The Recorder – Student design build on display at Franklin County Fairgrounds

GREENFIELD — The Green River Festival in 2022 will feature a rich cycle of musicians, a diverse list of food vendors, activities for children, and even an open house of sorts.

Students and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Amherst teamed up with East Branch Studio, Chesterfield, to create Hygge House, a 350-square-foot accessory home on display at the Franklin County Fairgrounds until Tuesday, when it will be delivered to Holyok to be used for housing. Known as a design build, the project allows students to apply classroom learning in a supervised real-world scenario.

“What was a little unusual about this is that the design part of this happened before COVID. Basically what you see is designed in 2020, before March,” said L. Carl Fiocchi, an associate professor in the building and construction technology program at UMass Amherst. “When the pandemic interrupted business, we couldn’t build until this semester.”

Fiocchi said 11 students, who were not involved in the design, were introduced to the project through a week-long pre-semester seminar before construction began in February. Construction took place over the weekend and the students had to commit to a minimum of 12 days of labor.

The unit is a collaboration between East Branch Studio, owned by Kent Hicks, and UMass Amherst. Fiocchi said the 11 students included five from the university’s building and construction technology program and four from the architecture program, as well as two Five College Consortium students — one from Mount Holyoke College and one from Amherst College. The students were a mix of advanced bachelor and master students.

“Not many places in the county have[design builds]on their schedule because it’s hard to do, but it’s certainly not unheard of,” said Fiocchi, a crane operator at Flach Crane & Rigging, of Selkirk, New York, who helped the structure and then put the roof in place at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The airtight deck of the net-zero unit will be used as a stage for the Green River Festival.

On Tuesday, it will go to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke until the fall, when it will be donated to OneHolyoke Community Development Corporation. It will have a living room, a kitchen area, a bathroom and a bedroom.

“You know, besides the educational component… it’s addressing equality and the housing crisis that we have,” Fiocchi added.

He said the unit — transported to Greenfield by Independent Homes, of Hoosick, New York — will likely house one person or a couple.

“I don’t know if I’d want to live there with some kids,” he joked.

Ahmed Fathhee, 37, a UMass Amherst student working on his master’s degree in sustainable building systems, said he has gained experience in everything from framing and drywall to electrical work, plumbing and insulation.

Adam Chartier, 33, helped with the initial design for two weeks in January 2020, four months before graduating from UMass Amherst with a degree in building and construction technology. He now works for East Branch Studio.

“It’s great to see it finally come to fruition. I really didn’t think it would happen, to be honest,” he said. “We’re doing what we wanted to do.

According to information from UMass Amherst, the benefits of an additional housing unit include adding density to existing neighborhoods, offering a diversity of housing types and lowering the cost of homeownership.

The unit is built using healthy, non-toxic materials such as low-carbon cellulose, which is wood-based, meaning it retains carbon and uses no petroleum. Products made with synthetic petroleum-based compounds and other toxic substances contribute to poor indoor air quality through outgassing or the release of gas embedded in the material. But Fiocchi said this project was not free from global supply chain problems, which he described as brutal.

“That’s been a problem. We were just as victimized as anyone else,” he said, adding that he’s never seen anything like it before in his career. “But we kept going.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, extension. 262.

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