It's that time of the year when college rankings becomes a hot topic of conversation, and not strictly due to football. Architectural Record just released its annual ranking of architecture schools across the country, listing Cornell and Harvard as the top undergraduate and graduate programs, respectively, based on survey responses from more than 1,000 firms. Ranking, of course, can be subjective, and numerous factors go into shaping and creating a successful architect. Short of lucky breaks or unique circumstances, most architects enter the field through school, and most find their first break and develop the initial project after college. Very few can be like Philip Johnson, who was independently wealthy and was able to build his thesis project at Harvard. That's one of the reasons why so many schools are turning towards design-build programs, which engage students in the entire process from conception to construction. As a supplement to school rankings, we've listed a cross-section of different design-build programs (by no means complete) from around the country.
The granddaddy of design-build programs, Rural Studio, founded by Samuel Mockbee and D. K. Ruth at Auburn in 1993, recruits architecture students to help a long-standing mission to develop affordable housing and community structures for rural western Alabama. The signature project, the $20K House, has been augmented with a series of modernist community structures, including band shells and a Boys & Girls club. Third and fifth year students at Auburn participate, as well as a select number of outreach fellows.
University of Kansas
Talk about designing your own learning environment: students in this program actually designed an addition to their own architecture school, complete with a plant wall overflowing with ferns and begonias. Studio 804, a non-profit that works with masters students in their final year at the University of Kansas, focuses on realizing a single, sustainable design each year, and has built up a very green portfolio, including seven LEED Platinum projects and two Passive House certified projects.
University of Utah
Named after the town of Bluff where it's based, this immersive program engages students to design and build a project for a member of the Navajo nation. Hank Louis, who founded the program in 2000, drew inspiration from Rural Studio when he came up with the lesson plan. A team of up to 16 students collaborate on a design in the fall, and then in the spring, move 300 miles from Utah's main campus and relocate to the remote town of 320 in the southeast corner of the state to work in the expansive reservation (which explains the focus on easy-to-maintain, often off-grid homes).
Rural Studio's impact looms large on other design schools. But in the case of the design/buildLAB, it's also the placed co-founders, directors and significant others Keith and Marie Zawistowski met. They pair applied the lessons of the storied program to their own, which started in 2008 and focuses on prefab construction methods.
The Jim Vlock First Year Building Project
Considered one of the oldest such programs in the country, Yale's design-build class for first-years requires each graduate student to collaborate to conceive of and finish a home. While the program, which started in the late '60s, has built as far afield as Appalachia, now, most projects comprise of affordable housing prototypes near New Haven.
The Design Workshop
Parsons School of Design
The design-build program at this New York-based institution has evolved over time to become a partner with the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, offering students a unique chance to create public infrastructure and facilities in the nation's biggest city. Last year's group of graduate students redesigned an under-utilized pool facility for a Brooklyn neighborhood.