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Architecture Student’s Open Source Experience Makes Her More Open Minded

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Lily McCullough

On a Friday evening during her first semester in the architecture program at Penn State, Lily McCullough went to a department-sponsored lecture by Open Source Ecology founder Marcin Jakubowski. Little did she know that attending his lecture would lead her to Maysville, Missouri, the following summer to attend his workshop on building a MircoHouse, where she would learn how to weld and bake bread, make international friendships, and figure out what she wants to do with her life.

“It was a week-long experiment,” said McCullough. “There were 50 people from all over the world, different ages and experience levels, working together on different machines to create a sustainable house from local materials.”

The workshop, led by Jakubowski and his team, taught participants to apply masonry techniques, use machinery, and understand the values of open source design. Participants used onsite Missouri clay to create Compressed Earth Blocks (CEBs), which are the basis for Open Source’s rapid, low-cost building projects, the Microhouses.

“In comparison with other technologies and materials like straw or cob, CEBs are cleaner and easier to work with and still have a high sustainability value,” explained McCullough.

Jakubowski’s open source principles gained national attention when he gave a TED talk on the subject in 2011. After receiving his Ph.D. in fusion physics, he started Open Source Ecology to help solve global problems of design by creating blue prints for the Global Village Construction Set, designs of 50 machines required for modern building and living.

“I feel like I can relate to him because he’s young and started Open Source Ecology right after college. I’m thinking about the same problems in studio now,” said McCullough, whose first-year design-build studio section was taught by Peter Aeschbacher, recipient of the 2014 Penn State President’s Award for Engagement with Students.

McCullough’s experience in Maysville was not limited to the workshop curriculum. It also included late-night jam sessions with participants who brought musical instruments and others who created makeshift drums from their five-gallon work buckets. An intern from France taught her to bake bread, while another taught her to weld.

“It was fantastic and enlightening, eye-opening, and a little bit scary at points, but so worth it!” she exclaimed.

The trip was also McCullough’s first time flying alone. “It was like a big, frightening rollercoaster. I could see the structures of the cities from 3,000 feet up in the air,” she added.

McCullough’s travels will continue soon, as she is already planning to join Penn State’s Students for Environmentally-Enlightened Design (SEED) group when they travel to New Orleans in October. She is also coordinating a trip to reconnect with other workshop participants over winter break. She and one of the participants have decided to collaborate on a project proposal in the near future. McCullough also has a standing invitation from Open Source Ecology to return as an intern next summer, an opportunity that will further her goal to work in open source design and construction after college.

“After going to the workshop, I know that open source building is what I want to do. I prefer it over traditional design. I’m thinking of starting a club here at Penn State,” she said.

A native of Bellefonte, Pa., Lily McCullough comes from a Nittany Lion family—her brother earned a Penn State degree in telecommunications and two of her sisters are current students here. McCullough’s father, with whom she credits her love of architecture and tinkering in general, received his associate’s degree in engineering from Penn State.

Now in her sophomore year, McCullough is currently working on her submission for the Corbelletti Design Competition, which will be held in the Stuckeman Family Building on September 12. During the few hours that she is not in studio, McCullough spends her time learning guitar and working on her car, a 1995 Geo Tracker.

When asked about what she gained from the workshop, McCullough said, “I think it made me a more open-minded student. I’m more interested in hands-on work and more concerned with the structural aspects and logistics of design and building.”

She thought for a moment and continued, “I came back happier.”

To view a gallery of pictures from the workshop, visit

To read more about Marcin Jakubowski and Open Source Ecology, visit