Design-Build 2018: New River Train Observatory
How can a diverse group of architecture and natural resources students hailing from Iran, China, Syria, Texas and Virginia help a small town in Virginia develop their tourism potential, gain valuable professional experience, and demonstrate a sustainable building material all at the same time? The School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech is looking forward to collaborating with the town of Radford and the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech to build a train-viewing platform at the Glencoe Mansion near Bissett Park and the New River. The project will assist the town in developing its railroad history as a potential tourist attraction and also serve to demonstrate the use of Cross-Laminated Timber, a sustainable building material that has been used for many years in Europe and Canada but not as much in the United States. The Bauhaus teacher and architect Walter Gropius urged young architects to become involved in their communities. Community design-build projects such as this provide a wonderful way to act on Gropius’s advice.
The experience will assist students in achieving a deeper understanding of materials and construction. With the pervasive use of computers for design and representation, student architects become proficient in those techniques and sometimes forget about physical reality, about the behavior and resistance of materials, and about the response of the constructed building to natural phenomena—heat, cold, moisture and movement. Architects must not only design well but they must know the pragmatic requirements of building. Students will have the unique opportunity to see the material outcome of what they have proposed digitally and on paper. In addition to better understanding materials and construction, students will gain an understanding of the collaborative nature of architecture. In practice, we deal with multiple professions and areas of expertise. Having students engage in a design-build project gives them valuable experience collaborating with other disciplines. They will also learn how to engage a community through design and through the community’s particular history.
Engaging town residents and making the general public aware of what we can do is an added advantage of a community design-build project.
Photo courtesy Radford Heritage Foundation and Glencoe Mansion