March 30, 2020

Transcript of Episode 23

David Supple: Welcome to the Design Build Show. I’m here with Tolya Stonorov from Stonorov Workshop Architects and we’re in Vermont and thank you for being on the show.

Tolya Stonorov: Absolutely.

David Supple: Really appreciate it. The purpose of the show is to increase awareness on design build and Tolya is a design builder herself. She teaches design build at Norwich university and she has written a book on the design build studio. Is that the title of it?

Tolya Stonorov: Yes.

David Supple: Which is an amazing book, highly recommended.

Tolya Stonorov: Thank you.

David Supple: Yeah and I’m very, very fortunate to speak with you, thank you.

Tolya Stonorov: Thank you.

David Supple: So just for my, I’m not in Vermont, but just from what I see, design build is alive in Vermont, from what I see. I think this resurgence of design build, it never really went away, but even the name Design Build is new and that really started in Vermont. What do you think about that in terms of Vermont being this epicenter, this hub for design build?

Tolya Stonorov: Sure, well, years ago with the whole prickly mountain scene that was really the beginning of this movement and…

David Supple: David Sellers.

Tolya Stonorov: Dave Sellers.

David Supple: Peter Gluck.

Tolya Stonorov: Yeah they were really [inaudible 00:01:31]. They were experimenting in a way, experimenting in the moment with designing and building currently and I think that really helped to spur this movement and currently also in Vermont there’s Yestermorrow of course which focuses on Design Build. And then also Norwich where I teach that has a thriving Design Build as part of the architecture department and then also even Middlebury has a wonderful, they also do some Design Build. Two professors at Middlebury brought a program out of Maine so there’s a Design Build program over there. [inaudible 00:02:17].

David Supple: So that’s out of Middlebury right?

Tolya Stonorov: They’re at Middlebury, [inaudible 00:02:25] Steve Carnell also teaches at Norway as well.

David Supple: Oh cool.

Tolya Stonorov: So there’s something inherent in this place.

David Supple: Yeah there is.

Tolya Stonorov: Embraces the love of architecture but also the responsibility and attention to craft and the importance of building.

David Supple: Yeah, Norwich university where Tolya teaches has several Design Build professors who practice it outside of school as design builders.

Tolya Stonorov: Yes.

David Supple: And those guys, Steve [inaudible 00:02:53] David Sellers, Peter Gluck, they started doing Design Build right out of architecture school when they had in their code of ethics, you couldn’t do that. You couldn’t do what they were doing. They just did it anyway. And I really admire all those guys. What’s it like teaching Design Build in school and how is that different from more of a traditional architectural curriculum?

Tolya Stonorov: Well, I think it’s a really necessary part of the curriculum. I think everyone should have to take a Design Build course because you understand what you’re designing in a way that leaves abstraction.

Tolya Stonorov: So when you’re making marks on a paper and you’re drawing details, it can exist in this realm that is far from concrete. I mean, you actually have to physically build the thing that you are designing, it eliminates the possibility of not understand what those lines mean. So it makes things concrete. And I think that’s essential for any architect. Teaching it is quite different, for the first time students are really asked to think about the client. They’re really asked to think about the budget and materials in a very real way. And the materials are something that we focus on intensely in my Design Build studios. So we try and get everything as locally as possible, as sustainably as possible and as cheaply as possible because we all always have those tight budgets.

David Supple: Those real world variables, yeah.

Tolya Stonorov: Real world variables, exactly. So students have a totally different learning experience than designing other upper level studios which I also teach routines. Designing other upper level studios, which I also teach and I love, but we’re talking about something that they are fully responsible for and that’s just a really different experience than designing a large building that has this theoretical abstract nature to it.

David Supple: You never get to the actual product.

Tolya Stonorov: Right.

David Supple: Yeah. What did the students think about it? How do they respond?

Tolya Stonorov: The students are almost always quite thrilled at the end of the process. It’s a painful process. I mean they work really, really hard. So in a typical studio, you go to studio for three days a week, four hours a day, and then you have, you’re in control of your time. But in our Design Build studios, we have to all be there together. So the necessity of group work is very intense.

David Supple: Yeah.

Tolya Stonorov: So we spend 30, 40 hours a week together in studio and that’s exhausting [inaudible 00:05:56] It’s very stressful. You have this kind of responsibility that this is very real.

David Supple: You can’t control Z.

Tolya Stonorov: You can’t control Z.

David Supple: Which you say in your book.

Tolya Stonorov: Which I say in my book. And we do some, depending on the project, we get pretty experimental so there’s outdoor classroom right in downtown [inaudible 00:06:17] that my students built and designed for the local elementary school. Because that project was, it’s basically a pavilion, it’s an outdoor classroom, they got really experimental and really creative which is exciting but so hard. I mean all of these things were things that I’d never done before.

David Supple: Yeah.

Tolya Stonorov: They’d never done before and we had to figure it out.

David Supple: That’s awesome.

Tolya Stonorov: So they learn a tremendous amount, they become leaders in ways that are really new and I think they’re surprised by how much they grow as people and as architects in the process.

David Supple: Yeah. I mean we have a tough time. We’re a Design Build firm and we want folks, we have to have folks who get it and are not just thinking, as I was when I got out of school, and completely inept at being able to think with the end product and that wasn’t my education.

Tolya Stonorov: Right.

David Supple: So we’re going to have a booth at your next career fair.

Tolya Stonorov: Yes, that’s great.

David Supple: Because these kids are, they’re adults now, but you teach a process that gets them in a different mindset that they have otherwise.

Tolya Stonorov: Yeah I hope so.

David Supple: Yeah you do.

olya Stonorov: That’s great.

David Supple: I mean, we have Joe Wood, was one of your students.

Tolya Stonorov: Right, great. That’s fantastic.

David Supple: Yeah and I think when I got out of school I kind of had an option. And in school when you are just doing the theoretical curriculum, you get taught to pretend in a way in some instances, whereas this Design Build curriculum, just there is no pretending.

Tolya Stonorov: Right.

David Supple: It’s the real world and there’s more to it. And you talk about in your book, the process, designing the process as part of Design Build. What does that mean to you?

Tolya Stonorov: I think you can think about the designing and processing a couple of levels. One is thinking about what tools are appropriate to use along the way to get to that product. What are the aspects that the book looks at? Digital fabrication and hand craft and these dueling love letters between these two processes. Of course, we generally use both of them like to intertwine them, but knowing how you want to go about getting to that end product is really important. That’s what I mean when I’m talking about, that you have to design the process. You have to be thinking about what are the stats that get me to this point honor that process.

David Supple: Mm hmm (affirmative).

Tolya Stonorov: When you’re talking about your school experience, I mentioned earlier I went to Berkeley, which is also very theoretical at the time I was there and I got really frustrated by doing these larger projects and by not making the real thing. So I ended up doing my thesis work, I was very small but a small design build piece of the building so I fabricated this steel and fiberglass screen and it was so rewarding to actually make part of it. So, that really was one of the beginnings of how I became so passionate about this.

David Supple: That’s cool. How was that received? By the professors and what not.

Tolya Stonorov: Very well. Yeah.

David Supple: Awesome.

Tolya Stonorov: It was good, it was great. I had wonderful professors.

David Supple: Oh cool.

Tolya Stonorov: But similarly I left architecture school not understanding the nitty gritty of building, even though I’d had that [inaudible 00:10:11] process.

David Supple: Well thanks for what you’re doing now really, you’re setting a precedence that’s going to continue. I think there’s over a hundred Design Build curriculums or programs currently.

Tolya Stonorov: Yeah its growing.

David Supple: It is.

Tolya Stonorov: I mean there are amazing programs all across the country and around the world too, a lot in Germany and England. Really, really incredible.

David Supple: You document it incredibly well and one of my favorite parts of the book is just the history, the lineage of this. Your book’s going to always have that as a documentation which is very cool.

Tolya Stonorov: And actually the time map that I think that you’re referring to, that was a really great learning process for me. So what we did with that, it’s not a comprehensive of the history of Design Build, because that would be a book in itself but we took all of the case studies, I did that chapter with Daniel [inaudible 00:11:03] So we did all the case study chapters, there were 16 and they’re from all around the world and we said map back your [inaudible 00:11:11] so where did you draw from? Who was important to you in this design process. And so that map is a very complex map of these case studies and then how they trace back to what they’re most important [inaudible 00:11:30]. It’s really exciting.

David Supple: Yeah it is. I mean what I see as the future is the Design Build curriculum being ‘the’ curriculum for which all, in our industry, everything will be under that. So you’re saying you’ve documented what will later be looked at as the beginning, which is pretty cool.

Tolya Stonorov: I would love to see it be part of the architecture curriculum for all schools. It’s a challenging course to teach. You need a lot of resources, you need a lot of funds and a lot of time so I understand it being something hard to take in.

David Supple: Yeah, it will. Because the students, right? You write in your book how the students are the ones who want more and more of it and it already is growing and the change is really going to occur once society at large becomes aware of Design Build, which basically they’re not. Which is the main impetus for this show and educating and just bringing awareness to it. And as technology advances, which it will continue to do, the lines between design and construction starts to blur. Right? So…

Tolya Stonorov: It’s interesting, I wonder what’s going to happen.

David Supple: Yeah, what do you think?

Tolya Stonorov: It seems like, there are some industries that are taking on the digital fabrication tools and really embracing them. We were talking about timber frame earlier and that’s certainly a process where it’s still very much about craft but they’re using very advanced CNC tools to produce those so that’s pretty interesting. But it still feels very far from the architect who is controlling the digital fabrication process and being part of that physical outcome. So it will be interesting to see how that manifests.

David Supple: Yeah, it will be. I think Design Build, we’ve talked about, it’s a rare breed who can do it all. You can come up with this concept, get agreement from a client on it, design it, do all the logistical and then build it. That’s a rare breed and there are folks out there-

Tolya Stonorov: And I think that what we’re doing when we’re teaching students about Design Build is not necessarily trying to get them to go do that exactly but it’s really trying to instill a greater understanding and a responsibility for the making and the importance of understanding the process when you are going out to a [inaudible 00:14:16] .

David Supple: Yeah. It’s really building a team and becoming aware of the architect today, the definition has changed from before. The derivation of the word architect is master builder. But if you’re looking at dictionary today says basically a designer and that is what it is, but you cannot design independent of these other factors, which comes to be very obvious from programs like yours, these other components, and I think that’s what Design Build is creating, is this team where the architect and builder may not be the same person, but they’re working together from the beginning to set up a project successfully.

Tolya Stonorov: And there’s a greater level of respect and understanding and competency about how to do that process.

David Supple: Yeah. Awesome. Well I want to thank you again.

Tolya Stonorov: Thank you.

David Supple: Really, really appreciate you being on the show. We’re at hometown, downtown kitchen in-

Tolya Stonorov: It’s Down Home.

David Supple: Down Home sorry. Down Home Kitchen. Great food. Southern hospitality is alive and well here in Vermont. Really appreciate you being on the show.

Tolya Stonorov: Thank you, nice to meet you.

David Supple: And look forward to staying in touch and collaborating and spreading the word about what you’re doing and Design Build in general.

Tolya Stonorov: That’s good, thanks.

Published March 30, 2020 | By

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