How do you prepare for a competition that gives you nothing to prepare for? Just like the other entrants of the American Institute of Architects’ Emerging Professionals Network (EPN) 4th Annual Design Charrette at Norwich University: anxiety ridden.
William Fretwell and David Woolaver, students in Vermont Tech’s Architectural Engineering Technology major, were more than first-time entrants to the charette — they were pioneers.
Surrounding the two young men were professional architects and twenty student-teams from Middlebury College, Norwich University, and the University of Vermont, to name a few.
“That’s the amazing thing about a design charrette,” Woolaver said, “all you know is you’ll be given 4 hours, and they’ll surprise you with the prompt as soon as you walk in.”
And, as promised, they were surprised.
The prompt? Designing a net-zero neighborhood in an empty 350 foot by 400 foot lot in Hinesburg. The challenge? Multi-income housing, sustainability, shopping, and all the considerations a “green living” neighborhood deserve. Adding to the challenge was that the competition was analog-only — everything had to be done by hand.
Fretwell and Woolaver sketched manically.
“We sketched and sketched, getting ideas out and throwing a lot of them in the trash,” Fretwell said.
The two Vermont Tech students felt the pressure mounting as the clock ticked.
Four hours is already too short a time to complete the prompt, and starting new ideas, which Fretwell and Woolaver did a few times, can cost you everything. But they persevered. Relying on foundational knowledge, like the Architectural Design and Environmental Systems classes they took at Vermont Tech.
“I tried to apply knowledge I had here (at Vermont Tech) and convert it into an architectural idea,” Woolaver said.
The room was filled with students and professionals rushing to create their visions for the new sustainable neighborhood. The other team’s ideas were going up on boards and sitemaps were coming to life.
There was no time to go back and forth — the two Vermont Tech hopefuls had to solidify their plan.
Fretwell and Woolaver labored over elevation, surrounding structures, terrain, and how to design for the betterment of the planet. The sketches started coming together and their idea took shape — a futuristic one.
The buildings curved around the 350 foot by 400 foot lot and took the prompt’s challenges head-on. Solar panels on the roof, a recycling and water collection building, multi-generation resident housing, and storefronts were factored in with charm.
The end of the competition was spent constructing their model, including accessible parking that doubled as an upper deck patio.
Thirty teams stood against Fretwell and Woolaver — all standing proudly next to their neighborhood models.
Truthfully, no one could complete the whole prompt, which is a clever and strategic part of the challenge. It forces the students to pursue and display only what best represents their plan.
This is where Fretwell and Woolaver shined. The judges saw their vision — earning them 3rd place among the student competitors in the charrette.
“It builds your confidence,” Woolaver said, “this is a big win for us and our major.”
The two Vermont Tech students walked in as anxious pioneers, but like the great knights they are — they walked out victors.
“We’re definitely doing it again next year,” Fretwell said, “and we’re bringing more Vermont Tech students to compete. We’re going to have an even bigger presence!”