Iowa State architecture students rule the roost with their first design-build project

Coops on display

Chicken coops on display. Photo by Bob Elbert.

AMES, Iowa -- It's their first architectural design studio. And all 87 new majors in the professional architecture degree program at Iowa State University have been hard at work, designing and building houses — for chickens. With names like "Rustic Ranch," "The Griddle" and "Raise the Roost," the ingenious structures don't look like alien spaceships exactly, but they aren't your standard, run-of-the-mill chicken coops, either.

All 20 coops will be on display Oct. 14 -25 on the southeast lawn of the College of Design building on the Iowa State campus. And they'll be sold at auction during the Ames Farmers Market, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, in the parking lot of Wheatsfield Cooperative Grocery, 413 Northwestern Ave.

The teams of architectural students built chicken coops to house three to five chickens. They researched chicken care basics and environmental concerns, conceptualized their designs, salvaged or purchased materials, managed a budget and constructed the coop. They had two-and-a-half weeks to complete the project.

The structures had to meet the specific needs of chickens, which correspond somewhat to those of human house dwellers. The chickens need to have a space to live and a space to range. A place to rest and a place to lay eggs. When it's 100 degrees and 80 percent humidity outdoors, the chickens need to be cool and comfy. And when it's minus 20 degrees with blowing snow, the birds need to be cozy and warm. They need shade from the sun and shelter from predators.

coop studio

In progress. Photo by Alison Weidemann

And the finished coops had to fit through the doors of their King Pavilion studio, requiring no more than two people to carry. The students also were asked to name their coops and come up with a one-page marketing poster — a sort of elevator pitch exercise— for the auction. Proceeds from the auction will reimburse student costs, with any profits going to the Iowa State student chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"One of the great things about this project is you had to figure things out on your own," said Cole Davis from Logan.

One coop is constructed almost completely of found and donated materials, with a drawer for the nesting box and an old carpenter's tool box for the roost. Another is a six-foot-high structure with an organic, undulating shape and a uniformly textured surface. "The Chick Inn" has vinyl siding, an operable double-hung window and solar lights. There's a circular ramp/stairway, a loft bed, a sliding door, removable walls, awning windows and even some plumbing.

The choice of chicken coops for students' first design-build assignment was the brainchild of backyard chicken raiser and Associate Professor Cameron Campbell. He coordinates Architectural Design 201 along with fellow architecture faculty Associate Professor Mikesch Muecke, Senior Lecturer Patience Lueth, and Lecturers James Spiller and Maria Miller. The project is part of an entire semester that focuses on inhabitation, material construction, and environmental and sustainability concerns.

"These are full scale and metaphors for human spaces," Campbell said. "We do this project because it's not a model. The students are working at full scale and experimenting with different living requirements — nesting versus roosting, for example."

Not only are the students learning about appropriate scale of space, but also how materials go together and how to work in teams.

"All architecture is done in teams, so they have to negotiate many ideas, many creative inputs and all come together with a decision in order to build at full scale," Campbell said.

It all translates into "learning a lot," said Sam Usle of Los Angeles.

"We have to build it with our own hands, make it work and get into those details we sometimes forget when we're drawing or theorizing. In this project we get the nice conceptual phase and the construction phase," Usle said.

"The students are really engaged — even jazzed about this project," Campbell said.

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