Building Community: RWU Students Design and Construct New Gatehouse for Bristol Town Beach

Architecture, Construction Management, and Engineering majors in the Freedom by Design club gain hands-on experience, working with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department

By Jordan Durfee ’24
Two students working in the woodshop in the Cummings School of Architecture building
Sophomore Liv Horton, an Architecture major, and Ryan DeSanctis ’23, a first-year student in the Master of Architecture program, work in the Cummings School of Architecture's wood shop. Horton and DeSanctis are part of RWU's Freedom by Design club, which is building a new gatehouse for Bristol Town Beach.

BRISTOL, R.I. – Just in time for the summer season, a newly designed checkpoint station will greet beachgoers at Bristol Town Beach in Rhode Island, thanks to the creativity and hard work of Roger Williams University students in the Freedom by Design club.

Wanting to give back to the Bristol community, FBD members reached out to the town’s Department of Parks and Recreation last year, looking for their next project. Noting that the current gatehouse, which serves as the distinction between Colt State Park and Bristol Town Beach, had fallen into disrepair, Parks and Recreation Director Warren Rensehausen asked if the students would design and build a new one.

The club, comprised of students from all different majors but mainly Architecture, Construction Management, and Engineering, brainstormed more than 30 designs. The final design will be safer for staff, protecting them from both drivers and adverse weather, Rensehausen said. The structure, slated to be complete in May, will also feature new and bilingual signage.

“It has been a really great experience,” said Rensehausen, who called out the excellent work ethic of the students through all stages of the project’s development. “It’s great to be able to do this type of partnership with the university and the students.”

A rendering of a new gatehouse at Bristol Town Beach
A rendering of the Freedom by Design students' design for the new gatehouse at Bristol Town Beach.

When creating their design, students considered ways to incorporate Bristol’s history. FBD Director Dominic Cavallo, a junior Architecture major and Construction Management and Sustainability double minor from Wethersfield, Conn., said his Architecture and Construction Management classes prepared him well for this real-world experience, especially in making sure that a structure works with its environment. For the gatehouse, students considered the natural aspects of the beach and the water when adding a wave-like form into their final design. Using 16 horizontal planks and 80 smaller vertical planks, their design also incorporates the year the town was founded: 1680. “We really wanted to make sure the context of the structure fit in with the site and especially Bristol’s history,” Cavallo said. 

With their design now complete, students will begin building the structure in the Construction Management Methods & Materials Lab in the Richard L. Bready Applied Learning Laboratories building. Once complete, they will bring it to the Town Beach to complete assembly on site.

A chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students, FBD at RWU supports the local community through innovative student design and construction solutions. The group’s mission is to provide students with hands-on experiences, including budgeting, fundraising, connecting with clients, and creating strong relationships with licensed professionals. The club is open to students of all academic backgrounds, and Cavallo said he encourages Graphic Design Communication and undeclared majors to join.

Four students posing for a photo in the Architecture building's wood shop
Members of Freedom by Design, from left to right: Sophomore Liv Horton, an Architecture major; Ryan DeSanctis ’23, a first-year student in the Master of Architecture program; junior Dominic Cavallo, an Architecture major; and junior Dylan Steward, an Architecture major.

Working on real-world projects through FBD prepares students for life after graduation, Cavallo said. He credits this hands-on experience with helping him secure an internship with QA+M Architects in Farmington, Conn. The hiring team was impressed when he showed them the Bristol Town Beach project during his interview, he said, adding that he’s excited to work at the firm this summer.

After working with students in the club these past months, Rensehausen said he commends the student groups and organizations at RWU for their dedication in giving back to the people of Bristol. He said he can’t wait for community members to see and appreciate the gatehouse and the students’ hard work.

Cavallo agrees: “It's such a great experience to connect with the community,” he said. “I'm really excited for us to complete (the project) for the people in Bristol.”