Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Consequences of Design Decisions

If you make what you design, you receive the most brutally direct feedback about your design decisions. This is true from cooking to ceramics to furniture making to the construction of buildings. Sometimes the feedback is immediate. Such is the case when throwing a pot or making soup for example. Sometimes the feedback is longer term, as was the case for building a masonry cathedral without buttresses.

I’ve had the experience of throwing a pot (incorrectly) and literally wearing my mistake. Fortunately, I have not built an unreinforced masonry gothic cathedral without buttresses. People did, though, and learned (in a catastrophic and quite memorable way) about their mistake. From these failures and this feedback, designers and builders learned about lateral forces and wind loads. From successes and failures, ceramicists learn how to improve their craft. From successes and failures, cooks create tastier recipes. From successes and failures, designers and builders learn to make much better buildings.

There are two keys to this process. One: jump into the design-make-design loop. Two: listen to the feedback. There is no better way to learn. This is the second week of a design-build studio at the NCSU College of Design that we have taught for several years. This is our way of introducing the design-make-design loop to students at a critical time in their development as designers and/or builders. It is a step that is too often passed by in architectural education. The difficulty with a designed connection becomes clear with the execution of that connection. The information may be intellectually clear, but it does not stick until the designer directly experiences the ramifications of construction. They take the “make” information back to the “design” loop and will never design that same construction difficulty again. During the next week of design intensity, dozens of full-scale details will be constructed in order that the design-make-design loop can be complete before final design decisions are made. Without fail, the students find these studios to be intense, difficult, stressful, sweaty (building in August in North Carolina), and incredibly valuable.

This summer the studio is building a floating outdoor classroom for the Durham Public School’s Hub Farm. If you have any interest in supporting this studio and this project, please contact me, Randall Lanou, at

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