Windsor, North Carolina

In 2010, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller moved their nonprofit design enterprise, Project H, from San Francisco to Bertie County, North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment in community development. There they established Studio H, a design-build studio for high school students in one of the poorest-performing school districts in the state. 'We teach design thinking and vocational skills to apply to improving the local community,' explains Pilloton. Working in a converted auto body shop, 10 high school students designed and subsequently built an open-air farmers market in the county seat of Windsor for local farmers. Following a full year of academic programming, 'we hit the jobsite, shifting gears from a studio to real-life construction site,' says Pilloton. 'Managing the design team as well as the budget, legal/safety issues, time frame, material procurement, etc., was a daily balancing act.'
None of the students had ever done anything remotely like this in their lives. 'They followed a typical academic design process, including research, conceptual sketching, design development, model making, and critique,' says Miller. When ready to build, students prefabricated truss elements in the shop. Because the teens were not allowed to operate power equipment, they hand-assembled the rest of the 1,800-square-foot structure on-site. Completed in October 2011, the pavilion's rectangular structure appears to float above the ground. Locally grown and milled southern yellow pine wraps the building at the top and bottom, open to the air in between. One student, Colin White, admitted that the town did not believe the students would get the project done, but 'we built it, it was just us. Every time I see it, I have such a sense of pride.'
DESIGNERS: Studio H high school students, Project H Design
BUDGET: $72,000, 100 percent
CONTEXT: In Bertie County, North Carolina, one in three children lives in poverty. The poorest and most rural county of the state, it is swampy, humid, sparsely populated, and primarily agricultural. There is no Walmart, no movie theater, and the Bojangles’ fried chicken joint is the only place with Wi-Fi access.