Pedal power breaks ground for new wing

by Nathan Whalen

The Mole-Rat 2000, a student-designed pedal-powered digger, took the place of the ceremonial golden shovel at a the groundbreaking for the Architecture building’s new addition Friday evening.
The inventive contraption accentuated a number of changes at the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, including construction of its $26 million wing, the arrival of a new department head and development of several programs.
When completed in 2001, the wing will increase the Architecture building’s size by about 50 percent, hopefully relieving its overcrowding problems. It will also house a library and a gallery.
William Conway, who took the helm of the architecture department on Aug. 30, started the ceremony by addressing the 250 attendees about the department’s latest undertakings.
Among them is the addition of several continuing education classes for architecture professionals.
The new program, starting later this month, will also allow students access to the continuing education classes, exposing them to experienced architects whom they wouldn’t normally have as classmates.
“I’m trying to broaden students’ opportunities for education via this program,” Conway said, a former associate professor at Iowa State University. He is also part owner of an architecture firm with his wife in Iowa.
Following his address, two architecture students brought out the Mole-Rat 2000 to do the actual groundbreaking — or rather, the ground cutting.
The Mole-Rat 2000 is a modified bicycle with a metal level welded in place of the front wheel and a large, custom-made circular saw blade installed in place of the rear tire and rim.
It takes two people to operate the apparatus: one powers the wheel and another lifts the metal lever, tilting the bike and driving the wheel’s cutting edge into the dirt.
In preparation for the groundbreaking, officials held a competition for architecture students interested in designing and building innovative shovels for the ceremony.
Architecture graduate students Jon Vandervelde and James Hilden designed the Mole-Rat 2000, winning $300 for their efforts.
Vandervelde said he wanted to design a human-powered machine that would toss up dirt in a “spectacular fashion.”
Other shovel entries included a pogo shovel and a traditional gold shovel.
The actual construction of the wing will begin in March after several design issues are resolved.
Officials said they have to finish work on the utilities, such as moving a water main surrounding the Architecture building.
Consultants for the project hope to have the final design details done in the next couple of months. Officials hope to award contracts for construction in January.

Nathan Whalen covers facilities and construction and welcomes comments at [email protected]