Neighborhood Design Build Studio

Course Description

The students design and build small community projects for nonprofit groups with funding provided by Department of Neighborhood grants and the local business community. The students gain experience with real clients, public agencies, and hands-on construction. Client and project selection is done in the fall by the instructor. During spring quarter the students meet with client and user groups to develop a program for the project. Using a consensus model, we work in groups during both design and construction phases. Students are responsible for site analysis and planning, project design, production of working drawings, materials procurement, fabrication, and scheduling.


Starting with the idea that, as architects, our client is the whole society, and that community outreach is a key component of education, these small-scale community-based design/build studios emphasize:

1. Collaborative, consensus design experience:

We do all our work in the studio; in groups; using a consensus method with a facilitator (rotating); and group memory. All voices are equal (discussion proceeds by going around the table with all voicing pros and cons) and we never vote. During design, we break into subgroups with drawings and models moving from group to group (people move as well) so that all share ownership in the design.

2. Learning-by-doing and real-world design:

Technology is most meaningful when integrated into the studio context and there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Design/build projects allow students to move past schematic design. Issues that never come up in the classroom arise on the job site. Structure, detailing issues, and construction strategy are all debated in the hands-on atmosphere of three-dimensional reality.


3. Development of communication skills:

The numerous client and community meetings along with presentations to city agencies require communication skills. We rehearse these presentations to fit into their allotted time frame and the students “dress up” for these occasions. A polished presentation helps mitigate doubts that students have enough experience to build quality projects.

4. Redefinition of values – community service / commitment:

Architecture has always been a service profession, but it has traditionally served only those who can afford it. By working for clients who do not have access to architecture, the students are exposed (often for the first time) to community outreach and the notion of all of society as our real clients. Many have gone on to careers in public service working for non-profits or community design centers. Most of the students in the studio have never designed anything that has been built and many have had no previous construction experience. They learn that by working together, our projects can happen if they commit themselves to make them happen. They gain confidence in the power of commitment, not just in design and building. We deal with design issues in a practical way in this studio, and we learn building techniques and detailing, but the real lessons involve self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, teamwork, and service to others.