In 2014, a grant was awarded by SIU to do a design|build project at Touch of Nature [TON]. TON is a 3100 acre campus preserve. It serves a wide variety of campus and non-campus programs. Among its many events are summer camps, corporate retreats, and weddings. After a survey of the property, class efforts focused on the rebuilding of a hillside amphitheater. In addition to reaching TON’s primary users, the project required no electrical, mechanical, or plumbing work; simplified engineering meant limited interaction with the campus unions. Also, since the amphitheater was not listed on SIU’s building register (just an outdoor structure), the class was not required to formally submit for a lengthy campus building review.

The goal for the community based TON design|build was to adapt it to the rigorous working process established two years earlier. Based on the class construct, each lab section worked on one facet of the project: the stage, the primary seating area, or the threshold and path bench. The path bench was installed halfway up the hillside, serving as a rest point for visitors. The project had a total footprint of 1400 gsf.

After a site visit, students in each lab (in pairs) generated schematic designs for their facet of the project, working with the other labs to create cohesive design ideas. The class voted on the top schemes and presented them to our client, the TON staff, for review. After receiving a decision from TON, each lab was divided into four task groups for project development (3 to 4 students per group). The timeframe and project scope necessitated each group to focus on specific tasks: material list and cost analysis, storyboard and construction sequence, site analysis and construction documentation, and mockups and models. This process required significant coordination between groups and between lab sections. At the conclusion of design and documentation, the project moved to the site. Students were required to attend three build days and were rewarded with extra credit for attending additional days. At the conclusion of the project, each group was required to contribute to a summary document of the project’s process.