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We Get Letters... from South Africa
by Katy Purviance on 06/25/11 @ 11:01:16 pm
Categories: Grad School, Building | 383 words | 3630 views

Hi Katy,

My name is Silindzile Shongwe and I am studying Architecture at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. I’m currently doing my 2nd year. In conjunction with your post on Applying to Grad School I would like to firstly like to agree with the part where you mentioned that you believed that the professors were not teaching you enough. My current Construction textbooks are not good enough so wanted to know if there are any you can recommend for Construction Technology.

Hello Silindzile,

Thank you for writing.

I do have suggestions for you. I used the text “Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods” in my undergrad Materials and Methods class. I thought it was a pretty good text for the class, but because it didn’t go into detail into other methods of construction, I also read “Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods.” Another book that I haven’t read yet, but have just borrowed from the library is Dr. Ching’s “Building Construction Illustrated.” All three of these books are available on Amazon.

But, textbooks aside, let me tell you how I learned more about construction outside of class. I’ve been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I’m one week in to a three-week building course that they teach. Today I built stairs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve designed stairs in autocad. Once I built real stairs today, however, I felt as though I had finally learned something.

Looking up at the joist hangers and other connectors, I thought of something that Curtis Wayne told me: the problem with architecture software, BIM in particular, is that you cannot truly get an understanding of all of the connectors that are required to put a building together. And today, on the job site, I thought about how foolish it seemed to “build” a building in a space where there is no gravity, with materials that have no heft.

Habitat for Humanity has volunteer positions all over the world. South Africa is not on their current schedule (, but perhaps you could email them at, to see when they will schedule something, or, even better, see if they will help you to start a project in your own town.

All the best,

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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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