Paper | Defeat in Victory

Schwartz, Chad. “Defeat in Victory: Reflecting on the Value of Design/Build.” Paper presented at the 2018 Design/Build Exchange Conference: Working Out: Thinking while Building III, September 2018.


Several years ago, I decided that participating in community-based design/build is an experience that every student passing through the school of architecture should have at least once in his or her education. As an individual faculty member, however, the design/build studio was incapable of providing this type of reach. As such, a design/build project was initiated in an introductory building science course operating in the second year of both the architecture and interior design programs. The project, the design and construction of an outdoor meeting space at a local nature center, was ultimately a success. It was completed within budget, well-received by the client and others, and the facility is used extensively.

The quality of the learning experience of the majority of the student participants, however, ultimately classifies this project as a failure. Some of this diagnosis resulted from the excessive amount of time required to complete the project, resulting in dozens of extra work days during which just a small number of the students participated in the construction of significant portions of the structure. Another contributing factor was the lack of infrastructure in place to handle this type of project pedagogically. The most significant reason for the failure of the project, however, rests on the division of labor. Unlike a design studio, technology sequence courses often have more focused learning objectives, which every student in the course must meet equally. The significant division of labor required to allow over fifty students to simultaneously work on a single project resulted in most students only engaging with a small portion of the design and construction process. As such, few students had a true design/build experience and exited the class at the end of the semester meeting the project and course learning objectives.


This paper is the last in a series of four written works that studied the progress of a design/build program over a five year timespan while teaching building technology at Southern Illinois University. Other works in this sequence are Constructing Experience, Debating the Merits of Design/Build, and Examining Strategies for Delivering Design/Build Content in High-Enrollment Architecture Courses.