Semester in Sustainable Design - Project Introduction

September 4, 2018
By Madi Visser, Semester Program Teaching Assistant


Yesterday brought our first official sit-down with our clients Ben and Ellen. Although we spent multiple sessions brainstorming and refining questions for the event, the actual conversation flowed naturally and felt particularly warm. Ellen describes Ben as “a natural teacher” and herself as “a natural encourager,” making the couple a uniquely supportive and exciting pair with which to work and learn.

In the coming weeks we will be designing and building a structure on their Montpelier property to perch on the edge of the woods between the river and their existing home, the Krunkle, uphill. We, as designers, had many questions about who the space would be for. While Ben and Ellen have some ideas of their own, they mainly take a Field of Dreams approach; if you build it, they will come and so too, to quote Ellen, “will good things, I just know it.”

What the couple does know for sure is what they want the structure to accomplish. They bought the property with the intention of sharing it with as many people as possible and see our project as an extension of that impulse. Lovers of both nature and architecture, Ben and Ellen want a structure that helps draw people down the switchback path towards the river and wooded trails, as well as gives visitors a reason to pause in place to enjoy the stately beauty and calm of the woods. Ellen in particular likes the idea of the building being a sanctuary immersed in nature, a space that can bring the outside in.

The structure will have electricity and likely have access to water. While daily comfort is important to our clients, spending the winter in the building will mean some very real hands on interaction with the elements–– an aspect Ben, in particular, wants to encourage. Will there be a toilet? Yes. A stove? Yes. For a shower and oven, however, users will need to pay a visit to their neighbors up the hill. Although this interdependence will partly come out of necessity (there is limited infrastructure extending to our building site), the process of sharing aligns with Ben and Ellen’s values, and I’m not sure they’d have it any other way.

While emphatic that this project feels like ours, and that they have no preconceived notions about what it should or should not look like, our clients already have a strong established aesthetic in their home which they would like the new project to relate to in some way. Ben is an accomplished metalworker and a former Yestermorrow semester program teacher. In 2012, he guided a Yester-mester crew through the design and build of his and Ellen’s own home, a history we are excited to elaborate on. Their home has since been expanded to include Ben’s metal shop, and the combination of access to Ben’s expertise and his work space gives us the exciting option of creating custom metal elements, potentially large in scale.

All in all we are thrilled and launching into our first baby iterations of potential concrete designs! Stay tuned for more updates on our adventure!