Architecture Students Designing AND Building

As the school year winds down for architecture students around the world, we highlight 10 design/build programs that are making a difference by developing experience and skills in the future architects, by contributing to local communities through their efforts, and by exploring the integral relationship between architectural design and building construction. Below, we take a quick look at the history of the 10 design/build programs, focusing on their latest built projects through photos and brief descriptions.


AA Design & Make
Architectural Association
Dorset, UK

The Architectural Association's Design & Make studio was established in 2010 as a 16-month post-graduate design-build program based in Hooke Park, Dorset, western England. The focus is on designing and constructing new experimental buildings in Hooke Park, fostered by the fact the students live, work, design and build at their building site. The first realized project was a caretaker's house, followed by student lodges and the "Big Shed," which accommodates the fabrication, assembly and prototyping activities of the program.
The most recent class designed and built a Timber Seasoning Shelter. Much like the previous class built the Big Shed to give future classes a place to work, the 150-sm (1,615-sf) canopy shelters stacked timber from Hooke Park that will be used for future projects. The students took the project as an opportunity to experiment with steam-bent timber elements in a reciprocal grid structure; they even developed a machine for bending the beech wood into the complex geometries.


Rural Studio
Auburn University
Newbern, Alabama, US

Rural Studio is easily the most famous university design/build program in the world, an unexpected feat considering its humble origins and geographical remoteness. Started by Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee and D.K. Ruth in 1994, the program has been the subject of three books – the latest, the soon-to-be-published Rural Studio at Twenty, looks at the accomplishments and evolution of the program in that time – and even a feature-length documentary. After the death of Mockbee in 2001 at the age of 57, Andrew Freear took over the Rural Studio and has continued its emphasis on improving the lives of the residents of Hale County, Alabama, through the contributions of third- and fifth-year undergraduates. Rural Studio started by building houses for residents, a practice that has continued but has been supplemented by the 20K Houses, prototype designs that can be realized and replicated for less than $20,000.
While the houses make up the bulk of Rural Studio's output, the community projects are some of their most important. Freear, in Rural Studio at Twenty, calls projects like the Newbern Town Hall "both a conquest and renaissance of the public realm" in the small towns of Hale County. Situated next door to their Newbern Firehouse (designed and built in 2004), the town hall creates a courtyard with a covered barbecue pit between the two buildings, what has become "Newbern's civic heart." The one-story building is made from stacked cypress timbers below a lightweight metal roof. The large meeting room is connected to the courtyard through large windows and doors.


Architecture and Digital Fabrication
ETH Zurich
Zurich, CH

Many design/build programs rely upon strong leaders with similar interests – think Samuel Mockbee and Rural Studio, and Dan Rockhill and Studio 804 – but no program is as inextricably linked to its coordinators than ETH's DFab and professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler. As Gramazio & Kohler, the duo designs buildings and installations that incorporate technology in some novel way, particularly through robotic fabrication. This interest is enabled by their posts at ETH, where since 2006 they have led students in exploring how "additive digital fabrication techniques [can be] used to build non-standardized architectural components."
One of the latest robotic forays for Gramazio & Kohler's DFab studio is "flight assembled architecture," in which over 1,500 brick-sized modules are placed by a multitude of quadrotor helicopters. The design data in the computer is translated into the behavior of the flying machines via algorithms, resulting in a porous, undulating wall. The installation is considered a prototype for much larger modules that could be airlifted into place to create a "vertical village" for 30,000 inhabitants.


IIT Design Build
Illinois Institute of Technology
Chicago, IL

Since 2005 Frank Flury has led fourth and fifth year students at the Illinois Institute of Chicago in design/build projects that have ranged from a chapel in Germany (where Flury was trained as an architect and carpenter) to post-Katrina New Orleans, places in and around Chicago, and even Ghana, the setting of the current, multi-year project. The projects are obviously geographically diverse but also formally, programmatically and in terms of construction, each responding to their particular locales and needs. It's a far cry from the mid-20th-century modernism associated with the school's founding father Mies van der Rohe.
Mies's iconic Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, is actually the subject of the project students completed last year. The aptly called Barnsworth Exhibition Center was designed to house the large wooden wardrobe that Mies designed for his client Edith Farnsworth. Having been damaged in a 2008 flood and too large to move in the case of another flood, the wardrobe now resides in a round wooden building inspired by vernacular structures in the area. A square clerestory above the wardrobe provides the main means of lighting the space and the wardrobe.


Mexiko Praktikumseminar
TU Berlin
Berlin, DE / Mexico

This interdisciplinary course at TU Berlin gives students of architecture, civil engineering, landscape design, and other disciplines the opportunity to design and build a project during a semester in Mexico. Started by Professor Ingrid Goetz in 1998, the program is currently led by Ursula Hartig following Goetz's retirement. Many of the students taking part in the design/build program in Mexico come from TU Berlin's CoCoon–sector for contextual construction.
In 2012 the students from TU Berlin realized a jam factory for the women's cooperative NAXIÍ in Oaxaca. Working with the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico), the factory is made primarily from clay bricks that were prepared by local craftspeople from excavation of the building site. Two buildings house the factory's two functions: the production and storage of the goods, and the training and education of workers. Most interesting is the stepped space created between the two buildings.


Studio 804
University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas, US

Since 1995 fifth-year students at the University of Kansas (KU) have spent their last semester designing and building an affordable and sustainable project. Led by Dan Rockhill, an architect known for designing and building everything down to the kitchen sink in his primarily residential commissions, Studio 804 has explored prefabrication and other techniques to expedite the building process in the tight, five-month timeframe,while reducing construction waste and providing other sustainable benefits. Houses have been the studio's mainstay for a long time, but in recent years they have branched out into specialty buildings for KU, including a new lecture hall on campus that is underway.
Last year the students completed the EcoHawks Research Facility for a program at the School of Engineering that focuses on alternative energy for transportation. The building consists of three pods – two enclosed and one open – where the engineering students convert vehicles from gasoline to electric. An aluminum skin covers the top of each pod, while the bottom is glass or screen. Aerogel panels can be lowered in the enclosed pods to cut down on the direct sunlight entering the spaces. The project promises to be Studio 804's sixth (!) LEED Platinum project.


Bower Studio
University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia

Named for a simple traditional structure used as a shelter in Australia, the Bower Studio pushes postgraduate students outside of their comfort zones through the design and erection of projects for indigenous communities in Australia and neighboring countries, including Papua New Guinea and Thailand. As studio coordinator David O'Brien puts it, the studio "introduces them to real world issues of inequality, race, poverty and marginalization," and the process results in the students graduating "as leaders in the disciplinary field with a strong philosophical and ethical basis for influencing future initiatives." While ambitious in scope, the projects built since the studio's 2008 founding are often modest structures that are nevertheless creative responses to communities in need.
The studio's 2013 project for the Belyuen community in Australia Northern Territory is a small sheltered outdoor living area/kitchen module for an Indigenous family. The structure utilizes "add-on" components from their larger HomesPLUS initiative, which also involves the students working with members of the community to provide training for building and maintaining their homes.


Digital Fabrication Lab
University of Tokyo
Tokyo, JP

Founded in 2011 by Kengo Kuma and Yusuke Obuchi, the DFL explores innovative fabrication techniques by employing digital tools and technologies. Minimal Surface Pavilion was their first built design, displayed at Tokyo Designer's Week 2011. The aptly named Circle Pack Pavilion followed, which was displayed at the Tokyo Designers Week 2012 and the Archieering Design Exhibition. Through their annual pavilions, DFL targets three goals: "to develop an open platform for exchanging and sharing knowledge that is related to digital fabrication; to extend the field of digital fabrication in architecture by experimenting with the latest fabrication technology; and to develop more humanistic fabrication processes incorporating new tools such as sensory technologies and robotic systems."
The name given to their latest pavilion – 99 Failures – expresses the need to fail before succeeding, and therefore the process of realizing the full-scale pavilion through a number of smaller-scale models and testing in digital environments. Realized with the help of the construction company Obayashi Corporation, the pavilion is built upon R. Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity structural principles, in which forces of tension and compression achieve a synergistic balance. Inflated stainless steel sheets are the compressive elements while double strands of cable hold those "pillows" in tension. Just as success is dependent upon failure, compression is dependent upon tension.


Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia, US

In addition to being married and running the firm OnSite, Virginia Tech professors Keith Zawistowski and Marie Zawistowski can say something very few working couples can: they met at Rural Studio. Their time in Alabama with Samuel Mockbee changed their lives and has defined what they have done with the design/buildLAB since 2010, which has carried out four projects in southwest Virginia, including the Covington Farmers Market and Masonic Amphitheatre Project. Currently the LAB's third-year students are realizing a little league Fieldhouse in Clifton Forge, the small town that is home to the Amphitheatre and its adjacent pedestrian bridge.
Last year the design/buildLAB completed the Smith Creek Pedestrian Bridge to connect the public space of the Masonic Amphitheatre to the historic downtown of Clifton Forge. That they built a needed amenity next to their previous project (and built the bridge from recycled and locally harvested materials where possible) points to the LAB's investment in the communities where they build.


Vlock Building Project
Yale School of Architecture
New Haven, Connecticut, US

If Auburn University's Rural Studio is the most well-known design/build program of the ten featured here, Yale's Vlock Building Project is easily the oldest. Founded by Charles Moore in 1967, the Building Project offers first-year students in the graduate school the opportunity to design and build a house in an economically depressed neighborhood. The school has partnered with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground to create affordable housing that makes a difference in their respective communities.
The students in the 2013 project collaborated on a 1,500-sf (140-sm) house on a narrow, otherwise unbuildable lot in the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven. Eight student teams developed initial designs responding to the lot, the client (New Haven Housing Services), and the desire to develop a prototype that could be replicated on other narrow lots in the city. The winning scheme was a two-story house with services on one side and living spaces on the other. An open ground floor plan, sliding doors connecting the second-floor bedrooms, and a central void allow for natural ventilation throughout the house.

Comments, corrections? Please email John Hill.

John Hill
Published on
Apr 28, 2014