The Need for Design+Make // Wade Byers
Abstract: Universities share a need to develop students into architects, who shape societies future, by creating the built environment around us. Students go through many years to either receive their bachelors, masters, or doctorates within architecture to begin a lifelong journey of design practices. While in school most studios deal with only theoretical architecture with no client, no budget, and no finished product that creates a lasting impact on others’ lives. There are studios who deal with clients, budgets and a finished architectural design for all to enjoy. These studios are known as design make studios.
Audience: Universities that house architecture programs should understand the wealth of knowledge, commitment, and communication skills that design build studios bring out in students.
"The Need for Design+Make"
Design-build studios are the unsung heroes of architecture school. Architecture programs typically have students design theoretical buildings, with made up clients and often no budget, which is nothing like the professional world. In the professional world, you communicate with clients, contractors, and engineers in a clear and concise manner to get a project built, but in architecture school you are not exposed to this side of the real world. Those who enter a design-build studio have an upper hand in the knowledge and process in which buildings go through to get built. The hands-on experience is a valuable tool for designers to have which makes students become more relatable to the contractors and subcontractors you work with through a working knowledge of constructability and terminology. While being a part of Design+Make at Kansas State University, working on an affordable housing project, I have become engulfed in construction knowledge that I didn’t possess before. I have had no prior experience in construction work, but being a part of the action in this studio, I have begun to have a working understand of construction, work flow, and experience. I have had the opportunity to begin practicing welding which is a skill that takes a long time to master, but with the opportunity to dabble in welding gives me an understanding of the implications my drawings have on fabricators. Actually welding, gives me a wider range of insight into the usefulness and meaning of drawings that I draw. Never in my life have I had to cut or place rebar for concrete construction, frame a wall, pour concrete, or excavate a site, but these are all process that happen when building a project, so why shouldn't more architects have a working knowledge of the hard work that takes place to complete a design. Understanding how things are built and fabricated is good for practical knowledge all architects should carry. It can make construction documents become more precise and your vision for what the building should look like, become more accurate. Architects are typically visual people, so when we have hands on learning, construction process and implementation becomes a clearer process from which the architect and contractors have a better understand of each other.
Most architectural studios only interact with their professor to provide feedback on their designs to further their projects. They have input from one to a few professors and students with only one person to please for a grade. For this design+make studio we realize that we are not designing a building for a grade, we are designing a building for people to spend their live in, we are building something that will affect someone's life daily. We present ideas, problems and solutions to the clients and contractor weekly to inform all who are involved on where the project stands in the construction process. We rely on the knowledge of others, ourselves, and google to have a finished product that we can all be proud of. Interacting with professionals that are in different fields than our own helps provide us with the knowledge of how people in other fields than our own look at and solve problems. Conversing between many different professionals is a learning experience that many young architects will not take part in, in their early professional life. Everyone who comes on site and sees us working is always complimentary of all the work we have completed and always has some information they wish to share based of their many years of experience. For example, an engineer came on site to inspect out groundwork for the setting and construction of rebar for our concrete footings. He rolled up his sleeves, jumped down in the trenches, and explained the easiest and fastest way to lay down rebar, why you need rebar chairs, and what rebar can and cannot be bent on site. The information we receive from professionals on and off the site is valuable information that we can take with us into our professional life as young architects that can help influence the precision of construction documents and the ‘whys’ of construction process. In a theoretical design studio, you create architecture based on ideas of aesthetically pure and perfect spatial quality, but these ideas will not work out due to practical concerns of architectural tectonics. Working in this design-build studio I think about design in a practical way, if I were a construction worker could I get these connections to work. We are working as construction workers which gives me tremendous insight to the functional side of constructability. Design can be considered all the amazing things that you want your building to be, but architecture is the thing it becomes. Architecture is building an environment for people to become a part of.
Architecture is about connecting with people through shaping the built environment to provoke emotions and wellbeing from all who encounter it. Architecture is meant to be experienced. One needs the visual and the haptics to have a complete understanding of the spatial quality. Architecture can change people's lives, which is a serious responsibility architects take on in their work. The design and make studio has the ultimate opportunity to make a positive change in the community as well as people's lives. We are working pro bono for a cause of affordable housing in the Kansas City area. We are making the mental and physical effort to make the world we live in a better place through design and hard work. Architecture studios in school talk about how their designs will be great for the community, but actions speak louder than words and the design make studio gets to put in the hours to make our design affordable and better for the community for time to come. We get to connect with the neighbors on the street who come to ask questions about what we are doing and tend to leave enthused about our cause. We interact with the neighbors who always have a kind word to say about our progress or offer up any available resources they have to us. The nature of this studio project is to be working in a neighborhood surrounded by people who can be inquisitive, angry, or ecstatic about our work. We get to talk to them on a personal level about our goals and ambitions that are real connections, whereas non-design make studios talk to others who are only in their project critique. I was not prepared for the community interest that has been shown, but working on site and talking to many locals, my communication skill has been enhanced simply by talking about what I’m doing at the drop of the hat. In these moments, it’s imperative to communicate clearly.
Design build studios have a place in universities due to their nature of being hands on and collaborative learning environments that push young designers into their soon to be roles of design professionals. The experience from this design make studio is invaluable mainly due to the construction knowledge that I have obtained from working on site and collaborating with others. Understanding how things work and are put together are the building blocks that great architects before us have accomplished. You can design all the outlandish and cool things you wish to implement, but architecture is making an actual building, design must be changed due to constructability concerns to produce architecture. Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright would experiment on his own home to get a better understanding of building tectonics. He worked with his hands and knew and drew every detail of the building to define his vision of his own architectural style. While being in the design make studio, I have gained knowledge of construction process from hands on learning, interacted with professionals who deal with all phases of the construction process, and understand that I am making a positive impact through the studio’s work. Design make studios prepare students for the future of an architectural career with collaborative learning and workplace environment.
Written by Wade Byers