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.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment