A valuable experience for aspiring architects is an opportunity to see their designs on paper transition to full scale by their own hand. SIU does more than most through various class construction projects – we are considered a technical school. We have a vast resource in nature that surrounds our campus which many schools lack due to urban environments. Empty sites are readily available for students to bring their ideas to fruition all around our campus. What is needed is community involvement by students of their own accord. There is little reason, other than deadlines, why we should not be more engaged with local concerns. If you talk to various SoA professors there are many who have outside interests such as the Buckminster Fuller Home, Cairo Youth Build, or Kid Architecture. There are numerous student organizations across the country affiliated through their schools that display heavy community involvement.
Studio 804: http://studio804.com/
This is one of the most notable organizations in that it is run as a firm would be with loose association to The University of Kansas. Graduate students comprise all positions other than the lead Architect. Work is completed in two semesters and results in a full scale structure to meet some community need.
Georgia Tech Invention Studio: http://inventionstudio.gatech.
While it will not necessarily result in a full scale structure this student run organization allows for a wide range of majors to have access to equipment they would otherwise not be able to afford. While some people work on battle bots or other hobbies, others design prototypes that may one day have significant effect on consumer safety.What you should take away is that both of those programs started small with only a few participants and working on projects you might consider insignificant. Over a period of time, that may be years, design build programs usually grow due to the desire among students to put down their pencil or laptop and start hammering. There are significant community needs all around us that can be met by students with some assistance. Don’t wait for that assistance to find you.
If you are having trouble justifying the effort or time required to engage in such programs remember that your primary goal as an architect should be to improve the lives of the average person. While having a towering skyscraper or sprawling resort area to your name would be impressive accomplishments, there would be limited positive impact for community members. In this region in particular many of the public works you use on a daily basis were the result of the Works Progress Administration from 1935 to 1943. While this was not a series of individual architects working as much as a way to keep men from being homeless the impact of improving the built environment should be obvious. This same approach can be fashioned into the drive you will need to see your ideas become reality.
Keep your eye out around the SIU SoA in coming months for an example of this process.