The work of the Urban Laboratory in Wilkinsburg from focused on the Hamnett Place Neighborhood. Collaboration with the community in the development of the urban design strategies and demonstration project involved close partnership with the Institute for Ecological Innovation (IEI), a non-profit corporation that seeks to model and disseminate sustainable planning strategies and accessible regenerative technologies.
The work done by the students started in the Urban Lab studio, discovering and analyzing Wilkinsburg. The students began to understand the geographical, cultural, and socio-economical factors that permeate the borough. From there, the students used their analysis and started to draw conclusions to what the citizens of the borough wanted for their neighborhood. These conclusions were tested in a series of community meetings where feedback from the residents were taken into account for the eventual design of the Hamnett Homestead Sustainable Living Center (HHSLC).
By the end of the semester, the students had a solid understanding of what the citizens of Wilkinsburg wanted for their community and the following semester was used to design a plan that would factor those ideas in the Hamnett site. A large focus for the design was on the two aspects of the Center that would be constructed first – the porch, stemming from the observations of the “porch culture” and the greenhouse, which allowed the sustainable urban farming to begin early in the process.
By the end of the Spring semester the students had created construction documents detailing these two important aspects of the Center. The following summer would be spent building the porch, a practice in understanding the construction aspect of architecture. The porch was constructed at a temporary location, allowing the students to discover all the aspects of how a construction project works without the input of a professional contractor.