Appalachia produces vast quantities of mineral wealth, yet its people have experienced persistent poverty since the 19th century. Working against systemic economic, cultural, environmental, and political patterns, local communities face an uphill climb to build and maintain infrastructure, small businesses, and jobs, and to provide health, educational, and social services. Substandard housing persists in the region – but could the need for housing be used as an opportunity to catalyze local communities? I propose a solution to persistent housing shortages using a prefabricated panel system, constructed from materials found at local lumber yards that can be assembled using basic carpentry tools. These panels, using several different configurations, will be customizable to specific Appalachian microclimates and family needs, and by their production in a local factory, provide jobs and economic stimulus for Appalachian communities. To design, test, and develop the panel system, I examined three test sites in the vicinity of Dunlow, WV, and developed a prototype house on one of these sites.
As one resident told me, “If you can’t have homes and everything is choked to death, how is anything going to grow? We got the people, if we had something to build with, we could go on.” I propose providing “something to build with – not just a product [panel], but a process [way to build], and a reimagined context [economic system] that is both specific and responsive to Appalachian cultures and environments.