Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Yestermorrow Then and Now

by Kate Stephenson, Executive Director

Ten years ago today I arrived at Yestermorrow for the first time, to start my summer internship in April 2002.  It’s hard to believe that much time has passed, but when I think back to those days, it’s amazing to realize how much has changed at the school, and how much has also stayed the same.

My first Yestermorrow class in May 2002
I arrived to a campus just gearing up for the summer, since there were few classes offered over the winter.  The main building had only been partially renovated; for the most part only the lobby, office and shop were useablethe rest had no heat or plumbing.  I jumped right in to a bunch of classesTimberframing and Home Design/Build were particularly memorableand started helping out with a variety of projects around campus, including working on the first three cabins. Back in 2002 the staff (Pat Pinkston, Peter Collins and Eyrich Stauffer) were struggling to bring in students and get the new campus up and running.  As interns we were pretty much self-organizing, trying to keep one step ahead of what the instructors needed for their classes, answering phones in the office, and working on the many unfinished building projects around campus. We each did a little bit of everything, and poured our hearts and souls into the place.  It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun.  

After finishing up my 4 month internship that summer and continuing on to graduate school, I still felt the pull of Yestermorrow.  By December I was back, and hired on to the staff full-time.  Though I never could have imagined it when I first arrived in 2002, I’m still here.  The campus has developed in many dimensions (and we still have a long way to go), the curriculum has expanded in ways I never dreamed possible, and our team has grown to include an even wider circle of talented faculty, interns and staff.  We still struggle to find enough students to run each class, we still have a campus with a few unfinished projects, and we’re still teaching the design/build process day in and day out. Many of the amazing instructors I learned from as an internJosh Jackson, Skip Dewhirst, and John Ringelare still some of our most committed teachers and are actively involved in the school.
Over the past ten years I’ve learned a little bit of patience, a ton about how organizations work, and more than I ever imagined about how the design/build process actually happens, both in the studio and on the jobsite.  I’m excited to think where we might be in the next ten years, and am committed to helping realize the collective vision of the Yestermorrow community.  Thanks to all of youstudents, staff, board, interns, and community partners – for making this such a fun place to be.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rethinking Design

A guest post by Joel Glanzberg, Yestermorrow faculty member and master planning team member

The story of the oak beams of Oxford’s New College is helpful in rethinking design as a part of a larger process. Gregory Bateson tells how a maintenance man at the school found that the large beams that spanned the dinning hall were riddled with beetles. In the search for oak beams of that size the forester who managed the school's forestry endowment was called in. When told the problem he replied that he’d been waiting to be asked for the trees, as “everyone knows that in about five hundred years oak beams get beetlely.” It turned out that acorns had been planted when the school was built to supply the replacement beams. Bateson’s comment is “That’s the way to run a society.”

Learning from this example, we can see that the planning and development of a regenerative building begins with the development of the forests that supply the timber, the coppices that supply the withes and poles, the gathering of stones from crop fields, the tending of the sheep whose wool will insulate the walls and ceiling, and the development of the craftspeople who will tend the forest and flocks, fell the trees, tend the cleared fields, and craft the building. Seen in this much longer arc, if the design process is focused simply on the design of form, it misses most of the value-adding potential of the process of which “design/build” is a part. The full value-adding stream includes sourcing materials in regenerative ways and developing all five types of capital, including developing businesses and human and natural capacities and capabilities.

In realizing the full regenerative potential of a building, the process is the most fruitful portion. It is important to shift the focus from designing the form of the building to designing the form-giving process (which includes but is certainly not limited to planning and design). The building is a temporary manifestation of a much longer on-going process. What is to be gained by giving careful thought to the process rather than the form?

There is a well-known example from Australia where a farmer wanted to clear and fertilize a scrubby field and turn it into an orchard. Rather than hiring a bulldozer to clear the field and buying compost to fertilize it, he bought two piglets and some electric fencing. Concentrating their effects, a portion of the field was cleared and fertilized and was planted to orchard trees. The hogs were butchered. One supplied the pork for his family for a year, while the sale of the other provided money to buy two more piglets and corn to feed them for a year. After repeating this process for a number of years the entire field was cleared, fertilized, and planted to fruit trees while paying for itself and feeding the family. By establishing the orchard in stages, the fruit production began before the pork production ceased. In fact, pigs could easily have continued to feed in the orchard, eating fallen fruit and cultivating the soil. The food production process did not begin with the completion of the orchard, but began with the commencement of the process for establishing it. In fact, it was a food production process all along that shifted form from pork to fruit. The form is unimportant. How do we design “design/build” processes that are similarly productive from the outset or from which buildings are a byproduct?

There are many systems that encourage the creation of drawings of the design of buildings as a focus, from permitting to financing. It is usually the assumed design decisions - which are in fact unmade because they are assumed - that could yield the greatest benefit if thought about, questioned, and addressed creatively. If we assume how the building process occurs, we miss many opportunities for regeneration. It is just like assuming that transportation means cars - or if  I'm really thinking radically, electric cars or even buses. This limited thinking misses many opportunities. The greatest limit to yield (potential) is our minds. Certainly this limit is mostly in our assumptions and preconceptions. How do we shift our focus from designing objects to designing processes that are regenerative? How do we stop thinking about any activity as separate from the ongoing life (self-regeneration) of places?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yestermorrow Collaboration Opportunity

We’re looking for community clients for our basic carpentry classes! Students build small structures (up to 150 ft2) in our Basic Carpentry, Carpentry for Women, and Home Design/Build courses—previous projects have included garden sheds, playhouses, woodsheds, chicken coops, and small cabins. (Images of previous projects are included throughout this post.) Projects are typically built at Yestermorrow’s Waitsfield campus and delivered after the class, though we sometimes build on-site for clients within the Mad River Valley.


We have several pre-designed sheds on file, and for an additional fee our instructors can create custom designs. Yestermorrow is not equipped to carry on a project after the completion of the class, which occasionally leaves some minor work for clients to finish—but our students' work will be done well, and always done under professional supervision. Generally speaking, involving a Yestermorrow class in your project provides a premium product at below-market prices, as we do not charge for labor. Clients pay for materials plus 20% overhead, plus any design and transportation costs. Overall costs typically run $1500-$2000, though costs vary significantly according to the size of the structure, the intricacy of the design, the materials chosen, and other factors.

For more information, contact Abby Martin at (802) 496-5545 or

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecting to the Designer Within: An Architect’s Immersion into Woodworking

by Anna Lucey, Woodworking Certificate student
Upon waking my first thought is: maybe I can use the planer to taper that wide board! The strangeness of waking with this thought is compounded by the fact that 11 weeks ago I didn’t even know what a planer was. The reality is this: the Yestermorrow Woodworking Certificate Program is a full-immersion course where you eat, breathe, and sleep the art and science of woodworking. As such, there comes a point where your subconscious takes over the sometimes daunting (but, in woodworking, ever-present) task of problem solving.

At work on a small-scale design/build project.
I came to Yestermorrow with a bachelors degree in architecture and four years of entry-level architecture work (a.k.a. “CAD monkeying”) behind me. The Woodworking Certificate Program caught my eye at a time when I felt disconnected from the designer within. I had spent so much time behind a computer screen fine tuning construction documents that I began losing perspective on what it was I actually enjoyed about architecture: problem solving and making things that were simultaneously useful and beautiful. Certainly woodworking, I told myself, must combine aspects of those things. 

And believe me, as someone who dreamt I was a log after our Stump to Sticker section, it does. 

But it goes so beyond that. I’ve been completely blown away by what I’ve learned versus what I expected this course to be like. What I’ve come to realize as our 11-week program comes to an end is that woodworking is special because:

  1. You get to work with wood and, by extension, forests, trees, lumber mills, micro- (and macro) loggers, lumber yards, and in wood shops with other woodworkers.  
  2. You get to design and build! This process is truly precious to designers because of the conversation between materials and concept. I’ve been blown away at how “design opportunities” (read: “Oh sh*t I just cut this board too short!”), while initially frustrating, can lead to such a rich and sometimes unexpected end product. It’s truly exciting.  
  3. A direct cousin of 2, you get to use your hands all day long. The peacefulness of using a chisel or a hand plane is pretty much unparalleled. Even though you may casually drink 5 cups of coffee throughout the day, you’ll still fall into bed exhausted at the end of it.  
  4. It may have been Rem Koolhaas who said something along the lines of: “Architecture happens in elephant time while all those outside of architecture expect it to happen in rabbit time.” Yeah, yeah, Rem. We get it. But the beauty of woodworking is that is can and often does happen in rabbit time. This does wonders for the psychological well-being of those involved (read: It won’t take you three years to produce something that is so watered down by value engineering that it barely resembles the original beauty of the object you designed).  
  5. You get to smell the difference between walnut and butternut when ripped on the table saw, and in that moment you’ll realize: I love this. 
Hand carving on a shave horse
As with all 20-somethings, I was certain I would know exactly how this adventure in Vermont would go: I would work with my hands, learn a thing or two about wood, and head right back into an architecture office armed with this special new knowledge. But here I am at the end of a truly life-changing 11 weeks. And in this moment, I now realize that it is not the practice of woodworking that will make me a better architect. It is my practice of architecture that will make me a better woodworker. 

And by the way, the planer trick worked great.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Permaculture: unpacking design with ecology

The cornerstone of my Design/Build internship with Yestermorrow is choosing six weeks of courses from a rich and eclectic catalog, everything from building yurts to designing forest gardens. It was a real struggle for me to choose; I would literally take every offering—but I can’t.

Looking at the available courses, I eventually concluded that my “goal” was to become a better designer. Admittedly I didn’t know exactly what this meant. Drafting? Sketching? Organizing and utilizing space for efficiency? Aesthetics? Comfort? Admittedly I still don’t have a clear idea, but I’d guess that most designers spend a lifetime figuring it out.

Luckily I’ve fallen in love with the process of “figuring it out.” So far I’ve manipulated space and ideas, in diverse shades, intensities, and materials—from houses to paper to landscapes. I’ve found that it all comes back to choice—asking what to think about and how to think about it, playfully, with flexibility and confidence. A house can look like almost anything—a box, a passive solar rectangle, or, in Paul Hanke’s case, a dragon. Seeing there is no shortage of options, the heart of design lies in the process, because at the end of the day we have to make a choice—and then create something. Maybe design is exactly that: a process for distilling and focusing a world of possibilities into a single point, so that we can sit in a chair, have a roof over our heads, and interact with the world (and stop designing!). 

The Permaculture Design Certification Course is providing me with an especially cogent ecological lens for informing this process.  Simply put, we humans are merely features within a much broader environmental dance—with water, changes in terrain, soil, wildlife, celestial mechanics, and the many other feature of our ecology.  Anything that we build will be subject to this context—a chair lives within a particular house, on a particular street, in a particular bioregion, not in a vacuum. Permaculture encourages us to deeply and carefully observe our environment so that we can design from it rather than against it. I’m already discovering that ecology can inform and direct design, rather than the other way around. 

Speaking of which, I need to get back to designing maps, landscapes, and trees of colored pencil. I’ll design another blog entry soon.