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.

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.