Taking it to the Streets
To spread their mission statewide, AIA Vermont is transforming a vintage Airstream trailer into a traveling architecture center
By Nalina Moses
Architecture is usually about making things that are firmly rooted in place. But AIA Vermont received one of eight component 2013 AIA National Innovation Fund grant awards with its proposal “Archistream: A Mobile Design Gallery and Education Center.” While the name for the vehicle is still under discussion, the project is well underway. The organization purchased an Airstream trailer in October, and now it’s preparing to redesign it. When complete, it will travel throughout the state, delivering programs that advocate for local architecture, design, and planning.
Members of AIA Vermont with the Airstream trailer. Photo of Carolyn L. Bates Photography.
It all started at last year's AIA Vermont annual retreat, when executive director Carol Miklos asked members to brainstorm about projects to support the Repositioning the AIA initiative, thinking specifically about its Innovation Fund program. One member suggested turning an Airstream trailer into a portable architecture facility. Diane Gayer, AIA, who attended the retreat, remembers, “The idea kind of leapt off the page. We thought of this as an idea that we should not let go [away].”
Gayer wrote a proposal outlining the purchase, redesign, and operation of the trailer. Miklos supported the idea passionately, but could hardly believe it when AIA Vermont found out it had been selected for the $42,750 grant. “Finding out that we received the grant was a big surprise,” she says. “People still think of Vermont as one of the smallest, most rural states, and we got the largest grant. So it's quite a feather in our caps!"
“Carolyn” by Nick Hadsel Mares
“Too darn shiny”
The trailer's signature curving aluminum outer shell serves as a key design inspiration. “The image of the Airstream, so iconic, rallied our energies for the project,” says Gayer.
Joshua Chafe, Assoc. AIA, volunteered to find and purchase the trailer. He began by searching for Airstreams online but looked at other vehicles, too. “Due to the price and complexity of the Airstream, I urged the board to consider other alternatives, such as a box truck, car hauler, or other camper,” says Chafe. “But, alas, ultimately the Airstreams are just too darn shiny to resist. They are eye-catching and timeless.”
After searching for trailers throughout the Northeast, he found the 1969 Globetrotter that was purchased close to home, in Castleton, Vt. It’s in particularly good condition. “The body is nice—needs to be polished but it has all its rivets, which is a big deal,” Chafe explains. “The owners were a large part of it, too. They had put a lot of love and work into it, and it was obvious.”
“Nick” by Carolyn L. Bates Photography.
February 14, 2014
FOR RELEASE: Immediately
ON THE ROAD: ARCHITECTS TO TRANSFORM VINTAGE AIRSTREAM INTO MOBILE EDUCATION CENTER
Charlotte, VT — A 21-foot 1969 Airstream Globetrotter will be transformed into a mobile outreach, education, and design center over the course of the next six months. This unique American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter (AIAVT) project is made possible through a $42,750 grant from the AIA National Innovation Fund to create an “Archistream.”
AIAVT is just one of eight Chapters of the national group awarded a grant from a 65-applicant pool. The grants were awarded as part of the AIA Repositioning Initiative to generate greater awareness of AIA, architecture, and the value architects bring to community planning, historic preservation, land conservancy, disaster mitigation and remediation, and other processes.
The idea for the mobile design and education center arose from a brainstorming session at AIAVT’s annual June retreat. In an interview with AIArchitect, Diane Gayer, AIA, Vermont Design Institute, Burlington, recalled, “The idea kind of leapt off the page. We thought…that we should not let it go [away].” She later added, “The trailer's signature curving aluminum outer shell serves as a key design inspiration. The image of the Airstream, so iconic, rallied our energies for the project.”
The Airstream purchased by AIAVT will undergo its transformation in the hands of 10 undergraduate architecture students at Norwich University as the core of a spring design-build studio. Tolya Stonorov, a principal at Stonorov Workshop, Montpelier and an assistant professor of architecture at Norwich, is teaching the studio. AIAVT will be the “client.”
The project will immerse students in the everyday professional realities of schedule, budget, and program, and…bring them into conversation with the AIAVT client team. “Having AIAVT as the client will be a unique…learning opportunity,” Stonorov told AIArchitect. “The students are lucky to have a client with expertise in…architecture and design.”
The project also offers the opportunity to shape a thoughtfully calibrated and crafted micro-interior for the vehicle. Stonorov noted that the school's model shop is equipped with advanced fabrication equipment such as 3D printers and a 4x8 CNC router, and that these technologies are enhanced by Vermont’s traditions of construction. “I see the trailer's new design as a joining of the high tech and the handcrafted,” she said to AIArchitect. She imagines that the students might work with felt, resin, and hardwoods to fashion a warm interior to contrast with the vehicle’s streamlined exterior.
After the trailer is transformed, AIA volunteers will take the vehicle on the road to various communities around the state and be used in a multitude of ways. Diantha Korzun, AIA, TruexCullins Architecture, Burlington, said, “The Archistream will enable AIAVT members to better connect with each other, colleagues in related professions, and with the greater public. Engaging the general public is especially important since architects can serve as leaders in creating livable and healthy communities in Vermont. We’d like the public to be more fully aware of the positive contributions architects can make; these may be through designing a local library that will last over 200 years, rethinking the master plan of a community as it grows, or rehabilitating a designated brownfield area. An architect can also be a leader in addressing the challenges of global climate change in communities.”
While the Archistream will showcase AIAVT-winning design projects and other AIAVT activities, the AIA team hopes to develop programs in collaboration with local organizations such as Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Arts Council, and to see it used to host seminars, showcase innovative design materials and technologies, and screen architecture-related videos. “The trailer will also be available to visit schools, town halls, and county fairs; really the options are infinite. Who knows—we might ignite a spark in one of the students that leads to the next Frank Lloyd Wright,” Korzun said.
According to sources at AIA National, the “repositioning ambassadors” responsible for selecting the grant recipients said the Archistream concept squarely met their definition of innovative, and that its outreach value was not couched in the social media or digital campaigns people have come to expect these days, but rather in good, old fashioned face time—something they tagged as positively disruptive.
Source: AIArchitect, Taking it to the Streets