UH Design/Build Program Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Architecture Program Links College to Community and Industry

Many college students spend their summers at the beach, but 14 University of Houston students will spend it working construction at an elementary school. They are part of the College of Architecture's Graduate Design/Build Studio (GDBS), a program celebrating its 20th year of connecting the college to community and industry.

"Graduate Design/Build Studio measures the quality of students' design thinking against the rigorous standard of built reality," said Patrick Peters, associate professor and director of the GDBS for the past 16 years. "When students are here learning how to connect a column to a beam or develop a foundation, it's with an exposure to the whole process."

&The Graduate Design/Build Studio places graduate architecture students in an environment where they see their design ideas evolve from concept through completed construction. A green-building initiative, students begin researching and designing the project in the spring semester and spend the summer building it. For many of the students, this is their first foray into architecture, designing or construction.

"When a student has the opportunity to make a decision and then sees immediately the implications of that decision in real concrete materials, it will affect the next design decision," Peters said. "If that can happen multiple times, their design decisions will be richer."

Past projects have included a 400-square-foot luminous venue for outdoor film projection and performing arts at Alexander Hamilton Middle School in the Heights, an 84-foot outdoor entrance canopy connecting two buildings belonging to the Girl Scouts' San Jacinto Council headquarters and The Outdoor Reading Theater at Mark Twain Elementary.

This year, students are working in support of Pat Neff Elementary School in southwest Houston. Titled, The Solar Shade Tree, students will design and build a structure that will give children shaded access to an outdoor amphitheater. Students from the arts-focused program also will display their art work in the outdoor area and use the space to perform plays. The project includes a standing-seam roof, trellis for additional shading, solar power from photovoltaic panels and basins for plants and rain-collection. The UH team consulted with school officials and the elementary school students during the design process.

"Every meeting we'd have, they'd sit at their own tables and participate and ask excellent questions," said Cynthia Chenut, a current GD/BS student. "They came up with the most brilliant comments and notes and really did change our project because of that."

Plans are for the team to begin work at the school site in early July, with completion in early fall.

The Graduate Design/Build Studio has connected the college to many Houston industry partners who have provided materials or expertise for the summer projects. The studio also has produced many professionals who are now with national architecture firms.

"I'm very affected emotionally and deeply touched by the kind of transformation I perceive taking place in our students' lives," Peters said. "At the top of our syllabus every year is a quote that says ‘The quality that we call beauty must always grow from the realities of life.' It's not important that every student become an expert steel fabricator or detailer, but rather learn about making architecture that is richer and more elegant."

For more information on the UH Graduate Design/Build Studio, visit http://www.arch.uh.edu/architecture/academic-programs.php?design-build.