UGA engineering students explore the challenges of coastal housing

UGA students work with the Marine Institute of the University of Georgia on Sapelo Islandto create new designs that could help coastal residents weather the next hurricane.

UGA College of Engineering students focus on new housing for researchers on the island of Sapelo as an opportunity to explore new prototypes of affordable, storm-resistant and culturally appropriate housing options for the south coast -is of the United States.

The UGA team explores a “Katrina Cottage” – a housing model designed and manufactured in response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2001 and the need for more sustainable, resilient and worthy housing options than FEMA trailers. (Photo by Jennifer Lewis)

“Coastal areas around the world are vulnerable to sea level rise and weather hazards such as high winds and flooding,” said Merryl Alber, director of the UGA Marine Institute. “The effects of these coastal hazards are particularly acute in isolated rural communities with limited resources. Adequate housing is essential to the resilience and long-term prosperity of these small communities.

Four civil and environmental engineering students are developing a housing design to replace the dilapidated mobile homes on the Marine Institute campus, currently used as housing for visiting researchers from around the world. The project is part of their Synthesis Senior Design Course, a one-year class that gives students the opportunity to work on a real-world engineering challenge with a client – in this case, the Marine Institute. By working with a larger interdisciplinary research team at UGA, the students’ broader goal is to examine how their designs might provide an affordable alternative to housing in Coastal Georgia and other Southeastern states. where strong winds and sea level rise are significant challenges.

The students stand outside and look at a salt marsh.

The salt marsh is directly accessible to researchers working in the laboratories of the UGAMI campus. (Photo by Jennifer Lewis)

“A lot of the houses and structures currently in place are just not adapted to the level of the storms that are affecting the area, and conditions on this island are recurring all along the southeast coast,” said Alex Rush, student. to the master’s degree in civil engineering. and member of the interdisciplinary research team. “This knowledge, at the very least, reinforces the need for resilient structures capable of withstanding the coastal elements of the world today and tomorrow.”

In addition to engineering, the interdisciplinary team includes colleagues from the College of Environment and Design, the Department of Geography, the Department of Marine Sciences, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, the ‘Office of Research and Office of the University Architect.

Capstone Porsche students Chen, Sophie Knoll, Tannar Singer and Paola Valdivia recently visited Sapelo Island for the first time. With members of the research team, the group explored the full footprint of the UGA Marine Institute campus to better understand the research and teaching programs offered there. They also learned about the needs of visiting researchers studying salt marshes and other coastal ecosystems.

The exterior of two small houses on the island of Sapelo.

Historic cottages and manufactured homes are traditional residences in Hog ​​Hammock. (Photo by Jennifer Lewis)

As the steward of a collection of buildings and structures associated with RJ Reynolds’ estate since the 1950s, the Marine Institute considers the site’s historical context to be an important consideration in future construction projects. A former dairy barn at the southern end of the island has been converted into a research and teaching laboratory, and a former power station is now a dining hall, thanks to the institute’s preservation efforts.

Sapelo Island is also home to the Gullah Geechee community of Hog Hammock, descendants of freed slaves who retain the language and culture of their African ancestors. Hog Hammock’s historic cottages are a living laboratory, with examples of building traditions that will play a role in any new designs developed by students. A visit from Hog Hammock not only gave the team insight into how traditional housing models have been maintained, but also the impact of new developments on the historic character of the community.

“This trip provided an excellent overview of the needs of the people of the coast, both structural and societal,” said Rush.

Students aboard a flatbed truck examine accommodation options at the Marine Institute.

Engineering students (LR) Sophie Knoll, Alex Rush and Tannar Singer accompany UGAMI Director Merryl Alber (R) and others on a tour of housing options on the UGAMI campus. (Photo by Jennifer Lewis)

Precast elements, 3D printing and concrete formwork are all modern construction alternatives to consider to achieve affordability and resilience goals in coastal housing, said Jennifer Lewis, research team member, director of the Center for Community Design and Preservation at the College of Environment. and Design.

“Another important goal is to make sure that, on the outside, the houses appear to belong to the traditional coastal communities of the south – areas known for their small houses with porches, nestled among living oak trees,” Lewis said.

Members of the wrap-up team said the opportunity to meet and work with a client is a crucial experience as they prepare for a career in engineering. In addition, they said that the visit to Sapelo Island enabled them to effectively assess the need for the UGAMI to develop cost-effective and resilient housing options capable of weathering storms while embracing historical and cultural assets. campus and surrounding community.

Exterior of a house built on stilts to prevent flooding.

An example of new construction at Hog Hammock that anticipates sea level rise with its raised foundation. (Photo by Jennifer Lewis)

“Our students will have the opportunity to engage with their client and work throughout the engineering design process to understand their stakeholders, create and evaluate design alternatives, and ultimately deliver a set of engineering drawings that meet the needs of their client, said Stephan Durham, professor and associate dean of student success and outreach.

“This experience will give these students the confidence to tackle similar projects once they start their professional careers after graduation,” said Mi Geum Chorzepa, who is the mentor of the Faculty of Engineering. students from the Marine Institute Synthesis Project.

Engineering students will conduct their initial research and develop design alternatives during the current semester, and then refine their concepts this spring based on feedback from the interdisciplinary research team. In April 2022, the Synthesis Team will provide a set of engineering drawings to the Marine Institute that will include site plans and details of their proposed resilient coastal homes.

“We can’t wait to see what they come up with,” Alber said.