Students present design proposals for Varner House renovation


TUSKEGEE, Alabama (October 26, 2011) — Tuskegee University students presented design proposals for the renovation of the historic Varner House in Tuskegee, Ala., on Monday at the Tuskegee-Macon County Community Development Corporation. The home was purchased by the university and plans are underway to convert the property into an alumni house and visitors center for the surrounding Macon County community. Thirteen fourth-year architecture students were given the project as part of a hands-on learning exercise and some of their ideas could be used for the actual renovation.

“We’re hoping to give some insight for the decision makers,” said Roderick Fluker, assistant professor at the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Sciences.

Built in 1853, the one-story Greek Revival-style home was once a residence for a wealthy Tuskegee family. The last resident was William Varner who was a judge; however, the home has been vacant since the 1950s and has fallen into disrepair. The poor condition and the need for renovation served as challenges for the students’ projects.

Susan Reynolds, assistant professor, said the building is showing signs of deterioration, settling and cracking. She said observation of the home’s problems is part of the students learning to develop  “a critical eye” in assessing buildings.

Reynolds also said the students had to learn to balance the old and new in their designs. The Varner House is a former residence with about 4,000 sq. ft. on its main level but converting it into a visitors center will require much more space.  The students’ designs had to accommodate proposed additions to the property such as a lobby, gift shop, café, event space, offices, parking lot and extra restrooms. So, an additional structure had to be designed and plan made for the house’s renovation.

“It’s about trying to be sensitive to the introduction of new elements,” Reynolds said.

Student designers Whitney Duncan and Jennifer Taylor took an approach that they described as bridging the past with the present. Much of the Varner home will be kept intact and the bulk of new additions will be in a new structure that will be connected to the house by a glassed-in bridge overlooking a garden plaza.

“It’s to give the feeling of being outside and inside,” Taylor said.

Zachary Beasley II and Nicholas Carr made the past more of a focus in their proposed design. The new elements would be built in an eclipse pattern with the Varner House at its center.

“Everything comes back to the house,” Beasley said.

Whether or not any elements from the students’ designs will be used remains to be seen, but Fluker said the project is “an exciting opportunity to give new life to this house.”

“We’re excited about what’s being envisioned,” he said.

Students that participated in the design project, along with Beasley, Carr, Duncan and Taylor were: Michael Ash, Desmond Gosier, Nicholas R. Jackson, Simone Mann, Timothy Matthews, Jakiya Mixon, Che'velle Peters, Ricardo J. Maga-Rojas, and Timothy Thomas.

Jennifer Taylor, left, and Whitney Duncan, presented design proposals for the Varner House renovation on Monday at Tuskegee-Macon County Community Development Corporation. They were two of 13 students that submitted proposals.

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