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Stardust Guadalupe Build Project

July 02, 2006

For most young people, working eight-hour long days in the hot Arizona sun is not the best way to spend your summer. But for the Stardust Guadalupe Build Project team, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Over the past few months, the team – made up of ASU students and local volunteers from YouthBuild USA – has been constructing a new energy-efficient home in Guadalupe. This home will be built for homeowners Olivia and Aurelio Bejarano, who volunteered to have their existing home torn down for the project after it was declared uninhabitable by the town.

Led by ASU’s Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family, this project not only furthers the center’s mission to build more high quality affordable housing through research and innovative design, but also provides young people interested in construction with a unique hands-on experience.

“It’s nice to build something in the real world – not just models,” explains Harry Block, an ASU Architecture student who got involved in the project through a summer class. “It’s also great how the project lets you interact with students in different architecture, interior design, or construction classes. I mean, we get to see these guys at school, but here we get to really work with each other.”

While the regular construction team is local, other workers come from different states. For the past month, the Tribal Civilian Community Core (TCCC), an organization that lets teen volunteers travel to different parts of the country and gain hands-on training in disaster relief and construction skills, has been providing the Guadalupe Build Project with additional workers to aid in the construction of the home.

“The hardest part of the job was getting used to the heat,” jokes Gilbert Romero, a member of the Chumash Tribe from Santa Ynez Valley, California. He and seven other TCCC volunteers work eight hours a day, six days a week laying block, mixing concrete, and building the walls of the new home. Although the work is challenging, Romero believes such experiences will make him a better candidate for a construction job and wishes his team had more time to finish the home before returning home to California.

Day-to-day operations are led by Ernesto Fonseca, Construction Coordinator and Energy Systems Specialist for the Stardust Center and an ASU graduate in Energy Performance and Climate Responsive Design. Under Fonseca’s guidance, team members learn to work with energy-saving construction materials such as Navajo FlexCrete, a lightweight, aerated fly-ash concrete that provides more affordable insulation. By including such materials in the design, the home will save almost 80 percent in energy costs.

“Making an energy-efficient home is creating a lot of attention for the community,” says Fonseca, who finds more people are interested in building a home that conserves power as energy prices rise. He plans to install sensors in the walls of the house to measure how well an inhabited home saves power in the real world – furthering ASU research and providing valuable information for future energy efficient home construction.

In addition to saving energy, these Stardust homes take cultural needs into consideration. Last summer, Fonseca helped design a home for the Navajo Nation in Nageezi, New Mexico that incorporated traditional Native American architecture. The home, the first full-construction project completed by the Stardust Center, includes a central courtyard based on a Hooghan design and a shade arbor – Chahash’oh – for protecting the south wall from the sun.

“When people are attached to traditions they have different priorities – different things they really need,” explains Fonseca who finds the best part of his job is the chance to learn from the Mexican and Native American communities involved in the projects.

Such collaboration contributed greatly to the Guadalupe project. During the development stage, Daniel Glenn, design director for the Stardust Center, conducted a charret, or community design workshop, to get a better idea of Guadalupe citizens’ cultural preferences for the home’s construction. Using model pieces, community members created three different floor plans and explained the cultural reasons behind their ideas. Aspects of all these plans were then combined into the final design, allowing for a blend of energy-efficiency and cultural architecture.

“I think the younger generation is learning more about these kinds of [energy-efficient and culturally aware] construction,” states Fonseca, who speaks highly of many of the volunteers involved in the project. For this reason, he believes the skills his construction team is learning will be in great demand and create a major impact in the community.