architectural agency workshop at MSU is NCARB winner

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) announced three NCARB Award winners last night at the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) administrators conference. I’m thrilled that a proposal I co-wrote with Emily McGlohn, Assistant Professor of Architecture at MSU CAAD, and John Poros, director of the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), was chosen as an award recipient.

Our proposal brings together the community design expertise of the CSTC, Emily McGlohn’s teaching knowledge and Rural Studio background, and my social impact architecture practice in Greenwood, Mississippi. Students will engage in three ways: immersion, discussions, and workshops. Gaining leadership skills, community engagement experience, and a broad perspective on the field of architecture, class participants will expand their understanding of how architects can apply their expertise to the challenges that face our society and our planet today.

Read about all three winners here, and then check out this site (preview below) and this book, “Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture” that inspire us.

spatial agency screen shot

final but not finished

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.


gas station information

In a community as small as New Houlka, MS (population 617), it can be difficult to plan a community engagement activity that more than a handful of people get involved in. The CREATE: New Houlka class was struggling with not only this, but we also needed an introduction to this rural community. Last Sunday, the students found a way to solve both problems.

First, they identified a place that is a hub of public activity, and then researched when the most people visit. The answer: David’s One Stop after church on Sunday. David’s is more than a gas station, offering hot plates, homemade desserts, and tables to stay and mingle. David’s welcomed us to set up outside of their store on what turned out to be one a beautiful, warm day.

Students researched methods of community engagement a formulated a plan in class. Each developed a component of the engagement and on Sunday we had a large arrow that said “Tell us about Houlka.”, a map with push pins, a string of questions on colorful paper, and cookies to help draw people in to share their thoughts. For two hours, a constant stream of welcoming residents shared their ideas about what makes Houlka unique, the assets, the eyesores, and more.

Students also drew on some of the work of artist Candy Chang, and created “tablecloths” that we left at David’s to get responses beyond Sunday’s event (pictured below).

Throughout the day, a few themes emerged. Houlka is hopeful though it’s population and economy continue to shrink. Houlka is welcoming; residents were not skeptical of us and they are optimistic about how the new Tanglefoot Trail could impact downtown. The residents of Houlka support each other. Benefits for residents who have had a misfortune are held as often as biweekly.

A big thank you to the residents of Houlka for their warm welcome. Our class is excited to partner with you, and deliver a project that reflects the spirit of your community. Visit our facebook page for updates throughout the semester.

upcoming ACSA conference


The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s call for this years papers invited submissions on a variety of topics, all related to the global nature of architectural practice today. The number of topics related to socially impactful work is encouraging. Even more exciting is the acceptance of a paper that Leah Faulk Kemp, Assistant Director of the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), and I co-wrote. Our paper, titled Building Social Building, presents four lessons learned through the work of CSTC as instructive in implementing community driven design projects. We can’t share the paper until after our presentation, but here are some soundbites:

  • Public Interest design has trust issues.
  • Public interest architecture is public; this means it’s political.
  • Social impact design is about more than three bottom lines.
  • Social impact work must be impactful.

We will share more about the paper and our presentation in April!