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UW students gain insight into housing needs of the Valley

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Ninfa R. Gutierrez (R) explains to (L-R) University of Washington instructors Dana Walker, Lynne Manzo and Michael Pyatok features she would like in a home.

MABTON - One or two car garage, two-story or rambler, courtyards, three or four bedrooms, so many choices. The sky's the limit when it comes to designing a dream house.

Wednesday night, Lower Valley residents were able to work with Master's degree architectural students from the University of Washington, who design low income homes for people in the Lower Valley.

The design workshop held at Mabton's 21st Century community center is one of a three-step study being held across the United States. The University of Washington is one of five schools in the nation to receive a three-year Housing and Urban Development Community Futures grant.

According to Dana Walker, assistant principle investigator for the project, one of the goals is to design a house that meets the criteria for sustainable methods of construction. The three portions of the grant are primary research, collaborative design, which was last night's portion of the process, and summer, on-site learning, when the students will actually help with the construction of the house. Over the next three years, two to three demonstration homes will be built as a part of the grant.

Besides looking at different designs, the students are also looking at different building materials found locally that could be used to construct the home, according to UW Professor Michael Pyatok, who is also the president of Pyatok Architects, Inc. Pyatok is considered the leading designer of low-income architecture in the United States and has won 10 of the 11 design competitions he has entered since 1977. He is known for bringing clients, users and community members together in the design process and gives them hands-on experience in designing for their own needs.

Pyatok said his students are looking at using straw bale or rammed earth to create the homes that will conserve energy, an important factor in the design process. He said the designs will take advantage of the wind directions that come through the Valley, as well as the sun and other environmental factors.

"It's also sort of to find out what would fly here," said Dr. Lynne Manzo, environmental psychologist and assistant professor at the university.

She added that having the students work directly with the people who will be living in the homes built in the development, which is a Diocese of Yakima Housing Services project, will help them become more culturally sensitive as they enter their architectural careers. Manzo added that the experience will help students as they learn to run focus groups, a needed skill in the working world.

The university is working with the diocese, a non-profit agency, which is planning a housing development for Mabton and is working on a first-time home buyer program. In the partnership, the students will oversee the building of three of the houses. Building plans the students develop will be made available to the diocese, Pyatok added.

The students working on the project, four of which are American, one Japanese and one Danish, are about halfway through the Master's program.

In the past three weeks the students have designed their own houses, which didn't necessarily meet low income needs, but Pyatok hopes that hearing first-hand from the community will help them focus on what kinds of homes are needed.

While alternative materials and styles are possible, Manzo said, "We don't want to do anything too outrageous."

"We hope it's good enough that someone will actually buy it," Pyatok added.

After going through the design process with members of the community, the students listened as homes were presented and the reason for the design elements were given.

"To me, it's important for the parents to be at the front of the house," said Lety Espinoza of Grandview, who came to interpret for the project and ended up participating.

"It was exciting to picture how you would have a house built," she said.

Taking the plans back to Seattle, the students will implement the different ideas into several different plans and return to the Valley in December.

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