Above: MSU CAAD students complete their DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA “final exam”.
While attending the Design for Equity Bruner Loeb Forum in November I met Miriam Gee, a co-worker of Enterprise Rose Fellow Geoffrey Barton. Miriam is an architect, builder, and instructor. Miriam has extensive experience with some of the leading design build programs in the United States including the Asheville Design Center, and Yestermorrow Design/Build School. She describes her career as “inspired by students, yet grounded in real-world design challenges.” Connecting academia with project delivery is challenging and raises questions regarding how students can responsibly gain experience, how to manage client expectations, and how to prioritize the goals of such a project. Check out Build Lightly Studio to see some of Miriam’s completed projects.
In the 3-hour elective course DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA I led this fall at Mississippi State University, the students did not finish construction of our project, but we did meet our goals. As stated above, linking a learning experience to carrying out and completing construction is not a straight-forward process. To succeed doesn’t necessarily mean to build something substantial or even complete.
I think success in this type of project first means defining clear expectations with the client. If the students expect to complete a cost estimate and a build a foundation, but the client is expecting a completed building, everyone will be disappointed. Second, though design build classes have great potential for responding to community needs and being a source of cheap labor, education must remain a priority. Instructors must offer structured guidance, and not rely wholly on the students to be intentional about learning throughout the project experience. Finally, someone on the team must have the skills to lead the project. Carpentry, masonry, and other skills are trades, and it is irresponsible to expect untrained individuals to be able to master or even manage these skills in a short period of time.
In DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA, the first half of the semester the goal was to design and oversee construction of a new, code compliant entry area for the Baptist Town Community Center. In the second half of the semester, students paired individual goals (learning to weld, calling material suppliers on the phone, using a drill, and creating material and cost schedules) with the goal of designing and partially building a railing system that is functional but also sets an inspirational tone at the new community center.