Tyler Summer Design-Build Institute
This summer, 28 Tyler School of Art and Architecture Master of Architecture graduate students gained hands-on experience designing and constructing five new sculptures for wildlife at Temple Ambler.
James F. Duffy

In the summer of 2022, students from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture introduced "The Melody," "The Waggle Run," and the "The Tree House" to Temple Ambler, three sculptures designed for the animal inhabitants of the campus.  Add five more to the growing list.

This summer, 28 Tyler School of Art and Architecture Master of Architecture graduate students gained hands-on experience designing and constructing five new sculptures for wildlife during Special Topics in Site and Context, part of the Tyler Summer Design-Build Institute.

The sculptures — Flutter, The Spider Viewer, Foxational, The Spring Peeper, and Woven — are now permanent installations in the Ambler Arboretum, the Temple Ambler Field Station and around campus. Learn more about the individual projects here.

The students were guided through the process of creating the new sculptures by Eric Oskey, RA, Associate Professor of Practice in Architecture in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, and Jesse Mainwaring, Adjunct Professor of Architecture. View videos about the project on the Temple Ambler YouTube channel.

"As with last year's Institute, this class has been focused on wildlife and creating habitats for wildlife," said Oskey. "I think we learned a lot from the first year. I think we were much more involved in experimentation in the designs during the spring semester so when the students arrived at the Institute at Temple Ambler they were able to get into the work right away."

The Design-Build Institute is designed as a partnership between the Tyler School of Art and Architecture and Temple Ambler, said Oskey.

"The focus of the summer institute is designed to take advantage of the facilities that are available at the Ambler Campus and provides students with a hands-on experience they might not otherwise have — it leverages some of the design classes from the Architecture program to actually build installations," he said. "The installations are relatively small — four by 10 feet, six by 10 feet — and they are meant to interact with the local wildlife. There's one for foxes, one for butterflies, another for frogs. We've touched on many different species on the campus this year."

According to Architecture graduate student Breanna Haselbarth, each of the five project teams were asked to select a specific species to design for during the spring semester.

"For each project, we had to select a species; we chose the American Red Fox. We wanted to have a place where people could see the fox but not directly interact with it and the fox would be welcomed in. There's a barrier between the human observer and the fox so the foxes won't be scared off by the humans approaching them," she said. "The Summer Institute provided us the opportunity to continue our project and see it built. I was very excited to have the opportunity to follow through on my design — that's not something we get to see every day."

According to Mainwaring, the students are focused on "moving something from a conceptually digitally conceived design that they worked on through the spring semester into something that is a physical realization of that work."

"We're making sure that through that process, each one of these pieces is not diminished in the act of actually fabricating it but gains new life through the crafting process of using saws and sanders and other physical tools," he said. "That act of making these designs real is something that, hopefully, makes it better through the process."

Architecture graduate student Daniel Vagnoni said that through the process of building their project — The Spring Peeper — "I've developed a much better understanding of how to use tools and how materials work with each other, which is something I've been looking for in my educational experiences."

"Actually being able to build something is a great experience to have, to be able to tell people about and include in my portfolio," he said. "It's an exciting accomplishment."

Fellow Architecture graduate student Oliver Duffey agreed. Duffey worked on Flutter, a sculpture that is "meant to be a haven for butterflies that disorients predators."

"The benefit of having a hands-on experience like this is that you really get to learn what it's like to build something. During the spring semester, we were mostly using computers for design but with the Institute, we get to see what it's like to build the thing we designed," he said. "Especially for an Architecture student, you get that experience of coming out of the digital world a little bit and seeing what it's like to be the person that puts together what you've designed. I think that's an invaluable experience."

According to Oskey, of the 28 students involved in this year's Summer Design-Built Institute, 10 were returning students from the inaugural institute in 2022.

"We've broken the students out into five different projects. Because we had a larger class size, the teams are more substantial and the work has become more detailed and more ambitious," he said. "The students were given parameters with regard to the size of the projects, and the materials and equipment that would be available at Temple Ambler. Most of the projects have been created using wood with some metal. Some this year have also used yarn and fabric to create surfaces."

Oksey said the Institute worked closely with Temple Ambler Field Station Director Dr. Amy Freestone and Ambler Arboretum Director Kathy Salisbury in planning the locations for the sculptures in addition to other faculty and staff.

"We really wanted to coordinate with them to ensure that we weren't doing anything that might disrupt the gardens or impose on the wildlife on campus or the research being conducted by the Field Station, the Horticulture program and other programs," he said. "We wanted to be respectful to those conditions, but hopefully we're also adding to the atmosphere and aesthetics of the campus."

The six-week program places specific deadlines on the students that they must meet "but as architects responding to a deadline is something we have to do — our clients require it," Oskey said.

"Having that deadline and meeting it, that pressure helps the students coalesce into teams and ensures that they are working with each other to meet their goals. It's a skill set that we really hope they are able to develop as it will be essential to them when they enter the field," he said. "As architects, we typically don't get to build the buildings we design. We have to hand off the designs to contractors and people that have those building skills. This process of learning how to make and how to build makes our designs more informed."

The students, Oskey said, "are informed in a way that connects with the people they are actually building these pieces for."

"By doing that — the common language comes out of that, that common understanding —  allows our designs to be executed at a very high level," he said. "That's what we hope that these students really are learning. It's more than just drawings, it's 'what are we drawing and why are we drawing it.'"

Being involved in a design-build project "gives us the opportunity to see in the real world what we have designed," said Architectural Design graduate student Olivia Bartholomew. Bartholomew's team created Woven, a sculpture designed for the Red Admiral Butterfly.

"We usually have a lot of speculative projects — we make drawings and renderings — but with this we get to see exactly how everything comes together and all of the little details that we have to think about," she said. "Building on a small scale like this and seeing all the work that goes into it puts into perspective what would be needed to create a large-scale building."

One of the main benefits of the Institute for the students, "is seeing that act of translation from the speculative to the real," Mainwairing said.

"The other side of it is the relationship between craft and precision and the kind of hyper-precision that you can have during a design exercise versus the kind of real life accommodations that you have to make when you're actually physically crafting something," he said. "I think it's an eye-opening experience to build something to scale, of trying to find ways to make things better through the act of making something at full-scale."

The Ambler Campus has provided the students "the space we need to get hands-on with our designs," said Architecture graduate student Kat Oberman.  

"Having our own environment to come to outside of the city and get into our own headspace and enjoy what we're creating is nice," she said. "The facilities have been wonderful — we are all able to work together in one location — and the campus is beautiful."

Having the Innovation Studio and the resources at Temple Ambler available has given the Summer Institute "a lot more freedom to work," said Oskey.

"We have a lot more space and flexibility. Temple Ambler has provided a lot of support to the program and has been very focused on the needs of the program," he said. "What we hope comes out of this program is that our students can realize their designs through making and the one-and-one connections developed through making and that it will inform them as they go out into the profession. All of this information that they've learned about making gets connected to what they draw and ultimately what will get built."