By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
STATE COLLEGE — A Danville alum is working on a project that will bring architectural engineering directly to the disadvantaged people who need it most.
Aaron Wertman, a 2007 graduate of Danville High School and current graduate student in Penn State’s architecture program, has been working on Apparatus X since last May. Apparatus X, which is serving as Wertman’s project for his master’s thesis, is an RV trailer renovated to serve as a combination living quarters and mobile architecture studio.
His plan is to finish his prototype of Apparatus X this August, along with the help of several Penn State volunteers, and then drive it down to New Orleans. There, he wants to use it to help the rebuilding process of the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, which still has not recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
He has been working alongside the non-profit group Lower Ninth Ward Village to help reach his goal.
“A large number of homes have still not been rebuilt,” Wertman said. Part of this is because builders have not been embedded in the local communities and have had an “outside-in” approach to architecture. Wertman believes it’s important to have the architect in more of an activist role, being involved directly with the community rather than orchestrating construction from afar. “The opposite hasn’t worked, it’s been 8 years and there are still hundreds if not thousands of homes that haven’t been rebuilt.”
This engagement is important for trust, understanding needs, action, and a variety of other things that architecture sometimes neglects, Wertman said.
Apparatus X is about 24 feet by 8 feet on the inside, including a studio and workshop area, kitchen, stove, oven and a small bathroom containing a toilet and shower. It’s designed to house one person. A drop down bed is attached to an elevated rail system along the trailer’s ceiling, so that it can be brought down during the night and retracted afterward.
Solar panels along the top of Apparatus X give it an energy capacity of 2000 kilowatt hours. That’s meant to provide power not just to the living facilities within the trailer but power tools that will be used in construction, Wertman said.
“The draw on power tools is a heavy load,” he said. “You have to be careful with exhausting the battery source.”
Propane heating is also included on Apparatus X to help offset power usage.
The original plans for Apparatus X called for just a flat-bed trailer to start. Wertman and his volunteers, however, were able to find a 1977 Chateau RV model, which they deconstructed and rebuilt.
Work on Apparatus X was halted due to the winter weather. “Now that the weather has finally broken, I’m finally getting back outside” to continue renovating the trailer, Wertman said.
Among those helping him are students from Penn State University’s engineering and architecture programs. Also assisting are Penn State agricultural science students, who are developing guidelines that can be used for citizens of the Lower Ninth to set up their own community gardens. These gardens have become popular recently as a way to bring people together and grow a little extra food, Wertman said.
Wertman will soon launch a fundraiser on the website IndieGoGo to allow people to donate money toward the completion of Apparatus X.
In the future, Wertman would like to see multiple versions of Apparatus X created.
“In my dreams, I envision … potentially a fleet of these types of vehicles” to be used at disaster areas, he said. He doesn’t know if he will be able to market and sell them any time soon due to limitations of being a grad student at PSU.
For now, he just wants to complete Apparatus X for his thesis review in August, and then see what good he can do in New Orleans.
“The first step is the prototype and seeing how things go,” he said.
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