When this project first started, it was hard to tell that a project was even starting. Throughout multiple days of a week, we went on field trips to sustainably built buildings, but this wasn’t uncommon for the school. That being said, I was still excited to go, as I figured I would be learning some very interesting things about what gives a structure the ability to sustain itself, with no direct interaction. My initials thoughts were good, I was very excited.
When I walked away from the field trip, it didn’t feel as if I’d learned too much about sustainable building. When it came to memorable moments, one was when I realized that the outer wall of one of the houses wasn’t actually stucco, but instead thrown away and recycled materials crammed together, and it looked like nothing of the sort. Combined with the fact that there was no stench you’d usually expect from that description, it remains a memorable moment because it took me by surprise. That being said, it wasn’t enough to shake the feeling that I only learned you can use renewable materials in place of other ones. The main question I had walking away was; “how is this different?”
From the start of this project, my idea of sustainable building would be making the same general structure and layout as any other building with different materials. For example, one of the construction sites we visited used compacted materials that would have otherwise been recycled or thrown away. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume that the most common and simple sustainable design is one in which the non-renewable aspects are replaced and mimicked by ones that are. While trivial, this is very important to learn when it comes to sustainable design.
Later on in the project we practiced empathy interviews. This is an interview in which you get a number of people to reveal what they value most in an environment or building. During this portion of the project, we would get interviews with certain people around the school, and ask them what they value most in a learning environment. Most people said the following; welcoming atmosphere, acceptance, and outdoor environments. The latter was very popular amongst most people.
When we got to brainstorming, it became apparent how empty the campus was, so we took advantage of it. For example, the west amphitheater was essentially being used for nothing, so we came up with the idea to build a wooden garden around most of it, with barrels next to it. The idea was to use as many renewable sources to build. The barrels existed to collect rainwater so we wouldn’t have to use water from other sources that could be used for more important things. We wanted to use wood because, while it isn’t renewable, it is very abundant. However, wood is not an environmentally friendly source, and it was clear we didn’t think that part fully through.
When it got to building, however, things really changed. For example, we ended up ditching the idea of a wooden frame, and switched to rocks, making the structure you see at the top of the page (rock garden behind the people). As shown, this structure is smaller than the wooden frame would have been, and instead of one garden bed, there are multiple. The beds all connect for an aesthetically pleasing look, and the rocks were perfect resources. They’re small, renewable, heavily abundant, and unlike wood, are not gathered by destroying natural land. One of the beds is churned, with flowers planted in some parts of it. Overall, it is preferable to the previous plan.
In this project, the 21st century skill I grew the most in was initiative, which is something I’ve always struggled with, so this really has been a long time coming. For example, a group I worked with had just finished one very small wooden frame. We then had a lot of free time, so I got materials then suggested we make more, and the group got to work. This has also been reflected throughout the rest of the project, as I noticed I was always much more eager to start building when I hadn’t been doing anything beforehand. Throughout every project this year, I have struggled with this, meaning I’ve finally broke out of my comfort zone.
On the flipside, however, one HOHAM I could improve on is perseverance. For example, I had to move multiple rocks with a group when building our garden. I had moved only a few rocks, and decided to take a break. However, when I did so, I realized I didn’t really want to go back and get another rock. This means that, while I did take initiative in this project, it wasn’t too long after I’d start working until I would feel as if I didn’t want keep building anymore, and it’d fall on teammates to get me back into the flow of work. However, it’d even be a hassle doing that, as it felt that simply getting back into the flow of work would be impossible.
A time in which things got difficult in this project was when I was building wooden frames with another group. We had multiple nails and screws that kept falling and getting lost. I decided to use my free time to build a small box out of leftover wood to keep everything in, and, as a result, the group didn’t have anymore trouble. This proved that I was able to solve a problem by utilizing the very large amounts of free time I was given. It also proves that I was able to take initiative, as instead sitting around and doing nothing in my freetime, I took initiative and did something for the group that would largely benefit them in the long run.
A time in which things got rough and I couldn’t solve a problem was, coincidentally, also with the group building wooden frames. One of the wooden blocks used to support the corners of the frames broke in half when we were screwing it in. The block continued to break in half, and there were no spare pieces of it left. This shows that even though I had initiative, it isn’t completely reliable. I was unable to solve this problem simply because I wasn’t given the resources to do so. Had there been a spare piece, the obvious solution would be to use that one, but since there wasn’t one, I had no way of solving the problem, and therefore no way of taking initiative, meaning I had to leave it as it was.
When I first started this project, my idea of success was to get a passing grade on the project, now, however, I understand you need to be proud of your work. For example, when I first finished the garden, I really wasn’t thinking of getting a good grade. The entire time I was just thinking of how good the garden looked, and I was proud. Since then, I’ve come to understand that to truly feel successful, you need to be proud. Sure, getting a good grade is worth focusing on, but if that’s all you focus on, you end up doing the bare minimum. If you do that, you walk away with nothing to feel truly proud of, and without that, there isn’t really a point, and if there isn’t a point, why bother?
My advice to a student about to begin this project would be to have an idea of what you’re going to do in the time, and make sure you have things to do that will be worthwhile. For example, when building the garden, we didn’t any sort of plan for what we would be doing with the time, and as a result, there was a lot of free time. This is means that, while I had fun, I felt unfocused for a large amount of time. It felt as if I was doing things just to pad time. While you may not think about it now, it is truly helpful to have an idea of what you’re going to be doing with your time. Also, make sure you have fun.
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