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Illinois students plan sustainable homes for tornado-ravaged Gifford

architectural plan
Image courtesy
Mark Taylor

Students of architecture professor Mark Taylor are designing sustainable homes to replace structures destroyed by the tornado that hit Gifford in November.

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3/3/2014 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In 2010, University of Illinois students were in the planning stages for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition when an EF2 tornado hit Streator, Ill., destroying scores of homes and businesses. Mark Taylor, the architecture professor supervising the students, said that event inspired the students to focus their efforts on designing a house that could be quickly constructed and assembled to meet the needs of families affected by future tornadoes. They entered the competition with a 1,000-square-foot solar-powered modular house that they dubbed “Re_home.”

architectural plans
Architectural drawings of the sustainable home designed for Gifford. | Image courtesy Mark Taylor

But what began as a theoretical exercise may soon get a test run in the real world. Taylor and a group of architecture and engineering students have teamed with Habitat for Humanity to design new dwellings for residents of Gifford, Ill., which was hit by a tornado in November.

Taylor will present the students’ research and preliminary designs noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday (March 4) at Figure One, the university’s exhibition space in downtown Champaign.

“After the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition, I developed a seminar where we looked at the competition rules to see if we could apply those concepts to real-world situations,” Taylor said. “We had contacted Habitat to see if we could work with them to develop some new designs that minimize energy use while remaining affordable to build. So we were already in that conversation before the Gifford tornado hit.”

The three preliminary designs his students have created represent a continuation, not a copy, of the Re_home. For starters, the 1,000-square-foot Re_home had only two bedrooms; these family-style plans have three or four. And while Re_home was conceived as a factory-made modular dwelling, the Gifford houses will be built the Habitat way – with volunteer labor.

“We like to partner with organizations beyond the university in the hope that what we do will impact their daily activities,” Taylor said. “It also helps us focus on developing practical, cost-effective solutions.”

While they wait for Habitat to finalize the number and locations of new homes, Taylor is working with engineering students to conduct an energy analysis to determine the most cost-effective insulation methods for these residences. Once completed, the new homes could embody the optimistic prediction his students included in their 2011 Solar Decathlon presentation: “When disaster strikes, there is always the opportunity to leave the technologies of the past behind and take control of the resources of the future.”

This presentation is part of Figure One’s Porch Project, an installation by Brooklyn-based artist-in-residence Heather Hart, which has transformed Figure One’s main gallery into a social space bridging the university to the larger community.

Figure One is at 116 N. Walnut Street, Champaign. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Editor's note: For more information, contact Mark Taylor at

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