Modern Garden of Eden comes to Williams

If you’ve ever wondered what Adam and Eve’s hut might look like had they lived in 2015, take a stroll over to Schapiro Hall. Last week, Lecturer in Art Ben Benedict’s “Architectural Design II” class constructed a hut designed to house Adam and Eve if they were to live in the Garden of Eden today. The squad, wearing purple hard hats and making a large amount of noise sawed, hammered and hauled lumber every afternoon from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. And what they built on the lawn might surprise you. 

The Adam and Eve Project began during the first week of classes when Benedict gave the entire Architecture II team the same design challenge: “An old friend is in the TV business and she’s just appointed you art director for a new reality TV show, Garden of Eden.  The first thing you have to do is design the lovely couple a hut for an isolated location. Then YOU have to build it in a week with the help of your classmates. (REALLY). There’s some tension here. You want it to be a very cool hut and ‘sustainable’ but you have to build it in a short time with the materials you can scrounge or purchase locally. You’ll need to think: one room plus maybe a little something extra. And, you’ll have to employ passive design principles. And find a place for a PV [solar] panel or two to power the phone charger.”

Arjun Kakkar/Photo Editor.Professor Ben Benedict’s “Archetitural Design II” class constructed a modern-day Adam and Eve hut outside of Schapiro Hall.
Arjun Kakkar/Photo Editor.Professor Ben Benedict’s “Architectural Design II” class constructed a modern-day Adam and Eve hut outside of Schapiro Hall.

A week of thinking and designing brought 12 individual hut designs into class on Sept. 18. Designs ranged from single cubes to kidney beans to multiple-storied structures with decorative PV panels. Each designer presented his or her respective project. Plans, elevations, sections and models were displayed for scrutiny. Ultimately, under the lead of Benedict, the class chose to bring the design of Max Sopher ’17 to life. Construction began that following Monday, Sept. 21.

Sopher’s design for Adam and Eve’s hut features a simple cube topped with a large solar panel. Three walls – two triangles and a square – surround the structure, shielding a ramp that leads guests up onto the decking and ultimately into the hut.

The idea for Sopher’s design itself, however, came from a geographic locale far away from New England. “I was looking at photos of these Scandinavian artist lofts, which are basically these little huts with only the essentials you need to survive,” Sopher said. “I also looked at [Piet] Mondrian. He works with a lot of simple shapes and uses very basic geometry. I wanted my hut to have that same sort of elemental simplicity. So I used basic shapes, just triangles and squares.”

Sopher’s color scheme also plays off the famous Mondrian squares, bright primary colors juxtaposed against white. However, Sopher calls his color scheme more “arbitrary” – while he considered basic blue, red and yellow, he wanted the hut to have a softer feel to it, perhaps to juxtapose the sharp corners of the triangles and squares that make up several of the exterior, more aesthetic walls. Sopher’s color scheme – soft red, soft blue and soft purple – is noticeable against the pure white of the cube.

Construction on the hut lasted through the week of Sept. 21. The crew consisted of the Architecture II students, various other volunteers, and two fearless leaders: Benedict and contractor Rick Kobik, who could often be found on the site at all hours. The idea for the project came from Benedict, who said, “I’ve always liked Joseph Rykwert’s book, On Adam’s House in Paradise, in which he links the concept of the primitive hut to the design of buildings through the ages. His thesis is that the little gable-roof hut is an image we all have in mind from a very young age and that this image has shaped buildings from ancient temples to modern structures.”

When asked about the construction part of the project, Benedict also noted, “I think in a lot of different ways, [this project is good] partly in just realizing how hard it is to make the things that you design. I think that gives a new respect for the construction process and the people who do it. It also shows how your imagination is connected to your hands.”

With the idea planted and left to be watered, Benedict called in professional reinforcements. Kobik is a retired contractor from Bennington, Vt., who has a long history (and friendship) with Benedict. Kobik’s company, Blue Heron Construction, worked with Benedict, a licensed architect himself, on several projects in the Vermont area before Kobik’s retirement. Kobik called the project fun, saying, “Getting to know the students and seeing their enthusiasm has been great. It’s good for students to see these plans in full size 3-D. You get to see it instead of just making little models.”

The positive reinforcement of this experiential learning was a common theme among the students as well. Architecture II student Matthew Goss ’16 commented, “This has been my best class all week. I’ve been here every day.” Fellow classmate Jackie Lane ’16 also said, “I think this is so much fun. I’m a big fan of experiential learning. And power tools.”

Many students in the class were exposed to construction for the first time during this project. Several commented that they had never used a drill or saw before. Lane noted, “It’s a whole new way to think about the practicality of building and therefore a whole new way to think about our designs.”

“A lot of cool things have happened to me, but this is by far the coolest one,” Sopher added. “It’s really awesome, especially because [architecture] is what I want to do. This is my very first real project and it’s awesome to watch it go up. I’m especially thankful to [Benedict] for all the work he did to make this happen.”

The project will stay up for the next three weeks before the hut will be disassembled and the materials distributed to the new dorm or other constructions sites around campus. There they will be either re-used or recycled. 

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