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Dear Architecture Schools: For the love of God, will you teach us how to BUILD?!
by Katy Purviance on 04/09/10 @ 10:52:31 pm
Categories: Architects, Articles, Grad School | 658 words | 1175 views

I just read this article from one of my favorite architects, Steve Badanes, co-founder of the Jersey Devil design/build practice and Howard S. Wright Professor at the University of Washington

Design/Build: Let Them Build It, They Will Come

The AIA has targeted the teaching of how buildings are made as the weakest aspect of architectural education, and there is some merit to this charge. Because of time constraints (among other things), most traditional studios result in what can only be called schematic design. Design development, construction documents, materials and methods, and structures generally are taught as isolated subjects, and the transfer of that knowledge into studio design often is negligible.

But technology is most meaningful when integrated into the studio context, and there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Three-dimensional reality suggests solutions that are elusive or simply impossible to detect at the drawing board or computer screen. The best architects understand the logic and poetics of construction, and the best way to teach this is to build.

The design/build movement emerged out of ’60s counterculture architecture, which looked to ecology, new technologies, social experimentation, and community outreach. In 1967, Charles Moore started The Yale Building Project as a way to harness student interest in social justice issues and their frustration with hypothetical “paper architecture.” Storefront community design centers were started at many schools at the same time.

Students today don’t look like the students of the ’60s, but there’s an undercurrent of the same activism, and that is fueling the resurgence of design/build studios. Students are frustrated with theory-driven virtual architecture and a profession that works at the top of the food chain. They are pushing for outreach, hands-on experiences because they want meaning in their lives and want it to be embodied in their education.

Tips for schools embarking on design/build programs: 1. Start small—be realistic about available time, money, and skills. 2. Design by consensus, to avoid creating a hierarchy within the class. 3. Keep it simple (identify core ideas and eliminate fussy details). 4. Think Globally, Act Locally–avoid the ambulance-chaser approach.

Finally, 5. Make it fun. Students love to build. Working in groups is fun, and most nonprofit clients are incredibly grateful. All the pieces are there: It’s up to the instructor to keep the process as fabulous as the product.



When I post new blogs, they post to Facebook as well (Be a Fan!). My Pasadena architect friend Steve Lamb had this to say in repsonse to this post.

But Bedanes while I like him is wrong about one thing: “The design/build movement emerged out of the 1960’s counterculture architecture movement.” This is FALSE. It first emerged out of R.M. Schindler’s studio as the only way he could get his stuff built because contractors wouldn’t bid on it. In doing so, Schindler was violating California law at the time.

As a movement it emerged in the mid 1930’s out of TALIESIN and Frank Lloyd Wright’s practice. Wright trained each of his apprentices how to actually build. They went forward and often acted as both the Architect and Contractor at a time when the AIA was running around making it illegal in many states to be both the Architect and Contractor of a building. in Texas they attempted to have Harwell Hamilton Harris put in JAIL in the late 1950’s for designing a building and being a partner in the construction company that built it. His case struck down the law forbidding such practices in Texas and was the start of striking down those laws throughout the nation.

Architecture students should spend at least a year on a building crew and those of us who spent many years on a construction site beofre going to Architecture school should get credit for that year instead of the Architectural community saying construction experience is worthless until you’ve passed the structures portion of your exam and counts for nothing.

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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