Since 2008, architects Marie and Keith Zawistowski have led a hands-on learning experience for third-year students that benefits surrounding communities. To date, the Design/BuildLAB has completed a farmers’ market in Covington, Virginia; a footbridge and bandshell in Smith Creek Park (which won an AZ Award earlier this year for best student work); and a Little League field house at a ballpark in Clifton Forge, Virginia. During the current academic year, 17 students are working on two more fields for the ballpark, with press boxes, dugouts, backstops and storage.
The two-term program, says Keith, is fully student driven rather than faculty led. Starting with individual design proposals, a final scheme is developed collectively, and from there the class sees the project through to completion, from drafting budgets and schedules to tackling zoning bylaws and organizing inauguration day.
The professors studied under Samuel Mockbee at Alabama’s Rural Studio, which runs a similar program. “Architecture school rarely offers the opportunity to deal with problems in the real world,” says Keith, explaining why students benefit as much by working directly with clients and pitching in on construction sites as they do attending lectures or working in front of computers. Building things “removes the abstraction from education,” he adds, and the collaborative process creates a sense of ownership, where participants can trace elements of the finished project back to their own ideas.
About the Program
Design/buildLAB at Virginia Tech / Blacksburg, Virginia / third-year undergraduate option course, two consecutive terms / 16 to 18 students / two faculty / US$12,000 per year