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Design students to display energy efficient cabin at Minnesota State Fair


Fourteen students will have a big audience for their first ever design build project – approximately 300,000 fairgoers.

The students designed and are building an 800 square-foot cabin so energy efficient it can be heated by the energy equivalent of nine light bulbs.

The cabin, suited to a Northern Minnesota climate, will be featured in the Eco-Experience exhibit, sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to educate fairgoers about state-of-the-art concepts in energy efficiency in the built environment. The cabin, also called the passive house cabin, is designed to meet a mid-market construction budget and strict passive house performance criteria, in areas such as operational energy use and carbon content. It makes use of many “free” passive heat sources such as heat generated by its occupants, waste heat from appliances, passive heat from the earth and heat from the sun.

While the project is part of an energy education exhibit for fairgoers, it also has provided an invaluable long-term, hands-on learning experience for the students. It is the first design build studio to be offered by the architecture and landscape architecture department. Students worked on the cabin’s design during the spring semester and summer. And just four weeks before the fair, they brought their plans to life.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” said John Huebsch, a fifth-year architecture student. “All of these drawings, we do them in other classes. But to actually see it done … It’s cool to see how far we’ve come in one semester.”

“It’s really ground breaking and a great opportunity for the students and the school,” said Peter Atwood, a fifth-year architecture student. “But what is really good about this design build is that there’s a lot of power given to students to make decisions about the design and execution. We have supervision throughout the entire process and a helpful hand, but we really feel like we’re in control of the project and actually doing it, instead of just being told what to do.”

Tyler Pritchard, a fifth-year architecture student, says some of the biggest challenges have been shuffling a lot of different responsibilities and making sure things get done on time, as well as designing a building that is both practical and creative.

Malini Srivastava, adjunct architecture faculty member who instructs the design build studio, feels the students successfully met all these challenges. “The students have demonstrated immense creativity and spirit of innovation under very restrictive budget and strict performance goals,” she said.

The project also tested students’ abilities to fill various roles such as project manager, architect, fundraiser, accountant, interior designer, drafter, contractor, builder, web designer and graphics designer.

The students hope the overall exhibit will make people think. “There is a more simple way to live. It’s just the idea of knowing you don’t need 4,000 square feet for your house, you don’t need four bathrooms for two people,” Pritchard said. “Changing some of their minds about some of the decisions they’ll make in the future will only help create a more sustainable future.”

The design build studio’s cabin is the first passive house to be built and demonstrated at the fair, according to Srivastava. It also is the first time that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has invited a student group to participate in the Eco-Experience.

After the fair, the structure will either be moved to a permanent location or dismantled and repurposed for other uses.

To see the ongoing progress on the house, visit
“But if you really want to experience all the work and effort that a whole school and group of students have done, you have to come see it,” Huebsch said. “That’s the best way to do it.”

The Minnesota State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 25-Sept. 5. 

For more information, contact

*The image on NDSU’s homepage linking to this story was taken by Peter Atwood, a fifth-year architecture student.


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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Thursday, August 08, 2013 8:33:23 AM