Revitalizing the land of plenty
with affordable housing

Hawaii Island is caught in a Catch 22 situation: although it boasts a fertile landscape that can easily support a broad range of agriculture, 85-90% of food consumed is still imported from the U.S. mainland.  High real estate costs have been partially responsible for perpetuating this dependency, prohibiting many young families from owning and farming the land as their parents did.  Some locals have even been forced to leave Hawaii in search of work.  To help promote the area’s self-sustaining economy, MIT Architecture students, led by Professor Jan Wampler, have partnered with the local non-profit Kohala Center and the Starseed Ranch to provide young farmers with land and housing.

Ranch owners Andrew and Jyoti Ulrych solicited help from Wampler and his students to find ways to utilize their 100-acre parcel in North Kohala for new and affordable housing units.  With the assistance of a Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center Service Learning grant, Wampler and a team of six undergraduate and graduate students first traveled to Hawaii last October and again over this past IAP.  After absorbing the rich heritage of the area and meeting with the locals, the team collaborated with the clients to envision a self-sustained housing complex clustered to share a common infrastructure would be the most beneficial for the ten farming families as well as for the environment.

The team developed and presented several housing schemes to 65 community members this past January.  The audience was enthusiastic about the project’s affordable and sustainable vision.  In order to test some of their ideas, the students built a prototype that incorporated the essential design elements of the project, all of which were deeply researched and supported the overall intent.  To reduce costs and provide a sustainable local market, bamboo and other materials will be used as the structure for the dwellings.  The housing will utilize solar energy and composting toilets in order to reduce energy consumption and minimize waste.  Currently, two Department of Urban Studies and Planning students are working as Public Service Fellows on issues related to zoning regulations for the proposed plans.

Not only does the local community have the opportunity to benefit from outside design expertise, but the students involved have also been touched and challenged by community-oriented projects such as this one.  “At the end of the day,” says Ryan Doone (G Course 4), “we hope to provide for the next generation a chance to work with their land, to jumpstart the self-sustenance movement in Hawaii, and to lend our minds and hands in fostering consciousness [of] Mother Nature.”

Read more about students and their public service projects...