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Benefits of Design Build // Kyle Holtz


Skills learned from university based design‐build programs are extremely valuable. As architecture education becomes more desk‐based and media‐driven, design‐build programs offer a striking alternative when compared to the standard simulated classroom project experience. Our Kansas State Architectural Studio Professor, David Dowell, recently posed the question, “What have you learned from this studio?” The class agreed that there has been a great benefit from Design+Make, especially since we received the opportunity to work with a professor whose firm’s approach integrates design‐build. 


In addition, each member of the studio has a specific role, but the constant collaboration has produced a place where ideas are freely shared. O of the greatest things of this studio is the knowledge and experience gained from your peers and even artists such as Peter Warren. As new insights and innovative ways of thinking are brought to the forefront, Design+Make has taught us the importance of how making can shape our views on design. Collaboration, understanding constraints, and how to use fabrication to test concepts are important ideas taught in our class. Design+Make is an unique studio which grooms students for the practical decisions faced by architects on the job. All architectural universities would benefit by offering students the option to participate in a real world design‐build program.

What sets design‐build studios apart is the unique insights and skills that people learn, where everyone becomes involved in seeing the idea into fruition. From my experience, this complete picture gives you a hands‐on approach where individuals are part of all facets of design and construction. Also, clients benefit from the design‐build focus because the construction contractors and architects are smoothly working as a team, and the architect takes into account not only design but construction. 



As part of my further analysis of this issue, I decided to interview architects to engage them in a dialogue about the benefits of an approach where the designer is also the maker. I chose several architects who are in charge of architecture firms to address various relevant questions. 


Interview Participants:

Cliff Mayer‐Mayer Helminiak Architects

Tom Meiklejohn‐Tom Meiklejohn Architects

Brad Satterwhite‐KEM STUDIO

1.What are the most important skills you look for in recent graduates?

CLIFF: I look for passion and enthusiasm for the Profession. Also, I like the candidate to have a basic skill set with Software.


TOM: I look for CAD, Sketch‐Up, and Revit experience. Also, he or she should have the ability to listen and learn.


BRAD: I look for people that take initiative and are self‐starters. I also look at the portfolio and their design thinking.


2. What is the best way for students to gain experience in learning these skills?

CLIFF: (Practice with software).


TOM: I would advise getting a job or an internship since it takes a year of practice to become completely comfortable with the programs.


BRAD: Having a program in school helps, but also it is about having a summer job where you work on framing and build. During normal cases, it is important to  abricate details and make it out of the actual materials.

3. Do you believe that having basic knowledge of the construction trades and industry is important?

CLIFF: Yes, it is important.


TOM: It is positive, but not necessary to learn. It does help to get on the job‐site though.



4. How does your practice involve making?

BRAD: It is based upon our firm’s idea of prove of concept which is designing details in the shop. This helps us see how things come together. Also we develop concepts through fabrication and are able to get a better understanding of the details.

5. What are some of the unique challenges of design‐build?

BRAD: The key is being committed when it comes to design‐build. With typical contracts, there is checks and balances system from each team.

6. What is your view about whether design build should be incorporated into the educational system?

CLIFF: Design‐Build is a marketing term where building design becomes secondary. At times, it can lead to poor quality, but the team approach is great. It is a great tool in an educational system to learn though. I did something similar at my school.


TOM: Yes, it is good to see how some of the world works, but there are other contracts available.


BRAD: It should be, but at different levels. All schools don’t need to have a KU program or a rural studio. Some level of getting your hands dirty leads to design appreciation.

7. What are your thoughts on current architectural education?

CLIFF: I think it is pretty good, but they never teach business. I see architecture as a blend of art and business. Having two years of business would be helpful.


TOM: It is a good start. You really need a college degree of 5 to 6 years for this profession. I also appreciate schools that have internship programs.


BRAD: The current architectural education is good. One thing that it lacks is an understanding of how buildings come together. It is getting better. Also, people have trouble understanding how to translate their designs into something tangible.

8. What advice do you have for recent graduates?

CLIFF: There are many ways to satisfy the client and add value. Many recent graduates see design as the most important, but there are many other important parts of the industry. What you provide should meet today’s world desires. Today, it is all about fast pace, and you must adapt to this. It is similar to the slogan by Ray Kroc (Fast Food’s Founding Father) Cheap, Fast, Now. It is important to focus on what you see that is most important.


TOM: Good Luck! Three points

1. Live someplace where you will gain experience in a city and experience that has great architecture.

2. Don’t worry about making money.

3. These choices will be harder to make later in life.


BRAD: It is a very competitive economy right now, but it is coming around. If you have the time, it helps getting an advanced degree. Two more years won’t put you behind.

In the professional world, design‐build can have multiple benefits such as better contact with the client, faster completion times, greater innovation, and lower cost. A recent study showed design‐build was used on about 40 percent of non‐residential construction projects in 2010. Yet, few architecture schools are using this combined approach. Since design‐build creates a teamwork atmosphere, it can be a great knit of design and construction. I believe one of the most important issues that hamper the design‐build delivery method is the contractor leading the project, which at times can lead to motto faster, cheaper, better projects similar to what Mr. Mayer said. Although this approach has become popular architects should be at the forefront in conversations with the owner to transform and be in control of their vision throughout the project.


These interviews made me think that I still have a long way to go in my development, but I have the framework to hit the ground running. I am now more aware of my surroundings and have greater knowledge of how things are made. Later in our professional development, we will become versed in dealing with consultants, budgeting, fabrication, and material selection, but only with Design+Make are we able to address these issues so early in our careers.

Written by Kyle Holtz

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