by W. Geoff Gjertson, AIA

With approximately 100 design/build programs among the 123 NAAB accredited architecture schools, design/build education has become a prevalent model. But a recent survey of these programs, presented at the 2011 ACSA Fall Conference, found they can face fundamental problems for long-term survival even while participation among students grows. 

Respondents from 36 design/build programs indicated that student participation tends to be strong (nearly half had more than 20 students per year), with project budgets exceeding $50,000 in 57% of programs (35% averaged over $100,000). However, faculty indicated the design/build program was not well integrated into the architecture school, and the workload of running a design/build program was considered higher than other faculty. 

The survey responses show that integration of the programs into the architecture school related, in part, to curriculum (only 14% of design/build programs were tied to required courses) and faculty credit (design/build activities may veer away from the traditional definitions of research and scholarship counted in promotion and tenure procedures). Participation of design/build faculty, who may be adjuncts or “professors of practice,” also contributes to potential marginalization of programs, respondents said. 

The challenges facing design/build programs become particularly acute when one considers the growth in popularity. From Solar Decathlon teams to more comprehensive curricula such as Studio 804, URBANbuild, and the Rural Studio, the number of students participating is growing. Schools with 20 or more participating students must invest more faculty and budgetary resources to manage multiple projects, larger scale projects, or both. The risk, ultimately, is a house divided. 

A frank discussion should occur within architecture schools about the value of design/build. Design/build studios should be a required part of the curriculum of all architecture programs. Until faculty and administrations make this determination and the ACSA and NAAB promote and require this change, design/build will always be marginalized.

With or without this requirement, structural deficiencies have to be addressed, best practices must be established, and new models explored for design/build programs to be sustained in these challenging economic times. Programs should be both independent and nimble, as well as dependent and integral to their parent architecture departments and schools. Design/build programs should be more cyclical, preferably with a two years “on” and two years “off” cycle, or alternatively, have multiple faculty members, ensuring both that every student will have an opportunity to participate and that faculty will have time to recharge, reflect, and research. Because it is also incumbent on the faculty involved to reflect and establish clear, defined, and limited learning objectives for these programs to survive. Sustainable design/build programs can help meet the goal of providing experiential education in design, construction, practice, and ethics, among other key goals for architectural education. 

The author is associate professor of architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

Download this paper from the 2011 ACSA Fall Conference.

What do you think? Should design/build be a requirement in architecture school? How can programs avoid the “house divided” syndrome? React below!

Other Survey Findings

  • Average age of programs is 12 years
  • Average number of current participating students is 20
  • Average length of design/build projects is 2 semesters (8 months)
  • Average cost of projects for a program each year: $60,595
  • Overall value of all projects done by the 36 respondents is $23,848,500