The Zawistowskis, both professors of practice in the School of Architecture + Design, were among four individuals and teams to be recognized for best practices in design-build education, and are among the first to receive this national recognition. While the association has been presenting educational awards for many years, this is the inaugural year for the Design Build Award, honoring best practices in school-based design-build projects.
The award will be presented during the ACSA’s 101st annual meeting in San Francisco, on March 22.
The Zawistowskis received the Design Build Award based on the excellence of the concepts and pedagogical approach behind their design/buildLAB for third-year architecture students.
The Zawistowskis joined Virginia Tech in 2008 and are the co-founders and directors of the design/buildLAB. This two-semester course is part of their approach to providing students hands-on experiences that hone their skills in design, construction, communication, and administration, preparing them for their future careers by merging academic knowledge with the many aspects of an architectural practice.
Students in the design/buildLAB work on a real-world project from conception to completion. Projects are selected for their potential benefit to a community, and students work with community members to assess their needs, design solutions, find funding, and build the final structure.
“We select projects that serve the common good of the community, and that makes it much more meaningful for the students … to know that they are doing something that is really beneficial. We are also very careful in selecting projects of a certain scope and scale and level of complexity so that the students are able to complete it in one academic year,” said Marie Zawistowski.
The two-semester timeline is key to the Zawistowskis’ pedagogy because it allows the students to experience all aspects of the process behind creating architecture.
“What distinguishes our approach to design-build, at least from a pedagogical perspective, is that the same group of students who conceive the project are the ones who finish it, so that they see the process in its entirety. If you spread it out over multiple years, or you take on projects that aren’t large enough in scale, [the students] won’t understand the complexities of the entire process.” said Keith Zawistowski.
Two projects recently completed by design/buildLAB students are the Covington Farmers Market in 2011 and the Clifton Forge Amphitheater in 2012.
Another key concept in this educational approach is that design/buildLAB projects are student-led, student-designed, and student-built, with the faculty acting as advisors who contribute to the discussion and refocus or encourage as needed.
“It’s completely their design. There is often this misconception that Marie and I create the design and then the students help to make it real,” said Keith Zawistowski. “It’s completely their project. We laugh in particular about the amphitheater because it’s not like anything that we would have designed. It’s amazing, but as Marie says, ‘I would never make a curved building.’”
Marie Zawistowski is quick to add, “That’s the point, for them to really take this experience into their own hands. They are leading the project and what happens is up to them.“
The success of their approach has led to other honors, including the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects’ 2011 Award for Excellence in Architecture and most recently, they were listed on the Public Interest Design 100, which according to the organization’s website, honors “the top 100 individuals and teams working at the intersection of design and service.”
The Zawistowskis also received the 2011 National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Grand Prize for Creative Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy in recognition of their course in professional practice, which challenges students to be as creative in their approach to business as they are in their design work.
The Zawistowskis recently presented “Getting Real” at TEDxVirginia Tech, which focused on the process of building the Covington Farmers Market and the Clifton Forge Amphitheater and the underlying teaching philosophy behind the projects.
Keith Zawistowski, who received a bachelor’s of architecture from Virginia Tech, and Marie Zawistowski, who studied at the Ecole d’Architecture Paris Malaquais in France, met as students at Auburn University’s famed Rural Studio, which focuses on bringing practical yet elegant design to low-income communities and individuals. They credit their experience in the Rural Studio to their professional and pedagogical practices today and note that they are among the first generation of educators who have been formally educated in design-build.