The First Year Architecture Program engages in a professional service project each year in collaboration with the College of Engineering and the College of Science and Mathematics. The studio designs the physical atmosphere—a large-scale stage set—for a two-day robotics competition, South’s BEST. The project is currently in its tenth year.
South’s BEST is the first project in each cohort’s education that is a full-scale fabrication and is the beginning of the design-build sequence in their design education at Auburn University which ultimately can culminate in the Rural Studio Experience. Each year level has embedded in its pedagogy some aspect of design-build strategies in an effort push the educational ethos of learning by making out of the material scale of the architectural model and into the material scale of full-scale architectural fabrication and assembly.
The project is facilitated as if in an architectural practice; the students have a budget they manage, a client they collaborate with, professional sound, lighting and production consultants, a design and fabrication deadline, an installation schedule and a maintenance role. The primary collaborators with the students are professionals within their respective fields. Collaboration in this sense recognizes the fact that students can’t learn the discipline of architecture if they are collaborating with students in other fields who are in the process of learning their own discipline. The installation schedule for South’s BEST is less than eight hours and begins at midnight. The entire construct has to be able to be quickly, efficiently and without undo wear on the assembly, broken-down, transported and re-assembled on site in the Auburn University Arena, ready for the robotics competition to begin. This assembly process requires a certain amount of ingenuity from the students when thinking of the materiality of the constructions.
This paper seeks to discuss three of the most radical material choices and assembly methods over the past ten years from large-scale visqueen inflatable constructions to kinetic walking contraptions to more normative flat-pack systems. The discussion focuses on determining the variance in pedagogical value of the project through the lens of the material selections and related issues of material cost and material waste.