Students develop green vision for city of Auburn

By Melisa Virnig, College of Engineering and Architecture intern
PULLMAN – The future of Auburn, Wash., is looking greener, thanks to a multi-disciplinary group of students developing a sustainability plan for the city.
Their Integrated Design Experience (IDeX) course began in the fall. The architecture, civil engineering and organic agriculture students generated preliminary plans for the sustainable development of the 130-acre Auburn Environmental Park District.
This spring, some fall semester students and a handful of new ones are developing 20 percent complete construction documents to present to Auburn officials this month.
The course is taught by Michael Wolcott, professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and Todd Beyreuther, Cara Poor and Karl Olsen, assistant professors in architecture and construction management and CEE.
Based on concepts developed in the fall, the students are working in five teams focused on wetlands, infrastructure, systems, urban agriculture and structures. The teams are developing plans that will come together as one overall plan for the city.
Faculty grow along with students
Wolcott said a project like this has numerous benefits for all involved.
“For students, it’s a great opportunity to work with real clients and communities to see how their discipline is involved in the real world and put their knowledge to a broader use,” he said. “Different disciplines all work with the same problems, but come about them in different ways. Through interactions, they develop linkages and understand different roles.”
The faculty benefits, as well.
“This is a phenomenally challenging and rewarding class to teach,” he said. “We’re all exposed to tremendously different perspectives. In the end, we get a richer experience.”
Students offer city fresh approaches
The city of Auburn wants to be the showcase of a sustainable movement, said Tim Werfelmann, senior architecture student.
“This studio is the first step the city has taken to have actual concrete documents that they can use,” he said.
Wolcott said the 20 percent complete documents aren’t as thorough as a professional firm’s typical first level of development at 30 percent, but having the students start the process has an advantage.
“The city gets a lot broader thinking,” he said. “Instead of using a firm that does things well but tends to implement things in the same ways, it gets fundamentally different ways to solve its issues from the combination of students’ ideas.”
The redevelopment of Auburn will take the city 25-30 years to complete, which makes this project interesting, Werfelmann said.
“After we’re done, what happens in the future is up to who the city of Auburn decides to develop it with,” he said.
Bringing wetland to the city
Wolcott said the overall theme for the project is storm water management.
“Our goal is to bring the concept of a wetland into the community,” he said. “Our challenge is to handle water in a more natural manner.”
The students are working to come up with new ways to handle storm water immediately, as it falls on buildings, the streets and even before it can hit the street, Wolcott said.
“Instead of shipping out the water and constructing a new wetland, we want to bring the wetland into the city,” he said.
The goal is to control both the quantity and quality of flood waters, he said. This is being done through a number of plans, including green roofs, rain gardens and green canopies.
“The theme of water permeates everything we do,” he said.
Presentation April 29
Throughout the semester, there have been a number of small reviews held with faculty, firms and Auburn representatives to gather input and advice. The teams will present a final review in Auburn on April 29 to city officials, engineering firms and other local influencers.
To learn more about the project, please visit
Read earlier articles from WSU Today about the project here and here.

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