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Interview: Brian MacKay-Lyons on the State of Architectural Education and the Architect's Role

Brian MacKay-Lyons is the founding partner of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, a professor at Dalhousie University and the founder of Ghost Lab - the now legendary 2-week summer design/build program that took place on his family farm in Nova Scotia from 1994 to 2011. While relentlessly local, Brian's work has been recognized internationally with more than 100 awards, 300 publications and 100 exhibitions. In 2012, the American Institute of Architects recognized the collective work and influence of Ghost with an Institute Honor Award for Architecture.

On August 22nd, 2014 Brian hopped off his tractor and wiped the diesel fuel off his hands to discuss architectural education with Keith and Marie Zawistowski, co-founders of the design/buildLAB at Virginia Tech and partners of OnSite Architecture. Here is an excerpt from their conversation, which was originally published on Inform:

Keith Zawistowski: Your contributions to the discipline of architecture have been both in practice and in education. In 1994, you founded Ghost, an international laboratory that influenced all generations of architects with its simplicity and this affirmation of timeless architectural values of place and craft. It was a pretty bold move and it seems for us like it was a direct reaction to your discontentment with academia and the way architects were being educated. Do you still feel that strongly about the state of architecture education and the profession?

5 Reasons Why Architects Should Volunteer to Build Abroad

Patrick McLoughlin is one of the two founders of Build Abroad, a volunteer organization that offers architectural and construction services to developing nations. In this article, originally published on Archi-Ninja, McLoughlin shares five reasons why architects should get involved with organizations like his own. 

Many architecture firms collaborate with non-government organisations to help in developing nations. A.gor.a Architects for example, are currently designing and building a new health clinic to provide free healthcare to Burmese refugees and migrants. Auburn University Rural Studio works with architects and students to build homes in rural communities while instigating community-action, collaboration, and sustainability.

A number of organisations also facilitate construction volunteering. Architecture for Humanity provides architecture, planning and project management services for disaster reconstruction. Architects without Borders is a global operation to provide ecologically sensitive and culturally appropriate design assistance to communities in need. 

Over the past decade, volunteering abroad has become an increasingly popular and important part of the architecture and construction industry. Volunteering abroad offers short to long term opportunities to experience a new culture while giving back to the community. Construction volunteering offers the potential for a lasting impact on the affected community. Patrick McLoughlin, co-counder of Build Abroad describes the following benefits and how you can help to make a difference:  

Sustainable Design-Build Projects from Seven Universities Around the World

Interdisciplinary teams from the University of Sao Paulo, Delft University, and five other post-secondary institutions are currently exploring sustainable innovations in design, materials, and building systems thanks to the support of Pillars of Sustainable Education – a partnership between Architecture for Humanity and the Alcoa Foundation. The collaborative effort was founded as a way to “educate the next generation of architects, engineers, and material designers while supporting real-world design-build projects that positively impact both the environment and the local community.” Months into the project, the schools’ proposals are turning into reality as students collaborate with NGOs. To learn about what each school is working on, keep reading after the break.

TYIN tegnestue Releases Downloadable Guide to Design/Build in Underprivileged Areas

TYIN tegnestue architects are known for their small-scale built projects in underprivileged areas around the world, but you might not know just how open this firm is about sharing their work. If you head to their website, many of their past projects are available for download in the form of photographs, sketches, drawings, models, and more. They believe that by sharing their knowledge, they are encouraging students and young architects to learn by building. The architecture co-operative has even created the "TYIN Architect's Toolbox," a downloadable guide to working on design-builds in places of need. For more information on the guide, keep reading after the break.

Courtesy of TYIN tegnestue Architects Courtesy of TYIN tegnestue Architects Courtesy of TYIN tegnestue Architects Courtesy of TYIN tegnestue Architects

Twenty Years Later, What Rural Studio Continues to Teach Us About Good Design

Hale County, Alabama is a place full of architects, and often high profile ones. The likes of Todd Williams and Billie Tsien have ventured there, as have Peter Gluck and Xavier Vendrell, all to converge upon Auburn University’s Rural Studio. Despite the influx of designers, it is a place where an ensemble of all black will mark you as an outsider. I learned this during my year as an Outreach student there, and was reminded recently when I ventured south for the Studio’s 20th Anniversary celebration. While the most recent graduates took the stage, I watched the ceremony from the bed of a pick-up truck, indulging in corn-coated, deep-fried catfish, and reflected on what the organization represents to the architecture world.

Since its founding in 1993 by D.K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee, the Studio has built more than 150 projects and educated over 600 students. Those first years evoke images of stacked tires coated with concrete and car windshields pinned up like shingles over a modest chapel. In the past two decades, leadership has passed from Mockbee and Ruth to the current director, Andrew Freear, and the palette has evolved to feature more conventional materials, but the Studio remains faithful to its founding principal: all people deserve good design. Now that it is officially a twenty-something, what can Rural Studio teach us about good design?

We Need More 'Building' in Architecture School

"Architectural education is very abstract." Virginia Tech professors and Rural Studio alumni Keith and Marie Zawistowski sit down to talk about the importance of a hands-on experience, suggesting a fundamental restructuring of curriculums. With projects such as the Masonic Ampitheater, they — together with their students — set out to prove that somethings are simply solved by building. Read the full article here, "What Architecture Schools Get Wrong"

LCD Exhibits "As Autumn Leaves" at Beijing's 2013 Design Week

"As Autumn Leaves" (AAL) is a spatial installation designed and built by students of the Laboratory for Computational Design (LCD) for Beijing's 2013 Design Week. Located in a historic hutong district in Beijing, AAL highlights the existing entrance to Dashilar Factory where emerging creatives exhibit their design.   The concept is based on ephermerality of nature. As temperatures change, autumn turns to winter, and trees shed their leaves, AAL recalls the passage of time through changing seasons. 

Yale First-Years' Latest New Haven House Complete

Most architects have to wait years to see their first project realized – but if you’re an architecture student at Yale University, you may just have to get on campus.

The Jim Vlock Project, established in 1967, gives first year graduate architecture students the opportunity to design and build a single family home in New Haven, Connecticut. The most recent iteration of the program, which investigated prefab design and construction, will be dedicated today at Yale University.

More info on this year's Jim Vlock house, after the break...

VIDEO: design/buildLAB at Virginia Tech

An inspiring little video from the folks at Virginia Tech that will make you want to get your designer hands dirty - today. The video follows the third-years of 2013 as they build their final project: a bridge. As the co-founder of the lab, Kieth Zawistowski, eloquently says at the video's end, "It doesn't really matter if you ever want to actually build something yourself again, what's important, in this case, is that you've seen the entirety of the process, from conception to realization." If you want to see more from design/buildLAB, check out the project completed by last year's students (which features in the last few minutes of the video): Masonic Ampitheatre.

Make Your Summer Count with Global Architecture Brigades

UT Austin GAB chapter's winning proposal for the El Canton Health Center project in Honduras.
UT Austin GAB chapter's winning proposal for the El Canton Health Center project in Honduras.

While other architecture students spend their summers strolling the streets, seeing the sights, and contently sketching, you could be getting your hands dirty, turning your designs into reality, and making a difference in a community that needs you.

Every summer, Global Architecture Brigades (GAB) activates student volunteers to work with a community in Honduras, helping them alleviate needs in health and education. The program isn’t a lesson in a charity; it’s a hands-on experience of the community-entrenched work of a designer of the 21st century. 

Read more about Global Architecture Brigade’s work in Honduras, and how you can get involved, after the break...  

Nosara Recycling Plant / sLAB

A small group of students and architect Tobias Holler of sLAB Costa Rica at the New York Institute of Technology, have teamed up to design and build a communal recycling center for Nosara, Costa Rica – a city that is facing grave problems with sanitation and illegal dumping of garbage on beaches and in wildlife areas. Construction started last summer after a Kickstarter campaign that raised $15,000 helped provide expenses and costs associated with housing the students that assisted with the construction. A relaunch of the Kickstarter campaign will provide the project with additional funds to bring the students back to accelerate the pace of construction. The funds also support the documentary by Ayana de Vos, whose film follows the progress of the project and features waste management and sustainability in Costa Rica.

Join us after the break for more.

The motivation behind building a Communal Recycling Center is based in the severe problems that Nosara specifically, and Costa Rica in general, has in municipal waste management. Without appropriate infrastructure and policies, over 1400 tons of waste is deposited into unregulated dumps daily. A lot of the garbage makes its way into rivers and forests, pollutes ground water, threatens the health of local communities and destroys wildlife.

How to Re-Invent the African Mud Hut

It’s not often that a project requires you to bulk up on your haggling skills.

Then again, it’s not often that a project requires you to re-invent the African Mud Hut either. But that was exactly the task presented to Karolina and Wayne Switzer, participants of the Nka Foundation’s “10x10 Shelter Challenge” to design and build a 10 by 10 feet shelter deep in the heart of Ghana. 

The pair, who just completed their project this month, were dependent upon the local community to make the shelter a reality, and had to learn early on how to communicate with the locals - not just to negotiate prices for materials and labor, but to overcome the local stigma associated with mud architecture (usually only used by the very poor). 

The result was a contemporary, durable shelter built with a construction method inspired by local tradition: the pounding of the fufu root, a diet staple for the community, which uncannily paralleled the pounding of fresh soil into the forms. Hence the local’s name for the structure: “Obruni fufu” (white man’s fufu). 

If you’re interested in getting involved in the 10x10 Challenge (open to students and graduates of design, architecture, art, or engineering, until October 2013), check out the Nka Foundation’s website, www.nkafoundation.org, or email at info@nkafoundation.org 

Full description of the project, after the break....

Camera Obscura / AA Visiting School Eugene 2012

Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene
Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene

A small group of diverse students participating in the inaugural AA Visiting School Eugene were given the responsibility to design and build something that would enhance and reflect the forest, within a ten-day timeframe. More on the Camera Obscura after the break.

Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene Courtesy of AA Visiting School Eugene

The Rise of Design/Build Architecture Inspires "All Hale" Love Story

Hale County Animal Shelter / Rural Studio; © griner
Hale County Animal Shelter / Rural Studio; © griner

All Hale, a new film written by Anita Banerji, follows the story of college student Alice Walker who finds herself in a small town in Hale County, Alabama building a home for a family that is going through personal and financial hardship.  The movie is filmed on location, with a variety of unique Hale County architecture serving as the backdrop for a story that rekindles a love for “home-grown architecture”.  At a time when so much emphasis is focused on “starchitects” and the “Bilbao effect”, the story of this movie has a social agenda that highlights the backlash to this phenomena: the rising trend of design/build architecture. Join us after the break for more on the underlying social inspiration of this film and a sneak peek at the trailer.

The Movement Cafe / Morag Myerscough

Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan
Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan

Designer: Morag Myerscough of Studio Myerscough Customized ice cream bicycle: Luke Morgan Furniture: Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan Location: Waller Way, Greenwich, London Se10 8JA, UK Project Year: 2012 Project Area: 140 sqm Client: Cathedral Group

Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan Courtesy of Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan

Ghana: Nka Foundation announces 10X10 Shelter Challenge

The Nka Foundation has announced a new competition, open to all students and graduates of design, architecture, art, engineering and schools interested in rural community projects in Africa, that is a design-build challenge at the Abetenim Arts Village near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.  The 10×10 Shelter Challenge is an on-site competition structured as a “design-build camp for learning-by-doing” in African Architecture.  There are no fixed deadlines with 5 available month long periods to sign up,  the first beginning this October, 2012. Join us after the break for more details on this unique competition.

Williams Tsien and Davis Brody Bond selected for new U.S. Embassy in Mexico City

The Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has announced the selection of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Davis Brody Bond to design the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Mexico City, Mexico. After an intense round of presentations and interviews, the duo was selected from a talented shortlist of nine architectural/engineering teams. As reported on the Latin American Herald Tribune, the jury believed that “their portfolio of work is compatible to the local culture and shows sensitivity that highlights their connection to the character of the site.”

The Grow Dat Youth Farm & SEEDocs: Mini-Documentaries on the Power of Public-Interest Design

If you read our infographic, then you know that Public-Interest Design is one of the few growing sectors of the architecture industry. From the prevalence of Design-Build curriculums in Architecture Schools to the rise of the 1% program and non-profits like Architecture for Humanity, Public-Interest Design (PID) is hitting its stride.

Which is why we’re so excited that two of PID’s biggest players, Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), have teamed up to create SEEDocs, a monthly series of mini-documentaries that highlight the inspirational stories of six award-winning public interest design projects.

The latest SEEDoc follows the story of the Grow Dat Youth Farm - a brilliant example of what we call “Urban Agri-puncture” (a strategy that uses design & Urban Agriculture to target a city’s most deprived, unhealthy neighborhoods) that is changing the lives of New Orleans youth.

More on this inspiring story, after the break…