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Architecture, engineering classes collaborate to build house

Ben Reicher
Ben Reicher (SC '18), News Editor of The Standard student newspaper, zeroes in on an ambitious and exciting collaboration between Honors Architecture III and Honors Engineering students.



Before spring break, Science Department Chair Joan Rohrback’s Honors Engineering class will construct a wooden children’s playhouse, complete with a climbing wall and open-air slide, building walls without ever leaving those of Room 313. The design comes from Honors Architecture III student Matthew Cha (’18), being chosen by a panel of judges from among designs submitted by everyone in that class.

“Architecture II does a project called the ‘tiny house’, where they design a house that’s 200 square feet. And I’ve been doing that project for two years…and every year, the students want to build it,” Honors Architecture III teacher Wendy Northup said.

While Northup’s Honors Architecture III students were inspired in their designs by the project they had done in Architecture II the previous year, Rohrback’s engineering class has both more tools and more experience with construction. Northup and Rohrback eventually decided that the latter’s engineering class would build a smaller house, with no dimension greater than eight feet. They also settled on a playhouse, because, according to Rohrback, otherwise her engineering students would have had to put in plumbing and electricity.

Next year, architecture and engineering plan to collaborate even further. A Stewardship Committee meeting on Feb. 15 confirmed a new class for next year called The Science of Art, which explores the relationship between art and electronics, specifically Arduino technology.

“I’m hoping that the playhouse project is the beginning of having the architecture and engineering classes working more closely together, on at least one project a year,” Northup said.

The panel of judges consisted of Rohrback and three other science teachers: Joseph Pflieger, Eric Dick, and Norman Brennan. Proposals were submitted anonymously; and judged on if they would be structurally sound, if they satisfied building codes, if they were within the skill level of the engineering class, and how attractive they would be to small children. To that effect, Northup’s class interviewed Lower School students for design ideas. During the judging process, about half of the designs were eliminated due to sloped roofs, which are outside the experience of Rohrback’s class.

“One [design] had no support members for the walls, so the walls would literally collapse on themselves…some of them had very big openings and windows that would not be structurally sound,” Rohrback said.

Rohrback called Cha’s design “simple, and yet interesting”. Cha’s blueprint also has many “nooks and crannies”, which children will like.

Architecture students also had to submit a budget, which Cha said he found the hardest. According to Rohrback, all the budget estimates were inaccurate, as the students didn’t have much experience with construction cost analysis; and the judges ultimately did not take budget into consideration. Cha’s design would cost between $1000 and $1,500, according to Rohrback.

Hoping to finish before spring break, the engineering class will order lumber, and then construct the walls of the house within the classroom, later assembling them outside on campus. The finished house will either be given to the Lower School, or donated elsewhere.

“The feeling that another person likes the art I’m making really makes me feel good about it… I was always considering architecture as a major, [and], having this happen, I’m pretty sure I’m going to major in that in college now,” Cha said.
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Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.