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Freshman Architects Erect Community of Micro-Dwellings at Griffis Sculpture Park

The 96-foot-long "Living Wall" is designed to stand 12 feet tall in places

Release Date: April 21, 2011

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UB students construct "The Living Wall."

These are drawings of the UB student designs of micro-dwellings that will become this year's "Living Wall."

UB students enjoyed interacting with last year's completed "Living Wall."

BUFFALO, N.Y.-- Freshman architecture students from the University at Buffalo have designed and are building a 96-foot-long string of wooden micro-dwellings that will open to the public later this month at Griffis Sculpture Park. Assembly of "The Living Wall" will conclude the week of April 25.

The UB School of Architecture and Planning is inviting the public as well as students, professors and critics to attend an opening reception and dedication ceremony for "The Living Wall" at 1 p.m. on April 29 at the main entrance of the Griffis Sculpture Park, 6902 Mill Valley Road, East Otto in Cattaraugus County.

The installation will stay up for at least 18 months at Griffis, where visitors will be able to climb on, over and through the interconnected micro-dwellings. Information on Griffis is available online at

"Creating a full-scale structure gives first-year students an opportunity to see, firsthand, what the design and construction process is like from start to finish. They've gone from drawings and models to building a full-scale project," said Christopher Romano, UB clinical assistant professor and one of four coordinating faculty members overseeing the students' work.

The other faculty members are Clinical Associate Professor Shadi Nazarian and Adjunct Assistant Professors Nicholas Bruscia and Matthew Hume.

This year's Living Wall, which consists of 12 micro-dwellings, is the second of its kind. Last year's freshman class erected a similar community of tiny buildings, but the faculty members say that this year's project will be distinct in the following ways:

-- Last year's Living Wall was straight. The formation of this year's wall is closer to that of a boomerang, with a bend in the center.

-- Some of the pods that form this year's wall are about 12 feet high -- significantly higher than any part of last year's wall.

-- This year's wall contains a wider variety of geometries, with some individual units incorporating curved or pyramidal forms.

Working in groups of six to seven, about 80 students were tasked with creatively transforming uniform, wooden volumes measuring 6 by 6 by 8 feet to incorporate an entrance, day lighting, natural ventilation, and a minimum of five sleeping spaces.

The collaboration required at every phase, from design through construction, is giving students a taste of what the profession of architecture is like in the real world. Teamwork is a critical skill for architects, who must work not only with each other, but with clients, engineers and contractors as well.

Currently, the students are fabricating their projects in the architecture department's Materials and Methods Workshop on UB's South Campus. After assembling the structures at Griffis, members of each group will spend 24 hours living inside the creations.

Occupying the spaces will give students a better understanding of the successes and shortcomings of their designs. Building and inhabiting a common structure also helps to instill a sense of community among freshmen who will be learning and studying together for three more years.

Ultimately, The Living Wall challenges us all to think about our notions of privacy and how much space we need to live comfortably.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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