Book Chapter | Learning by Doing

Schwartz, Chad. “Learning by Doing: The Educational Value of Design/Build.” In The Louna Bookshop Project, edited by Christian Hermansen. China: UED and Taylor & Francis, 2020 (anticipated).


This introductory chapter to The Louna Bookshop Project discusses the learning opportunities inherent in the pedagogy of academic design/build. Academic design/build – an educational construct somewhat distinct from the professional practice construct of the same name in which the same entity provides both design and construction services – affords students the opportunity to actualize their design work through its construction. In some cases, [academic] design/build involves small structures, objects, or systems built in and around the school; in others, the students spend weeks or even semesters living and building in places very remote from and very culturally different from their university classroom. As such, academic design/build exists at a variety of scales, scopes, and budgets. Most design/build projects undertaken in architecture schools are hosted in design studios, where the large number of contact hours, more flexible learning objectives, and number of student participants are best suited for accommodating the rigors of this type of work. This rule is not absolute, however, as design/build can be utilized as an educational tool in virtually any course with any number of students – working individually, in small groups, or as a single entity depending on the scope of the project.

The aim of the book is to provide an account of the The Louna Bookshop project, which is part of a much larger initiative in China to push for development of rural areas through the National Strategic Plan for Rural Vitalization. Since 2011 many projects have been initiated which explore different ways of addressing the future of rural China. The diversity of these projects suggests that they are experiments by which to decide what the future of rural China should be like. The Louna Bookshop project is a collaborative endeavor between Urban Environmental Design (UED), the China Building Centre (CBC) and The University of Oslo’s (AHO’s) Scarcity and Creativity Studio. The book’s editor/author is Christian Hermansen, a Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Oslo, who is leading the academic design/build of the bookshop. The hope is that this text will reveal the story of this undertaking and serve as a guide to teachers and students who may wish to participate in similar activities in the future.


This publication is due, in part, to my history of writing about and critiquing the practice of academic design/build, found in numerous other published works of mine. The material here is drawn from many of those sources.

Photograph by Shannon McDonald, Southern Illinois University.

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