Thursday, November 15, 2012

studio design | build

So, this semester is pretty special. I mean, it has kicked. my. butt.  but its also been really fun.  I think I have learned more this semester than in a long time. But I'll have to save what I'm learning for a different post.  For now, I wanted to update you on the design-build / research based design studio I am in.  In the world of architecture school, design-builds are a fairly unique opportunity. Because they require money and time (two things students are seriously lacking) the chance to design and build a project doesn't come around every semester.   SO the fact that this past year I have participated in 3 design-builds is pretty crazy to think about. and I am seriously addicted.   I don't know how I am going to go back to not operating a chop saw every day, and only see my designs in the abstract. And I have day dreams about taking a semester to do an independent study and building some random structure on my family's farm.  but I digress.

Coleman Coker of Building Studio = our fearless (mostly) leader
11 graduate and undergraduate students
South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Corpus Christi

Only 70 acres of the 180 acre Nature Center are developed, and visitors infrequently make it past the developed portion. Yet, Corpus is considered one of the Birdiest cities in the States, and tons of bird watchers come to the area and the center to see migratory birds. Because the Nature Center has different environmental conditions (wetlands, Oso Creek, and meadows) tons of different types of birds come to this one spot. Anyway, the director wants us to build some kind of structure to pull people off the established trails, and into the back portion of the center, towards the creek.

After our first site visit, the studio could not really come to a consensus on where exactly our intervention would be situated. After weeks of talking, debating, designing and coffee, we decided on a specific location that only three of us had actually seen in real life. And just a few days before leaving for our second site visit, we pared down 3 radically different designs into 3 less radically different designs into one cohesive idea.

some early ideas

When we got to the site for the second time, we all knew we had chosen the perfect location for our project (save our professor, who was having serious doubts), but our design was too massive for the immediate context. Those two days we spent on the site were really great. Actually being back and experiencing the sites and sounds helped us all be on the same page. It had been several weeks since we were on site, and trying to design when all you have are google satellite images and limited personal photos is really difficult. We found that we had forgotten what it felt like to be there, and were just operating off of our memories, which are inevitably skewed. After the first few hours of thinking we got it completely wrong, we met with the director and explained our design intent.

We want to draw people off the mulch path with a wall that sticks out of the tree line.. visitors will follow this wall, squeeze through it at one point, and step onto a board walk. As they move down the board walk / platform / deck toward a sandy area, the wall breaks to reveal some existing posts in the ground disappearing into the distance. on the other side of the sandy area, the grasses and trees return and create a kind of out door room, on the edge of the creek. There will be another, identical wall, that will call visitors to cross the sandy area, and explore this outdoor room and see the creek.
The director loved it.

It took another week of drawing over each other on tables covered in white butcher paper to hammer out the details, and we are still working on details as we finish the actual construction.

A lot of the design details depended upon what materials were available to us. We scoured craigslist and freecycle and talked to several lumber and milling companies to acquire materials for the wall. The only way we could build it was if we got the lumber cheap or free. We were fortunate enough to get some awesome cedar pieces for $1 a board and two pallets of free redwood, douglas fir and cedar. Included in that were 7 huge cedar beams, one of which was 28 feet long!

two wall panels

testing out the bench

the building deck 

We have 8 days of construction left, and we are all pretty excited to see it installed. Because the site is in Corpus Christi (3.5 hours away), we are constructing everything here in Austin, on a deck on the backside of the architecture building. Everything is broken down into panels and after Thanksgiving, we will load it all up on a flat bed and ship it down. The following two weekends, we will stay down in Corpus installing it on site. Please pray for clear skies!

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