This Is How They Did It

Not all concerns were so easily resolved. Kerz-Murray and Nelson were less than thrilled that a small group was orchestrating big changes behind closed doors. The fund-raising team worried about how donors would react to such a dramatic overhaul. They’d spent a year selling the old house, and now all of their models, renderings, and literature were useless. They’d even need a new logo. To alumni giving thousands of dollars to the project, would they look irresponsible, or even deceitful?

The Great Revision, as it was called, also exposed troubling gender lines on the team. Architecture firms are notoriously male dominated, and Self-Reliance’s was no different. The previous summer, Romanov had been the only female among a dozen men in the leadership ranks. It was hard not to feel marginalized. “We ended up having a big talk about how to be a girl on a boys’ team.”

Astrid Schanz-Garbassi ’12, one of the first to join the team, was abroad during the Revision, but she counseled several friends as discontent simmered. “Naturally, there are some people whose ideas get put to the front,” but many female students “felt like it was a huge struggle to have that input.” Several saw their work consistently ignored. A few, she said, came away thinking, “Well, maybe design just isn’t for me.”

The male privilege that plagued the group wasn’t necessarily malicious, Romanov told me: “They just didn’t get it.” When I put the question to Melissa Segil ’11, who emerged as a team leader at about this time, she dodged it slyly. “Maybe I’m biased in thinking that things could have been easier, or better, or different, if we’d had more women involved.”

Bendheim acknowledged that “some people were very alienated by the Revision,” but then shock and frustration quickly gave way to urgency. If they missed the deadline, they’d forfeit a $30,000 cash installment from the DOE and invite concerns from Old Chapel. Through a combination of late night conversations, dining hall coffee, and hours spent bathed in the glow of computer screens, they finished the materials in time.

In December, as Godine and a few others prepared to spend winter break on campus, he penned a letter to the team, reflecting on the experience. “What no one has said yet, but what is at least partially true, is that I am responsible for the failings of the pre-Revision design. I admit to this and I apologize.” He continued, “In retrospect it seems obvious that we should have started with [our] limitations and gone from there, but sweet, ignorant enthusiasm was the spirit at the time (and this included me).”


September 22, 2011
On the day that metered competition begins in Washington, the heat pump breaks. “E6,” reads the LCD screen. In four hours, Decathlon officials will set up temperature and humidity monitors inside the home to see how well regulated the “comfort zone” is.

Chester Curme, the electrical lead, can consult a Mitsubishi rep over the phone, but only a student is allowed to do the actual repair work. “Dude, what is a 232 to outdoor unit?” Godine asks Aaron Kelly. “And how big is a 14-gauge wire?”

Kelly considers. “I don’t think the electrical supply is the problem. It could be the circuit breakers.” Or perhaps some wires came loose while the team was crawling around in the ceiling, insulating the pipes. The trio goes to check.

Segil walks over to the huddle and reminds the group to please keep smiling, as long as they’re standing on the porch.

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