Correction (5/16/15): In the original (print) version of this article it stated, that Norwich University received the AIA grant to undertake the Airstream project, however the grant was actually awarded to the American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter (AIAVT). The below version of the article has been corrected and the original press release sent out by AIAVT attached to the end of the article.
by Jerry Carter
Tucked underneath a large sheet metal garage on the edge of an open field at Norwich University lies the most recent project of the school’s architecture program: an Airstream trailer.
Built originally in 1969, this Indian River Globetrotter Airstream is an American icon. It was purchased last year by the American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter (AIAVT) as part of a grant awarded to the chapter. AIAVT received the largest AIA Innovation Grant last year in order to pursue this Airstream project, which was the brainchild of Aron Temkin, Dean of the School of Architecture and Art at Norwich University. The idea came to him last year while at an AIAVT Board of Directors retreat, and everyone else at the conference took to it immediately.
Temkin proposed that AIAVT purchase an old Airstream, refurbish it and use it as a mobile exhibit to show off all of the new and innovative things AIAVT members are doing. With their work on wheels, AIAVT hopes to be able to reach rural communities that don’t have the same access to architectural exhibits as major metropolitan areas do.
At the end of last summer when Professor Tolya Stonorov was approached by Temkin to take on the restoration, design and remodeling of the Airstream, she jumped at the opportunity. This spring with AIAVT as their client, Stonorov’s class spent nine weeks gutting the traditional interior of the Airstream in preparation for refurbishing it. They removed the kitchenette, bathroom and bedroom, leaving a shiny skeleton as their canvas. The exterior needed some structural attention, and Stonorov’s students took that on, while collaboratively designing the new interior.
“An Airstream is like a haiku,” said Stonorov. Everything in an Airstream must serve a purpose, because it is such a confined and narrow space. This created some obvious and very real design constraints that Stonorov’s students had to negotiate when deciding how to refurbish the interior.
Stonorov said that two separate design ideas for the interior quickly emerged. There was one group pushing a deconstructive, open design, while the other lobbied for a more rectangular design with specific delineated zones. In the end, the deconstructionists won out, creating an open design that celebrates the curves of the Airstream. Wave-like carved sheets of plywood flow up the curved walls—the fine maple finish of the wood a stark contrast to the metal—with pragmatic shelving uniting function and form.
The plywood used throughout the Airstream by Stonorov’s class was locally sourced from Atlantic Plywood out of South Royalton, Vermont. Not only local, it is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which means that all of the trees harvested to create the plywood were replenished and the final product does not contain the potentially harmful compound urea-formaldehyde. The project’s use of FSC plywood, LED lighting and recycled materials helped to meet its goal of sustainable design.
With the semester over and the design now complete, AIAVT will take what will be known as the Archistream on the road throughout the state, where it will show off its sustainably-sourced materials and the many other design possibilities that AIA members are undertaking. Once a symbol of American possibility and ingenuity, this revitalized Airstream will demonstrate the design and architectural possibilities still to come.
February 14, 2014
FOR RELEASE: Immediately
ON THE ROAD: ARCHITECTS TO TRANSFORM VINTAGE AIRSTREAM INTO MOBILE EDUCATION CENTER
Charlotte, VT — A 21-foot 1969 Airstream Globetrotter will be transformed into amobile outreach, education, and design center over the course of the next six months. This unique American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter (AIAVT) project is made possible through a $42,750 grant from the AIA National Innovation Fund to create an “Archistream.”
AIAVT is just one of eight Chapters of the national group awarded a grant from a 65-applicant pool. The grants were awarded as part of the AIA Repositioning Initiative to generate greater awareness of AIA, architecture, and the value architects bring to community planning, historic preservation, land conservancy, disaster mitigation and remediation, and other processes.
The idea for the mobile design and education center arose from a brainstorming session at AIAVT’s annual June retreat. In an interview with AIArchitect, Diane Gayer, AIA, Vermont Design Institute, Burlington, recalled, “The idea kind of leapt off the page. We thought…that we should not let it go [away].” She later added, “The trailer’s signature curving aluminum outer shell serves as a key design inspiration. The image of the Airstream, so iconic, rallied our energies for the project.”
The Airstream purchased by AIAVT will undergo its transformation in the hands of 10 undergraduate architecture students at Norwich University as the core of a spring design-build studio. Tolya Stonorov, a principal at Stonorov Workshop, Montpelier and an assistant professor of architecture at Norwich, is teaching the studio. AIAVT will be the “client.”
The project will immerse students in the everyday professional realities of schedule, budget, and program, and…bring them into conversation with the AIAVT client team. “Having AIAVT as the client will be a unique…learning opportunity,” Stonorov told AIArchitect. “The students are lucky to have a client with expertise in…architecture and design.”
The project also offers the opportunity to shape a thoughtfully calibrated and crafted micro-interior for the vehicle. Stonorov noted that the school’s model shop is equipped with advanced fabrication equipment such as 3D printers and a 4×8 CNC router, and that these technologies are enhanced by Vermont’s traditions of construction. “I see the trailer’s new design as a joining of the high tech and the handcrafted,” she said to AIArchitect. She imagines that the students might work with felt, resin, and hardwoods to fashion a warm interior to contrast with the vehicle’s streamlined exterior.
After the trailer is transformed, AIA volunteers will take the vehicle on the road to various communities around the state and be used in a multitude of ways. Diantha Korzun, AIA, TruexCullins Architecture, Burlington, said, “The Archistream will enable AIAVT members to better connect with each other, colleagues in related professions, and with the greater public. Engaging the general public is especially important since architects can serve as leaders in creating livable and healthy communities in Vermont. We’d like the public to be more fully aware of the positive contributions architects can make; these may be through designing a local library that will last over 200 years, rethinking the master plan of a community as it grows, or rehabilitating a designated brownfield area. An architect can also be a leader in addressing the challenges of global climate change in communities.”
While the Archistream will showcase AIAVT-winning design projects and other AIAVT activities, the AIA team hopes to develop programs in collaboration with local organizations such as ECHO Science Center, Preservation Trust of Vermont, and the Vermont Arts Council, and to see it used to host seminars, showcase innovative design materials and technologies, and screen architecture-related videos. “The trailer will also be available to visit schools, town halls, and county fairs; really the options are infinite. Who knows—we might ignite a spark in one of the students that leads to the next Frank Lloyd Wright,” Korzun said.
According to sources at AIA National, the “repositioning ambassadors” responsible for selecting the grant recipients said the Archistream concept squarely met their definition of innovative, and that its outreach value was not couched in the social media or digital campaigns people have come to expect these days, but rather in good, old fashioned face time—something they tagged as positively disruptive.
AIAVT members or other individuals interested in collaborating on programs that would use the Archistream are invited to contact AIAVT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Us: AIAVT, the Vermont Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is dedicated to enhancing the quality of our built environment and thereby our quality of life through advocacy, outreach, education, fellowship, and design and scholar award competitions. The group has over 300 members, including licensed architects from Vermont, associates, and professional affiliates. For more information, visit www.aiavt.org or call 802.425.6162.