Back to the Future: New Norris House Shows It’s Never Too Late to Go Green

By Samuel Allen Mortimer

Over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a talented group of students in the design and construction of a model sustainable home called A New Norris House. The project is an interdisciplinary effort led by The College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee, and takes its roots from the small town of Norris, Tennessee.

Norris was one of the United States’ first full examples of town planning and a key feature of this New Deal era development was the Norris House, an assembly of home designs built as models for modern and efficient living. Seventy-five years later, we are reinterpreting the Norris paradigm and creating a New Norris House—a sustainable home designed for the 21st century.

Not only is the home actually being built—it is being built by students! In the architecture world, this is what is known as design/build—when the same party tackles both design and construction. In the academic realm, this is beneficial for many reasons. Students directly see the principles, materials, and methodologies taught in school. They also gain a quick understanding of costs, scheduling, the implications of change orders, specifications, and building codes. These are invaluable lessons, especially when taught under the protective umbrella of academia.
Partnering with Clayton Homes to build the shell of the home, students have labored tirelessly over the past eight months to reach a point of near completion. Opening date is set for early summer and all parties involved are excited to see the conclusion.

Grants our team won through EPA’s P3 Student Competition for Sustainability were invaluable. The Phase II award provided funding for us to finish conceptualizion and bring our vision to reality. Having the EPA name alongside our project has given us immediate credibility and helped opened doors that may not have been possible otherwise. Beginning this adventure as a student and now seeing it’s completion as researcher and intern with the university has been a formative experience in my life and career. Check out the 2011 P3 projects at EPA’s Earth Day activities, including the National Sustainable Design Expo, this weekend on the National Mall! Click here for details.

About the Author: Samuel Mortimer, one of the original 2008 University of Tennessee P3 team members, is now a research specialist for the university’s College of Architecture and Design.

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