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Students design from a social perspective

Standing from left: Gabriela Mercado, Kelli Oura, Lauren Rennoldt, Jai Master; Seated: Johnette Besseling, Danielle Locklar; Photo credit: Heidi Williams

With the disaster in Haiti fresh in their minds, students in Professor Reynaud Serrette’s Structural Systems class (CENG 148) were given a challenge last quarter: develop a design concept for a two-room house in Haiti that would be culturally acceptable, use local materials, and stimulate the country’s economy.

“Students had only ten weeks to work on the project, so the goal was to design conceptually,” said Serrette. “They were tasked with defining the requirements for the concept. They found it frustrating not to have a defined project, particularly because they were designing for an environment that does not have the building codes we adhere to in the United States, but it is good for students to experience frustration,” he said. “As engineers, we deal with a certain amount of uncertainty, but we are responsible for doing the right thing even when we are not legally obligated to do so. The occupants of our structures deserve to be safe and feel comfortable-we are their insurance.”

In developing their concepts, students researched India’s use of raw bamboo, considered local weather and soil conditions, and even contacted the World Bank and United Nations for input. Jai Master BSCE ’09, MSCE ’10, said his team took Haiti’s deforestation problems into account while designing their home built on bamboo stilts set in bamboo-reinforced concrete. “We did a lot of brainstorming,” he said. “As engineers, we like calculations and we’re used to the comfort of knowing how to build for the U.S.; designing for a developing area was a new thing for us and made us think about everything.”

Serrette added, “This project forced the students to look at design from a social perspective and be cognizant of all that designing encompasses. The hope is that they take this same awareness to all their classes and out into the world as working professionals.”