What is the Real Take-Away? // Zach Pritchard
Abstract: At bare minimum, students in architecture are challenged to think carefully about problems. The Design+Make (DM) studio provides students with the opportunity to truly dig in and develop a better understanding of design and its corresponding tasks. In this particular studio students are immediately confronted by reality. Reality being to not only procure a workable design but to produce a realistic, 1:1 model. The result of this studio is a refined process of not only how to think but how to think well. To some this may seem pointless, or absolutely asinine for one to spend so much money and time just to gain a different way to think. But truly, it is this way of thinking that has provided students of this studio with a better understanding of design and its associated processes.
Audience: Prospective Employers – Both near and abroad
"What is the Real Take-Away?"
To whom it may concern:
During the last year of graduate school at Kansas State University, my final year-long studio choice was the Design+Make Studio. This decision did not come easily. In prior years, word traveled around the College of this seemingly mysterious band of design–build students who were actually granted the opportunity to construct something meaningful. During second year, my route to and from studio consisted of crossing over the link that bridged the gap between wings of Seaton Hall and Court which coincidently was directly above the College’s shop. In passing, I witnessed students crafting full size design material conditions. Some were experimenting with wood while others were welding, cutting and using the CNC. Regardless of the task, the students were fully engaged in the shop, developing an extended range of knowledge on how to procure objects which fulfilled the specifics of the design’s intent. As an observer, this brought forth a feeling of creative empowerment unlike any I have ever experienced before. The actual art of crafting something, in school, other than a typical model seemed to be such an advantageous academic decision. With a previous background working with steel and dabbling in construction trades this type of studio really caught my attention. Seemingly this studio would provide a great opportunity to utilize this knowledge to help design and make something purposeful. At that point in time, I was sold on the studio.
As years passed, I found myself every once in a while contemplating what it means to be in the Design+Make studio. If one were to look past the label of the studio and really dig into the overall essence, what would you find? How would that studio make you a better designer? What if the label is just a sham or a decoy or perhaps a gigantic career road block? Most of all, how would this studio enhance one’s ability to think well and critically, yet embrace creative empowerment?
The time came when studio preference sheets for my final year at K-State were due. What was once a seemingly easy decision turned into a relatively complicated task. The questions I have been asking myself for years finally had to be answered. For I was faced with the challenge to make up my mind between three excellent studios and submit my final preference sheet. Just to add more ambiguity to the already difficult assignment, two other very interesting studios were being offered by visiting professors. These particular studios were not design-build, but the suggested projects of each were of high interest to me. To top it off, both professors each have a portfolio full of interesting and extremely meaningful projects. To aid in the decision process, I boiled all lingering uncertainties down to one simple question. That question being: What would be the biggest take-a-way from each studio? Was it going to be a better instruction on how critically analyze the urban fabric of a metropolis? Or how to fully develop contextual diagrams which demonstrate the social disconnects within a city district? Or possibly even gain more knowledge on a particular design software program? These questions all relate back to design and its corresponding process. They are all elements or tools to aid in the development of a process. So the big take-a-way for me required something more than just refinement of a tool it needed to be the sole understanding on how you design and why you design.
eldo was answering all of my prior questions, but with the realities of a professional sense.
I pulled the trigger and went with my gut. My first preference was the Design+Make Studio. To be quite honest, my decision was not based solely on the fact that we were all granted with the chance to design, fabricate, and build/make. It was because of the firm who sponsored the studio, el dorado inc., ranked 11th in design in North America in the 2016 Architect magazine survey, heavily weighed in on the decision process. A firm as successful as el dorado inc. clearly understands design and embraces its process. This rank and clear understanding of design not only heightened my curiosity but inevitably encouraged me to understand why this is.
On the first day of class, David, our professor who is also a principal at el dorado, simply asked all of us why we decided to take this studio. One by one, with feelings of nervousness we all replied. When it was my turn to speak, I hesitated and paused for a moment. In fear of making the situation awkward, I let a few words fly in hopes of alleviating the potential awkwardness. I was instantly full of regret for what I had just said. I just lied to David. I cannot remember exactly what I said but I know that it was not the full truth. The real truth and what I should have said is that I want to refine my thought process on how and what it takes to procure a design that is indeed beautiful but more so, meaningful. I also wanted to say that I decided to take this studio in order to develop a better understanding on what it actually means to engage in the design process with a distinguished professional from a renowned firm. As a side note, the fact that we actually got the opportunity to build something was just icing on the cake. After conducting a bit of research on el dorado inc. prior to the submission of my preference sheet, I learned that I appreciate and respect the way in which they think about design. At that time, I knew that by observing and working parallel to David and el dorado, I could develop a better understanding of what it means to be a good designer.
Fast forward a few months, and I can honestly say the “Design” as well the “Make” portion of the studio has been great. Rigorous hours in both categories have been spent to fully flesh-out the details and ensure that each piece is clearly articulated in order to justify the design intent. I speak for all of us when I say that we have all learned what it takes to make something meaningful. Whether it is composing intelligent designs, crafting a semi-soupy blend of quick-rete, or learning how to use a nail gun, we all have gained indispensable experiences. But the real take-a-way for me, at least, is a new approach or new way to think about design and its correspondence to the built and unbuilt environment. More importantly, the understanding that design is not a unilateral process. The process is often not a tangible condition. It is a feeling, an emotion where problems are identified and then solved through beautiful and meaningful ideas. Design for me right now is the phenomena is where feeling through thinking aligns and justifiably engages the natural realm. The moments created through this process are something real and take on a magnitude of issues.
Quite simply, I can honestly and earnestly say that I have been nurtured in a way to think well. For this type of thinking stokes the desire to contribute to an overall better connection between place and community. The other result of thinking well provides the opportunity to understand craft and recognize its role in design and construction. The final aspect is to not only understand the value of each restraint in every step of the process but to ensure balanced responses to human and environment.
Written by Zach Pritchard