Students Honored with Architecture Award for Sustainable Design Build on Remote Maine Island

By Joana Salievska

On a tall chalkboard wall of one of the completed compost bins, a young North Haven Community School student wrote “Compost haps [sic] the earth.” The community gathered around the bins to admire the work of 10 Middlebury students whose sustainable design build is making waves in the architecture world. In December, their community compost bin project was awarded with the highest honor of the Vermont chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

“A fine example of community engagement marked by good design and careful attention to the craft of building. The entire process was collaborative and participatory, and the result is beautiful,” remarked the jury on the Vermont AIA board on the project.

These students traveled to Bear Island in Maine last summer to build three compost bins for the North Haven Community School. The College partnered with McLeod Kredell Architects, Marvel Architects, and Island Design Assembly (IDA) for this project. John McLeod of McLeod Kredell Architects is a visiting professor of architecture at the College.

Each year, IDA brings together a team of students, architects and educators for one intensive week to design, build and install a project for an island community in Penobscot Bay, Maine.
IDA works, as their website states, “to bring students and architects together for one week to design, build and install a project for an island community in Penobscot Bay, Maine.” IDA believes in a “self-sufficient and inter-dependent life” and for this reason, holds projects “intentionally on a rugged island an hour’s boat-ride from the mainland, with no running water or utilities, because it strips life down to the essentials.”

IDA works closely with the local community to complete projects designed to enhance the local surroundings. For IDA’s 2015 project, the community requested three compost bins for the North Haven Community School. IDA had a total of eight days and $2,250 to complete the project. The goal was to not only create functional compost bins, but also “easy to use and kid friendly” bins, Kelsey Follansbee ’16.5 said.

When the team arrived on the island, their first step was to visit the site where the bins were to be built. Once they knew where the bins were going to be, they could focus on creating something “functional, but also potentially beautifully sculptural as well,” Morgan Raith ’16.5 said.

Most materials were locally sourced and students worked with community members to transport materials to the island using local lobster fisherman.

The team spent a couple days drawing designs by hand and then formulating construction documents. They even designed benches to encircle the bins so the “compost area could be used as an educational space,” Raith said. The team painted the outside of the three bins with chalkboard paint so the area was “playful and multi-faceted,” Follansbee said.

The 10 Middlebury participants, Emma Picardi ’17.5, Oliver Oglesby ’18, Morgan Burke ’17, Emma Bliska ’18, Raith, Zane Anthony ’16.5, Eliza Margolin ’15.5, Follansbee, Ed Acosta ’18, and Spencer Egan ’15.5, were drawn to the project for different reasons. Raith, an Environmental Science and Architecture double major, “Had had previous experience with a few of the students on the trip and heard great things about the trip.” Follansbee “wanted construction experience.”

Although their motives for joining the project differed, the group shared a sense of accomplishment after their project was complete and they could watch the community enjoy their hard work. Acosta said his favorite part of the trip was “helping the local community” and “creating nice and quick change.”

“I loved the principles of the project: sustainability, community, small-scale, big picture impact,” Raith said.