Design-Build Project in College of Design


AMES, Iowa — A full-scale student design-build project will transform the Lyle E. Lightfoot Forum of the Iowa State University College of Design Feb. 17 through March 11.

Seventy-seven second-year architecture students in five sections of the ARCH 202: Architectural Design II studio have spent the past month developing an installation intended to “redefine the college atrium as a public space,” said architecture Assistant Professor Nick Senske, coordinator of the second-year studios.

“Our interest was to challenge the conventional uses of the space, introduce new activities, etc. The only conceptual constraints were that the project must be practical, it must remain accessible to the public and the existing uses must somehow be preserved within the new design,” he said.


Second-year architecture students develop their design proposals in the studio.

Dubbed “TwoXTwo,” the 25-foot-by-20-foot installation, constructed almost entirely of 2×2 lumber and deck screws, will occupy half of the north forum on the first floor of the College of Design building. A project review will begin at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, followed by a reception at 5:30 p.m. Both are free and open to the public.

Research and Design Development

In addition to Senske, second-year studio instructors include Professor Gregory Palermo, Assistant Professor Andrea Wheeler and Lecturers Bosuk Hur and Reinaldo Correa-Diaz. The project, inspired by SHoP Architects’ “Dunescape” (2000), was divided into five zones, with every studio section responsible for designing a module for a particular zone.

Before diving into their design work, students first analyzed the space and the way people use it.

“We spent a week doing research and creating diagrams of the atrium in our studio sections. We looked at patterns of behavior and how people flow through the space at different times of day—where they walk, where they sit or stand and how they interact with the space,” said Megan Zeien, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, one of two student project managers.

In each section, students developed individual design concepts, then formed small teams to combine and refine designs. The five studios then came together to vet the proposals and selected one from each section to incorporate into the final project. The overall group of 77 students then worked to make the concept cohesive and integrated from one zone to another.


Physical scale model.

“We wanted to create a very open, dynamic social space with a lot of freedom of use,” Zeien said. “There are multiple flat and curved surfaces for sitting, eating, working and interacting. We hope it will accommodate individuals and all sizes of groups.”
Teams from across all the studios have developed digital diagrams and a three-dimensional digital model, a physical scale model and construction documents to guide fabrication and assembly of the project. Other teams are documenting the process through photos and videos, and creating promotional and informational materials such as posters, brochures and social media accounts. Everyone has worked in shifts to measure, mark, cut and bundle the different pieces of each module prior to assembly.

“This project is really about synthesis, bringing together skills students have learned as freshmen in the Core Design Program and in their first architecture studio and digital representation course last fall,” Senske said.

“It’s also about being leaders and being part of a team, organizing, planning, compromising, resolving conflicts—learning to work together effectively to realize something in the end. While we relied upon the Dunescape project as a precedent to establish parameters, the students absolutely made this project their own,” he said.

Installation and Evaluation


Installation under way in the Lightfoot Forum. Photo by Alison Weidemann.

Students began installing the project Friday afternoon, Feb. 12, and continued through the evening and weekend to minimize disruption in the busy building. Following the Feb. 17 review, the class will perform a post-occupancy evaluation, documenting how people actually use the new elements within the space to determine how successful their designs are.

“It’s a space for public interaction, not just for people to stand and look at. There are pieces designed for specific things, such as a covered seating area with a chair form inside that is pretty ergonomic and comfortable. But some areas are less intuitive. The purpose will be determined by the way people use it,” said Nick Raap, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“One of the best parts for me is to have something we’ve been working on in the digital realm become real, to be able to sit on something I had a hand in designing and to see other people using it. Design-build is a great experience—I’m glad we’re doing this so early in our education,” he said.

“As a project leader I’ve learned a lot about communication between individual students and teams. It’s important to listen and gather as much input as you can, and make sure everyone understands their role. It’s been a really good learning experience,” Zeien said.

At the end of the College of Design installation, Senske hopes to find other venues, including museums, in which to display the project. Several parties already have expressed interest, he said.


Nick Senske, Architecture, (515) 294-8711,
Nick Raap, Architecture student,
Megan Zeien, Architecture student,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,