-866-9665

Written by RaChaCha


RaChaCha is a Garbage Plate™ kid making his way in a Chicken Wing world. Since 2008, he's put over a hundred articles on here, and he asked us to be sure to thank you for reading. So, thank you for reading. You may also have seen his freelance byline in Artvoice, where he writes under the name his daddy gave him [Ed: Send me a check, and I might reveal what that is]. When he's not writing, RaChaCha is an urban planner, a rehabber of houses, and a community builder. He co-founded the Buffalo Mass Mob, and would love to see you at the next one. He represents Buffalo Young Preservationists on the Trico roundtable. If you try to demolish a historic building, he might have something to say about that. He is a proud AmeriCorps alum.

Things you may not know about RaChaCha (unless you read this before): "Ra Cha Cha" is a nickname of his hometown. (Didn't you know that? Do you live under a rock?) He's a political junkie (he once worked for the president of the Monroe County Legislature), but we don't really let him write about politics on here. He helped create a major greenway in the Genesee Valley, and worked on early planning for the Canalway Trail. He hopes you enjoy biking and hiking on those because that's what he put in all that work for. He was a ringleader of the legendary "Chill the Fill" campaign to save Rochester's old downtown subway tunnel. In fact, he comes from a long line of troublemakers. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill, and a relative led the Bear Flag Revolt in California. We advise you to remember this before messing with him in the comments. He worked on planning the Rochester ARTWalk, and thinks Buffalo should have one of those, too (write your congressman).

You can also find RaChaCha (all too often, we frequently nag him) on the Twitters at @HeyRaChaCha. Which is what some people here yell when they see him on the street. You know who you are.

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