UH Habitat for Humanity designs 'ultimate playhouse'

Katie McEvily

contributing writer

A playhouse would have been a unique addition to this year's Frontier Fiesta, but a lack of funds has put a damper on the festivities.

Since last semester, the University of Houston Habitat for Humanity has worked on designs for an ultimate play space. This playhouse was meant to be constructed for display at Frontier Fiesta, where interested buyers could bid on it during a silent auction.

With only a week left to build and still no resources, however, Habitat was forced to change its plans.

"It didn't happen because we'd been looking for donations, and kind of surprisingly, we didn't get any," said Habitat president Damola Osinulu. "It would have been really great if we had been able to build it, but we really had no funds. Simply because of the nature of the organization, we have to rely on other people to fund us."

The idea for a playhouse came about after the Architecture Alumni Association approached Habitat for volunteers on its second annual Archis' Icehouse at Frontier Fiesta. In return for contributing time and manpower to the festival booth, Habitat could promote its mission to the entire campus and possibly raise money for future projects.

"We've been looking for a way to get more UH students involved in (Habitat) activities, not just architecture students," Osinulu said. "I think there is room for improvement among the UH community."

The playhouse was also intended as a way to make Frontier Fiesta a more family-oriented affair.

"When you think about it, a lot of UH students are actually people with children," Osinulu added. "We thought this was a great way to have something for the kids."

The group of committed volunteer designers wanted their concept of the ultimate playhouse to be fresh and inventive.

The first schematic design centered around a reconfigureable system. Moveable components could be added or subtracted according to the size of the owner's backyard or the age of the child. Osinulu said the whole idea was that the play station wouldn't be a set system, but rather a system that could grow and change with a child's growth.

Based on a 9-foot cubic area surrounding the playhouse, final plans incorporated all the desired flexibility in a framework of four inch, by four inch, by 10 foot wood posts.

A treehouse would top off the play area. From there a child could explore other elements like crawling through a tube, climbing a cargo net, exiting on a slide or bobbing on a see-saw. The entire structure would also be set within a sandbox, again accommodating different age groups. As with any project, Habitat dealt with endless design possibilities.

"We had enough to start building, but a lot of the discovery, I think, would have been while we were building," Osinulu said. "But that's part of the fun. After all, it was also supposed to be a fun project for Habitat members."

Seeking donations from local lumberyards proved unsuccessful for the group. Osinulu admitted the budget was a bit too high, but certain factors could not be ignored. For instance, the necessary posts for construction had to be weather-treated, a more expensive type of wood.

Despite the contribution setbacks, Habitat has completed the designs and will be displaying them at Archis' Icehouse. Following earlier plans to auction the playhouse, a computer-rendered model and ink drawings will be set up for those wishing to make a silent bid.

Osinulu said the change in plans could not have worked out any better for the organization. From the sale, Habitat will keep the leftover funds to expand membership and avoid future predicaments that retard construction efforts. And until there is a buyer, deadline pressure is no longer an issue.

"Now we won't have to rush through the work," Osinulu said. "It's a fun experience, not just a tedious exercise."

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