Design Build 2014
Incoming MFA Applied Craft and Design students build social bonds and design skills in a 10-day intensive project constructing a chicken coop with Project Grow in North Portland.
Collecting eggs from roosting hens and composting in more accessible ways are just some of the place-based designs incorporated by the MFA in Applied Craft + Design (ACD) program’s 2014 Design Build Project, an urban chicken coop for Project Grow. The ACD program’s annual Design Build combines intimate learning of the design process with a bit of a social experiment. In past years, incoming students have completed projects which include a space at a juvenile detention center for enjoying books, a neighborhood bike hub, and a school bike repair shop. In the summer of 2014, first year students were invited to design a chicken coop for Project Grow. Located in North Portland, Project Grow is an arts and urban farming program for those with developmental disabilities. At the heart of Project Grow’s mission lies artistic collaboration and development along with opportunities to work on the chemical-free farm, art studio, and gallery. The collaboration of the ACD program and Design with Project Grow was natural.
Incoming ACD students enter the program with different skills and expertise. Some may not know how to use an electric drill, put up a wall, or approach a potential client for a project. The design build project teaches them the basics of how to use tools in the studio, offers experience in the design process through generating ideas and critique and how to best interact with potential clients, while also developing a better understanding of their cohort’s skills and work styles. JP Reuer (Chair of the MFA in Applied Craft and Design), Butch Anthony (folk artist and architect at Museum of Wonder), and Matthew Miller (Co-founder of Project H) led the project. This was Reuer and Anthony’s fourth year working together on the design build, while Miller brought new perspective on design to the table. Reuer created exercises that he said were “fluid and responsive,” and “now-centric,” with an environment that would, “confuse the students to help them learn.” Why confusion? So that the students would not go into autopilot but be proactive at figuring things out while they were listening, designing, or building. As Diane Einsiedler ’16 says, “Almost every day was unexpected (laughs), in a good way.”
Design build is a rigorous process. The entire project was completed in 11 days with some workdays lasting up to 12 hours and a one-day break. Students were given a list of tools and supplies to bring along, ranging from a tape measure to a handsaw, or a digital camera to document their journey. Students began with meeting the client, doing exercises which demonstrate the pros and cons of working in groups, brainstorming in groups to generate ideas, and formalizing those ideas to be ready for a guest critique on day two. Don Bergstrom ’16 says, “The process differed from day to day, dependent on what stage of the project we were in. First day was an introduction to the project and timeline to accomplish the project, including a site visit. Most of the first week was spent developing possible designs through the construction of models in teams that changed each day. A perfect way to get to know everyone.”
Exercises made students think about what it means to have ownership over an idea and when to move onto other notions when ideating in groups. Phoenix McNamara ’16 explains, “It’s like having pride and involvement without getting too attached to a specific part…not feeling the need for an element to be there, and letting go of the ego while still feeling ownership.”
Students took feedback from critique, regrouped, and prepared for a presentation on day three to the client, Project Grow. Students learned how to develop interview questions for the client that would be most helpful to shape the project. Students drew not only inspiration from speaking with artists and workers at the Project Grow site, but also looked to many works including the Bamboo DNA Shelter open-sourced plans and Perry Lakes Park in Marion, Alabama.
The students gleaned information from the client interview questions including that outdoor art and living were key elements and that artists preferred shady areas when working, along with wanting a meditative space in which to hang out. The ACD students learned gardening labels should be both pictorial and written because some farmers understand visuals better than text, and that wheel chair accessibility for artists and farmers was important. They learned that Project Grow artists usually have more than one discipline and are more conceptual, meaning they identify strongly with feeling rather than seeing when creating artwork. Lastly, Project Grow wanted the designed space to benefit and be a central point for the Harvest Festival, a major event celebrating community involvement. After gleaning this information from interviews and giving multiple presentations to the client, the project design was agreed upon, and students were ready to move on to the sequencing and staging.
The specifications for Project Grow’s chicken coop were that it was required to house up to 18 chickens; have an elevated floor to provide ventilation and rodent protection; come equipped with a laying box that could lock, be wheelchair accessible, dark, cleanable, and have an egg shelf; have roosting bars with enough room for the chickens to sleep and move around; a roof that would collect rain but not make the surrounding area muddy; feeders and waterers to hang from the ceiling; and a chicken run to be fashioned with wire that would have easy access for compost collection. With the construction of the chicken coop came intense days which demanded adaptation, diligence, and the ability to work well with others. Diane Einsiedler ’16 explained, “When we got to the days of building, we were mostly asked to show up ready to do whatever needed to be done and it was kind of unspoken, but work well together and be flexible. This translated into painting for 12 hours or people getting out of their comfort zone to use power tools they had never used before.” Each day, students were given specific tasks to ensure the project would be completed by the eleventh day. By the end of the project, they had finished a brand new chicken coop for Project Grow. The urban chicken coop’s load-bearing beams are painted bright aqua, the wooden slats have a natural wood finish, and the coop is enclosed by chicken wire and sheet metal. Crafted from the metal of found tools and other objects, the sign on the sliding door reads, “GROW.” Everything about the design ensures an accessible and inviting space for the farmers, artists, and community members of Project Grow.
The ACD students learned many lessons during the design build, and memories of their experience with it are still brewing. The students learned what a design process is, they learned how to use tools to build, and they developed the ability to clearly communicate with others on a group project. Students also developed a stronger bond with their cohort through this intensive. Every year students report that the design build gives them more clarity on what people from their cohort have to offer and what works and doesn’t work with different styles of communication. As McNamara puts it, “I learned a lot about framing a structure. How to use a chopsaw, over and over. As a group, we learned a fair amount about a different version of the design process. A lot of us weren’t necessarily used to working in groups and more used to individual design processes. But this is a very specific group format design process… you might not exactly understand what we’re doing and why, but there was a reason for it in the end.”
The design build project was such a valuable experience that students recommend more graduate programs should implement it. Some students mentioned that bonds may have formed more quickly over the duration of the project than they would have in a traditional classroom setting. The influences of this project can already be seen in the Applied Craft and Design studio space. Students are building their own workspaces, which some could not have done before. With their experiences of it still percolating and past notions challenged, this project has affected students in ways they have not yet imagined and may influence future work yet to be made.