Two of the progenitors or the design/build movement, David Sellers and John Mallery, have consistently expressed a somewhat disillusioned view of architectural education and the profession in general, stating that architects are at a disadvantage because they deal less directly with their medium than most other groups involved in the arts. Architects rarely build the buildings they design, and architecture students generally suffer a double disadvantage in that they are required to spend years working out imaginary solutions to artificial problems that have little if anything to do with reality.
Sellers and Mallery were part of a landmark entrepreneurial and artistic endeavor on Prickly Mountain in Vermont’s Mad River Valley that directly challenged long-held assumptions of how architecture could be practiced. Steve Badanes, who was a Prickly Mountain cohort, and later a member of the famed Jersey Devil Design/Build firm, has dedicated the last twenty years to spreading the design/build gospel to architecture students at the University of Washington, where he holds the Howard S. Wright Endowed Chair in the school’s College of Built Environments, as well as to all-comers at an annual summer offering at Vermont’s Yestermorrow Design/Build School, a stone’s throw from Prickly Mountain.
The two-week Yestermorrrow course, called Design/Build for Public Interest, which he co-instructs with Jersey Devil co-founder Jim Adamson, and New York-based architect Bill Bialosky, has helped answer Sellers and Mallery’s call, and then pushed the design/ build ethos a step further – as a vehicle to serve the greater good of the local community.
The Design/Build for the Public Interest course allows professional and aspiring designers alike to engage with a holistic design/build process for a public structure, from group design iterations to direct contact with the building process and the materials used. “Many students come into the class with few building skills, and we teach them a lot in a short period of time,” says Badanes. “We also teach them to not be afraid of trying something, and that design can be a powerful influence in the lives of people that don’t have access to innovative design.”
Badanes stresses that students benefit from the Design/Build for Public Interest course by developing confidence in themselves as a designers and builders. “By actually talking to the clients, they learn to work in a group and develop a design that they feel ownership of and learn how to realize. They learn that if you commit to things, you can do an awful lot that you couldn’t achieve on your own. It’s an incredible opportunity to work on something that is in the public realm. Many architects,” he adds, “spend their entire career working on nothing but houses and additions and commercial buildings. That’s all fine, but public structures affect us all.”
The list of the class’s alumni includes recipients of the prestigious Rose Fellowship, to professors of architecture, to one who is transforming public spaces in Japan.
The prospective client of this year’s project is a public elementary school seeking an innovative and functional outdoor learning structure. Like the class’s previous projects – which include village green bandstands, park pavilions, composting toilets, trail shelters, and bus stops – there are no designs predestined for this project. The entirety of the project – from its design, to the building and installation – will take place from August 3rd to August 15th. For more information or to enroll in the class, visit Yestermorrow’s website at https://yestermorrow.org/workshops/detail/design-build-for-public-interest or call (888) 496-5541.