Design-build educators talk pedagogy and real politick.

Since the inauguration of the Yale Building Project in 1967, bolstered by Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio work through the 1990s, design-build workshops have flowered in universities throughout the U.S. From the start, student-run design-build conflated with community action, and as a result these real-world classrooms have produced landmark examples of socially responsible architecture. This academic phenomenon continues to achieve practical solutions that inspire the design community at large and produce young activists as well as knowledgeable architects. Recently, we invited several leading professors to join us in a telephone roundtable to discuss the surging popularity of design-build studios, the challenges they still face, and the impact of completed projects on designers and their clients.

Rosie Joe House
Rosie Joe House
Rosie Joe House
Photos © Scot Zimmerman
In 2004, DesignBuildBLUFF moved its studio to Bluff, Utah, to work more closely with the Navajo Indian Reservation. For their first undertaking there, students built a home for Rosie Joe, a single mother working three jobs. The design is an exercise in local ingenuity: The house features a rammed-earth Trombe wall, its ceilings and roofs are made of recycled pallets, and discarded road signs clad interior walls.

Steve Badanes
In addition to cofounding Jersey Devil and teaching at Yestermorrow Design/Build School, Badanes has conducted design-build workshops at schools from Helsinki to San Diego. At the University of Washington in Seattle, he runs the Howard S. Wright Neighborhood Design/Build Studio, producing small-scale work for Seattle nonprofits.

Thomas Dutton
Professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Dutton established the Over-the-Rhine Design/Build Studio in 1996 to design and rehabilitate housing for residents of the namesake Cincinnati neighborhood. That was followed by the founding in 2002 of The Miami University Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine, in Cincinnati, and in 2006, the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program for students.

Andrew Freear
Freear is the Wiatt Professor at Auburn University Rural Studio in Alabama, where he moved in 2000. Since Samuel Mockbee’s death from complications of leukemia in 2002, Freear has directed the renowned program while also advising fifth-year undergraduate students’ thesis projects.

Adam Hopfner
Hopfner is a critic at the Yale School of Architecture, and since 2007, director of the Yale Building Project. This was founded in 1967 by then department head Charles Moore and professor Kent Bloomer, and has since mostly produced affordable houses for deserving New Haven residents.

David Lewis
Lewis is a cofounder of Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis—a RECORD Design Vanguard firm in 2000—and an associate professor of architecture at Parsons The New School for Design. Since 2007, he has directed The Design Workshop there, a design-build studio founded by Karen Van Lengen in 1997, and further developed by Peter Wheelwright with Terry Erickson.

Hank Louis
Louis is an adjunct professor of architecture at the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning, which supports DesignBuildBLUFF. That design-build studio, launched in 2000, creates sustainable homes on the Navajo National Indian Reservation located outside Bluff, Utah.

Dan Rockhill
Rockhill’s eponymous firm has been widely recognized for Modernist work that resonates with the landscape and culture of Kansas, and the affordable buildings realized by his University of Kansas design-build workshop Studio 804 have earned two AIA Honor Awards, the NCARB Prize, and other accolades.