In Sioux Falls, South Dakota the impact of the local chapter of Architecture for Humanity is peppered throughout the city.
An affordable housing competition not only challenges the local design professionals, but its results are directly benefiting Sioux Falls families. A garden shelter on a hospital campus serves as a resting place for weary gardeners, who have been flocking to the project. The chapter has numerous well-used built projects around the city, and has plans set in place even more. While the chapter recently suffered a relocation of three out of its four founding members, its aims are set no less high for becoming a municipal staple for design engagment.
Kristen Schulte and Steven Dix recently spoke with Headquarters about the chapter's story, their work, and their plans for growth. You can check out some of their work on the I Love Architecture page.
If you like this interview, consider donating directly to the Sioux Falls Chapter to support their work.
Headquarters: Can you tell us about your experience with the chapter, and a bit about the chapter’s history?
Steven Dix: Kristen and I both came to AFH at the same time, when we both moved back to Sioux Falls and started work at our firm Koch Hazard. That was about a year and a half ago. Three out of the four founders (Brent Schuettpelz, Whitney Parks, and Matt Heirigs) of AFH Sioux Falls have moved away since the chapter started. Brent and Whitney are in Denver and I think they might be affiliated with the chapter out there. Andrew (Eitreim) is the only founding member still in town. He’s at a different firm now, so he’s still around but not as much he once was.
Kristen Schulte: He was promoted to principal, so he’s been really busy. But we had a strong start with the founding members. At this point we don’t have any elected board members…
Steven: - although we’ve taken on the roles -
Kristen: Yeah, we’re in a transition period where we’re figuring out what to do next. The chapter started off with the tool lending library, which was built quite some time ago. They got tools donated recently and I think they’re still trying to figure out who will manage it, but there’s been progress on that one.
Other major projects include a design competition for affordable housing. The first year’s challenge was a single-family house that was completed last summer and the second year’s was a multi-family complex that was finished a few months ago. The competition is over and they’re in bidding right now.
Steven: We also did some drawings and concept design for an orphanage in Haiti. That will actually be carried out by our firm (Koch Hazard) with an Iowa-based organization called Love Takes Root. We also worked on and completed a garden shelter, which we’re very proud of here in Sioux Falls. There are people planting and growing crops now and it’s getting lot of use!
Chapter members and volunteers working on the tool lending library, which has since been completed.
HQ: So you both work at Koch Hazard, and we know Stacey (McMahan, another AFH_SFSD member) is there, was the chapter an office inspired endeavour? Was it office culture that brought you to AFH?
Kristen: Yes, I think so. We certainly have members from some other firms, and also people that are in design but not architecture. Right now we’re trying to branch out.
Our nearest in-state architecture school is in Brookings, South Dakota, which is about 45 minutes away, and it’s really a challenge to get student involvement from up there. I’ve spoken with the AIAS president there, and hopefully this fall we can connect with them, maybe do a joint project. I know within AIAS they have some program called “Freedom by Design”, and maybe we could collaborate with them.
They’re a young architecture school and a young [AIAS] chapter, but that’s opportunity to join together and do something for the community. I think we’d have renewed energy and some cool ideas collaborating with them.
HQ: You’re a little cut off from universities - are there any other AFH or AIA groups nearby that you’re able to collaborate with? Have you found partnerships with local government or other local organizations?
Kristen: Affordable Housing is a local organization. The competitions were a partnership between them and the City of Sioux Falls, and we sort of facilitated the competition aspect and getting people involved.
I think the closest AFH chapter is Minneapolis, which are about 2.5-4 hours away by car, so not terribly close. We’re a little isolated here…but I don’t think that that’s a bad thing.
HQ: Right - you seem to have pretty large scale and ambitious projects, despite your small size and isolation. What’s your ambition and how do you pull them off?
Steven: I think it really stems from our founders. Brent and Whitney were really pro-active. They moved from Chicago back to Sioux Falls three or four years ago –from a big city to a pretty small community.
They wanted to do more than they were getting in Sioux Falls and in the firm that they were at. So they took active roles in the community and really strived to do something different - and even continue their education outside of the firm. So I would put it on our founders and their productivity.
HQ: One of the projects that I found fascinating while researching you guys a bit was the orphanage and school project in Haiti; can you talk about that a bit?
Kristen: When Stacey was in Haiti [at the Rebuilding Center] for a year she met up with some people that ended up driving the project. The Love Takes Root organization is really the client.
Here in Sioux Falls we did some charette work - early schematic design, that type of thing. Koch Hazard has taken up donating the time to doing the drawings. I think construction is about to start, or has started on phase one of that project.
Steven: We (Koch Hazard) were actually planning on taking five or six people on a trip in April, but we talked to the contractor down there and they didn’t have enough work for us. I think they were still doing a lot of site work, and there wouldn’t have been enough for us to do. So we postponed that trip. We’re going to go help build for a week in the fall, I think in October, so the summer heat doesn’t destroy us out there.
It worked well for us, being associated with Koch Hazard, because they took on this project and then let AFH Sioux Falls do concept design, which was great for the chapter. And we get to see it through completion and go down there, so that’s going to be really great.
A schematic design presentation for the children of LaConcorde.
The final product of the first Affordable Housing Competition in Sioux Falls, facilitated by AFH_SFSD. Image courtesy of Cipher Imaging, Architectural Photography.
HQ: Moving to a different topic, another interesting project is the South Dakota Affordable Housing competition – and it seems to have evolved since its first iteration, it’s now slightly larger scale. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Kristen: It started with the single-family housing project. They were attempting to be energy efficient as well as promoting good design (affordable housing, especially single family, is often underserved by design).
There were some changes during construction that drastically affected the final exterior aesthetics, but overall it was successful. The project was sold before it even officially entered the market! They had grant money for the initial project; they got a portion of that back selling it.
As for the recent, multi-family one, they wanted to do a different type to keep the design professionals interested and challenge them a little bit. We did a five or six unit, one bedroom complex on a relatively small triangular site.
The location had another empty site right next to it that actually belonged to a church across the street. They have an agreement that the residents of the units can use it to free up some of the space – it was just overflow parking for the church.
They’re expecting the majority of the units to be filled by elderly church members so they can be close; it’s kind of a win-win for both. The competition went well and we had a great winning entry. They’ve been developing drawings and right now I believe they’re bidding. You can find all the drawings and information on the Open Architecture Network.
HQ: Do you have any visions or goals for the future of your chapter? Any collaborations you’re hoping for, projects you hope to see realized?
Kristen: I think our main goals right now would be another (or even a few) more garden shelters and to collaborate with the students. I think the student connection and encouraging that young program to grow is important. They have a different type of energy. We mostly have young professionals in our group, so I think that it would be good to get some students in the mix.
Steven: Yeah, we gotta get ‘em while they’re young!
So do you have any thoughts or advice for other chapters?
Steven: Well, I guess you can tell other chapters, (many of which are in bigger cities than Sioux Falls) that it doesn’t take a lot of people to get something accomplished. As long as you have a couple members who are going to lead, you can do pretty big things.
A rendered perspective of the community garden shelter prototype.
The shelter under construction.
Steven Dix, Kristen Schulte and the other AFH_SFSD members are excited to continue their work with Architecture for Humanity and Sioux Falls - and we look forward to seeing it!
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