Yestermorrow and Conway: A three dimensional education

Helmi Hunin ’16 is one of several Conway alums who have taken advantage of a partnership between Conway and the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, VT, that includes a Conway scholarship for Yestermorrow graduates, and discounts on Yestermorrow courses for Conway alums. Here, she shares some reflections on attending both institutions. All photos, including the image from Yestermorrow above, are credited Helmi Hunin and should not be reused without permission of the author. This guest blogpost was originally featured on December 1, 2016 on the Conway School's blog.

Four years ago this September I drove through the misty Mad River Valley of Vermont to the Yestermorrow School for a Yurt Design/Build workshop. My growing interest in sustainability had so far led me to a season of volunteering on organic farms throughout France, to the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute for a mushroom inoculation workshop with Steve Gabriel and Michael Burns, and a rain garden installation with Biohabitats at the Omega Institute. I felt drawn to the world of sustainable design in its many facets, but I hadn’t quite yet figured out how to bridge my many interests.

Over the course of one weekend, the instructors Taz Squire and David Cain engaged us with multiple mediums, through a slideshow history of alternative structures, into a complete build of a twelve-foot-diameter yurt from scratch. Bringing the structure to life was extremely empowering; it was the first time I’d ever created something so big and useful. 

Securing the steel cable tension band around the lattice wall using stainless steel cable clamps. Yestermorrow Yurt Design/Build 2012

The act of building with other women is empowering. Interlacing the tension band along the top of the lattice wall. The structural integrity depends upon this cable which will connect the rafters to the wall lattice. Yestermorrow Yurt Design/Build 2012

Taking a break atop the roof ring to demonstrate the strength and integrity of the yurt frame. Yestermorrow Yurt Design/Build 2012

I grew up in Brooklyn, a city of art and culture. Like most cities, it was dense with people and its streets and structures imposed a sense of unchanging solidity. Navigating the built environment, my inner experience became rich with interpretation. The visual arts that permeated my public school education became a constructive channel to recreate the world around me into two dimensions, but I lacked the opportunity to influence the environment that was shaping my reality. When I attended the Yestermorrow Yurt Design/Build workshop, I finally felt empowered in shaping something three dimensional in my environment. I felt even more compelled to explore the interface between my inner reality and how my ideas and designs might take shape in the world.

After attending the Yestermorrow course, I spent the next few years continuing my exploration of the natural world. I apprenticed with a master arborist in Maui, learning tropical tree care and horticulture, I earned a certificate in ecological literacy from the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, and I attended workshops at the Whispering Winds Bamboo Farm to learn how to make biochar and build with bamboo. Throughout this time, I couldn’t shake the desire to merge my passion for design with the regenerative forces of nature, and the Conway School seemed like the obvious next step.

Max Madalinsky, Susan Schen, and Allison Gramolini presenting their analysis of a section of Holyoke, MA at the newly constructed Holyoke train station during orientation week. 

Max Madalinski surveying at the FARM Institute in Edgartown, MA for the Master Plan that we designed as our spring-term project.

Class outing with instructor Jono Neiger to the home and land of Sue Bridges, within walking distance from the Conway Hill campus.

Fall-term desk space with a view of the forest and badminton court. 

The ten-month program at Conway was filled with in-depth site analysis, a rigorous immersion in the design process, projects for real-life clients for whom I wanted to create functional and compelling design documents, field trips and site visits into the woods, wetlands, and urban settings. We discussed the importance and challenges of place-making, ecological restoration, rainwater management, and the ever-impending realities of climate change. The program broadened my scope of understanding how a career in landscape design and planning is an instrumental platform in shaping the built environment and our individual and collective experiences. As I consider different opportunities ahead of me, I continue to merge my educational experiences with an outward expression of thoughtful design for our changing world.

Helmi is an ecological designer, planner, and artist exploring the intersection between humans and the natural world. Her work is rooted in environmental restoration, food security, and climate change resilience.

With experience in residential, municipal, and commercial design, international studies, visual arts, media studies, and five years in holistic healthcare, she brings an interdisciplinary understanding to all of her projects and endeavors.