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Building to Learn, Part II
Reflections on a decade of developing a design/build program.
By Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA

Daniel Winterbottom
Daniel Winterbottom

Over the past 10 years of teaching landscape architecture at the University of Washington, I have been developing a design/build studio that teaches construction and materials while integrating skills and understanding from throughout the curriculum. The learning experience is hands-on and intensive and aims to support landscape architecture students in their transition into professional work. Each new project is a commitment to a new array of challenges, and each has been at some point in near overwhelming disarray—yet each has been successfully completed. As a result, I remain a devoted advocate of this learning model. The reflective dialogue between designing and building gives students the opportunity to test ideas and teaches the flexibility needed for the design process.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, near enough to New York City to be continually recharged by its diversity and vitality. On family visits to the city, I was indelibly impressed with the finely crafted and expressive architectural forms and materials: ceramic, wrought iron, stone, and wood. I sought out work that explored many materials in apprenticeships to craftsmen, in art school, and later as a builder. My own process of learning has been and continues to be a hands-on one. Even as I was attending art school in the era of conceptual art, my mentors reiterated the value of craftsmanship and simultaneously encouraged innovation. Robert Smithson, Carl Andre, Michael Heizer, and Nancy Holt were using tools of construction—the crane, the backhoe, or the earth itself—to create works of art. My own work moved out of the studio into the landscape to carve space and use the site as inspiration.

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