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.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Processing the Process: A Woodworking Certificate Recap Through the Eyes of Ben Murphy

Back on campus for an early-May Timber Framing class, recent Woodworking Certificate graduate Ben Murphy has had some time to let the WWC experience soak in. With a few weeks distance from the program’s finale, he is finally ready to process what the 11-weeks meant to him.

His freshest memories and emotions emanate from the final week of the program, a mad scramble to pull together his projects in time for the final day’s presentations and graduation. “I was a little out of it for the final show,” he says. “I didn’t sleep that much during that week, especially the night before when I was working hard on my cabinet. I had an old shirt on with blood and stains on it.  Right before the presentations, I washed my hair in the sink, then changed quickly into a collared shirt. So I cleaned up pretty quickly right before the show.”

But upon entering the Main Studio, magically transformed into a furniture gallery featuring the impressive creations of the eight graduating students, the exhaustion quickly turned to exhilaration. “It was amazing to see what everyone put together in the final days,” Ben said. “It was cool to see what everyone came up with and how different all the projects were.”

Those projects included chairs, coffee tables, Krenov-inspired cabinetry, stools, a roll-top captain’s desks, hand-carved spoons, and even a harmonigraph, a simple machine powered by weights that, with one push, creates increasingly complex geometric pen drawings that are consistently stunning to the eye.

Much of that creative energy, and the necessary skills to support it, stemmed from the program’s instructors. “I really liked the structure and balance between instructors. We had one instructor, Justin Kramer, who was great, for the entire three months, and then we had professionals rotate in every week. It was very useful. We got to see a bunch of different perspectives and a lot of ways of doing things, and the professional perspective was really useful for me.” Ben also feels that the school’s roots enhanced the program. “The design/build emphasis at Yestermorrow is something you don’t see in a lot of programs.”

The result is a new-found confidence. “I now feel comfortable walking into any shop, mocking up a design and pretty much making whatever I want, so the program was comprehensive and long enough for that. It helps you figure out if you would want to continue with this and, also, what direction you want to go. I now know that I definitely do not want to stop [working with wood]. The curriculum was diverse and touched on so many different things. Now I’m doing a timber framing class. Because I took the woodworking program, I am getting so much more out of timber framing. It’s all joinery, mortise and tenons, and pegs, but it’s just on a massive scale.”

Before turning back to the timber in front of him, Ben adds a final thought about his Yestermorrow experience. “Yestermorrow is a community. It’s great. I met a lot of people that I will be friends with for a while. Everyone is passionate here. The instructors are all really passionate about what they are doing. They’re excited, and the students are always excited,” he says. “It’s really nice to be in that environment.”

-- By Nick Tuff

Friday, May 16, 2014

Architecture That Makes a Difference

"Wordship" mobile writer's cabin at Shelburne Farms
Village green bandstands, park pavilions, composting toilets, trail shelters, bus stops—you
can’t go far in Central Vermont without running across the innovative and functional public structures branded with the Yestermorrow Design/ Build School insignia.  From the numerous projects serving the visitors and guests at Shelburne Farms – including a mobile writers’ studio dubbed the ‘Wordship’ by Bill McKibben – to an elegant footbridge astride the Poultney River at Green Mountain College – installed just weeks prior to Tropical Storm Irene, and which dutifully withstood the torrent – to an elegant outdoor composting toilet in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park, the rich and textured history of these structures adds to the cultural fabric of Vermont.

These projects, and countless others, were spawned from a two-week course that resides at the intersection of the Vermont-based design/build movement and the burgeoning public interest design movement, which seeks to promote architecture as a tool for the public good.  The course, Design/Build for Public Interest, is taught by some of the preeminent names and pioneers of the design/ build movement, including Steve Badanes, who was involved in the landmark architectural project almost fifty years ago on Prickly Mountain in the Mad River Valley that radically broke from the constraints and traditions of architecture and helped set the foundation for the design/build movement. Jim Adamson, who, along with Badanes, distinguished himself professionally through the wildly innovative projects of Jersey Devil Design/Build fame, also instructs the course, as does New York City-based architect Bill Bialosky, who is currently working with Vietnam War Memorial designer, Maya Lin, on the design of a $300 million research laboratory.

Picnic Shelter in Warren
Badanes first began teaching at Yestermorrow in 1982, just two years after the school was founded, and for the last twenty years, he has been teaching the design/build course creating community projects alongside Adamson and Bialosky. Their students’ work pushes the creative envelope in the design/build process, incorporating the school’s commitment to environmentally and socially responsible building, all the while working to transform public spaces and the lives of those whose inhabit them.

From his office in Seattle, where he holds the Howard S. Wright Endowed Chair of the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, Badanes explains, “We are able to build community projects for the nonprofit groups who couldn’t afford to do them if they had to pay. For me, [working for the public interest] is a much better of a way to spend my time, working where I can make a difference. Many architects spend their entire career working on nothing but houses and additions and commercial buildings. That’s all fine, but public structures affect us all.”

Trail Kiosk in Warren
Historically¸ there has been a disconnect  between architects and students of architecture and the building process and the materials used to create architecture. This class offers students an opportunity to engage with both the design and building processes, and to see how they are interrelated. “Many students come into the class with few building skills, and we teach them a lot in a short period of time. We also teach them to not be afraid of trying something, and that design can be a powerful influence in the lives of people that don’t have access to innovative design,” Badanes adds.  “Students benefit from our class by developing some confidence in themselves as designers and builders.”

It’s also fun, he adds. “It’s fun for us teachers, and it’s really fun for the students.  It moves a lot faster than other classes where there are a lot of demonstrations. We don’t really have time. You learn by doing. You have to go through a collaborative design process and come up with something to build. It’s a fantastic combination, in a very short period of time becoming part of a cohesive unit that designs something and builds it for a public client.”

The prospective recipient of this year’s project is a public elementary school that has the need for an outdoor learning structure. Like all of the class’s projects, there are no designs predestined for this project. The entirety of the project, from its design to the building and instillation, will take place from August 3rd to August 15th and, empowered by the instructors, will be done entirely by the students of the class. 

--by Nic Tuff