Despite wind whipping hail and snow, 13 architecture students from the University of Virginia joined forces with local 7th-grade and 9th-grade students to explore the woods along Montsweag Creek in search of sites for temporary refugee shelters.
The harsh weather and uneven Maine terrain helped to underscore the challenge relief organizations and dislocated people often face as they move into unfamiliar landscapes seeking shelter.
While Chewonki Neck is a long way from Europe, Syria, and South Sudan, it also feels a long way from Charlottesville, Virginia, where the older students are in their third year of architecture studies.
University of Virginia School of Architecture Professor Earl Mark led architecture students on this visit to Chewonki for the second year in a row. Mark seemed to be savoring the wild weather and the collaboration between his students and younger ones from Bath Middle School and Wiscasset Middle High School. Local students participated thanks to a grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.
The older students involved the younger ones in analysis of their chosen site, collecting data about terrain, orientation to sun, local weather, water, and other conditions, Mark explains, all the while thinking about how to have the lightest possible impact on the environment. When they moved into Chapin Hall, the students worked together with design software to modify their ideas and figure out “how these structures could be aggregated and modified to adapt to the site they selected on the Chewonki campus,” he says.
Conversation flowed. “Our Maine students advised…about cold-weather considerations such as snow load and prevailing winds,” says Wiscasset high school science teacher Ralph Keyes. And, he says, the younger students also “took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the college kids about their college selection process, choosing their majors, and career pathway options.”
The learning goes both ways, says Mark. “Younger students are remarkably perceptive to their surroundings…the students from Maine, not being indoctrinated into the profession, think well ‘outside the box.’ Their insights provide a refreshing range of ideas to help stimulate our thinking…”
From Chewonki, Mark took his students to the Apprenticeshop, a wooden boatbuilding and seamanship school; Nathaniel S. Wilson, sailmaker; the Rubb Building Systems Group, an international company that makes high-tension fabric buildings; and Acadia National Park, where they enjoyed iconic views of the coast while studying its physical variations.
Keith Crowley, Chewonki’s Director of School Programs, described the day of collaborative learning as exciting and inspiring. “To say this opened a new world to these Wiscasset and Bath students would be an understatement,” Keith said.