Meet Benjamin Olsen: architect-to-be and T-Shack contributor

If you were wondering why there is a random hut outside of Buntrock Commons, Her Campus St. Olaf has your answer! Meet Benjamin Olsen ’13, an aspiring architect and one of the students who worked hard to make that hut – formally known as the T-shack – a reality.
Her Campus St. Olaf: So what is the deal with the T-shack?
Benjamin Olsen: The T-shack project was an intensive architecture workshop hosted by the art department and LOCUS Architecture (alumnus Paul Neseth's firm). Our task was to modify designs for a Japanese tea hut so that it would work in midwinter Minnesota climate conditions. Our only design constraint was that the shack could not have an external heat source; it had to capture and retain solar radiation. About 17 students worked on the project over three days, and we worked in teams. My team was in charge of designing the windows and door, which entailed balancing solar gains with heat losses. We had to determine the best size for the window and the most seemly arrangement of the windows inside. We also had to ensure that all the apertures were tightly fitted to minimize losses.
HC: How did you become a part of this workshop?
BO: It's lucky, really, that I got to do the workshop. I had signed up for it during finals week in December but was at least eighth on the wait list – I had chosen to sleep rather than get up early to register. So basically I had abandoned hope and forgotten all about it until Friday morning. I got an urgent email from Gwen with a subject line, "Can you do this???" The e-mail said something like, "A spot in the workshop opened up. It's tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday. If I don't hear from you by 11:00, I'll move down the list." Luckily, I got the e-mail in time and secured my place in the workshop. Good thing, too, because it was one of the most valuable things I have done at St. Olaf!
HC: What was the biggest challenge you encountered while building the T-shack?
BO: Cutting styrofoam! We built the walls of the T-shack from scratch out of three-quarter-inch plywood and polystyrene panels. Essentially, the walls form a s'more - two graham crackers (plywood) sandwiched around a marshmallow core (styrofoam) - and constructing them is just about as messy! Styrofoam was easy enough to slice with a butcher knife, but hewing it to its correct shape so that the walls interlock correctly was frustrating.   
HC: What was the coolest part of the project?
BO: Creative synthesis. Successful collaboration is such a rewarding thing, especially when many ideas are heard, considered, and incorporated into the finished product. The T-shack project involved so many talented people and we all bounced ideas around enthusiastically. Our creative moxie was really refreshing. Only a bunch of design students would get so excited about a recycled slate shingle floor!
HC: If you could design your own house to live in right now, what would it be like?
BO: If I had to act immediately, I'd build on a darling part of my parent's property in Northern Minnesota where a woodland meadow transitions into a gnarled ravine. The house would perch on the upper lip of the ravine so that it would frame views over both the lowland and the highland. I think it would be modest in scale, but more modern than traditional with a planar fireplace, simple furniture, and lots of natural light. The whole house would have an enduring elemental character, with stone and wood finishes. There's something wonderful about the patina of old wood floors, so maybe I'd re-install one in the kitchen. I hope it would be mindful of energy use and waste, but not obsessively so. These considerations are something of a lifestyle choice, so it's important to remember that sensitive houses should not be excuses for bad behavior. Oh, and there would be a separate studio space, maybe in a treehouse!
HC: If you could build the next St. Olaf dorm, what would it be like?
BO: I don't know how it would work, but each room would have either a patio or a balcony. Fall and Spring in Minnesota are too stunning to ignore. The rooms would probably have paneled ceilings – long live Mellby fourth floor! – and better lights and separate closets like Thorson and Mellby. Other than that, I envision comfortably apportioned rooms, probably arranged in corridors like they are now. This isn't an imaginative scheme but it works for St. Olaf. Building out fits the campus style better than building up.
HC: What’s your favorite building on campus?
BO: Regent's Science – it’s sensible and sensitive with spectacular views. Holland Hall used to be noble until they put up the new door. But my favorite spot on campus is the enclave with benches next to Rolvaag. It's sunny and secluded.
HC: Finish these sentences!
St. Olaf men are…more attuned than you think.
St. Olaf women are…well-dressed.
HC: Any advice for St. Olaf women?
BO: Large print floral and au naturel - no makeup - are two very attractive looks. Also - cue cheesiness - remember that every day has the potential to be the greatest day of your life.