Book Review—Design/Build with Jersey Devil: A Handbook for Education and Practice

Author: Charlie Hailey (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016)

“Design and construction haunt each other…The moment we breathe intentions into design, we are building. And while we build, design is there at our elbow”.

– Charlie Hailey

So starts Design/Build with Jersey Devil, a collage of a book consisting, in parts, of a handbook for teaching design/build architecture studios, musings on theory, stories and conversations, case studies, and examples of tools and tricks.

Jersey Devil itself is loosely a design/build architecture firm consisting of Steve Badanes, Jim Adamson, and John Ringel, who delight in bringing playful mischief to their projects and teaching. Design/Build starts with a history of the group and the origins of design/build practice and studio courses.

From there it moves to logistics: the groundwork and preplanning of design/build courses, a toolbox of physical and conceptual tools and tricks, and the step-by-step process of design/build.  Here, Design/Build is at its best mashing the practical wisdom with the theoretical. While discussing fit, Hailey moves effortlessly between the concept – “by making it fit, build redefines the problem that design first encountered” (p. 63) – and the practical – “In framed construction, modified bypass systems are often developed to match students’ emergent skill levels” (p. 63).

The broader lessons of design/build are discussed and several case studies are detailed, tying the threads of Design/Build together. Included are (in my opinion, too brief) reflections on design/build as a pedagogy, within a political philosophy, and as community service.

Design/Build extends from the theoretical foundations of several areas, including experiential learning and embodied thinking, yet doesn’t seem to reference these areas—in the end, a weakness for teachers and students hoping to use and extend design/build as pedagogy.

Design/Build provides what I find are the best of architecture briefs: just enough to get you started asking questions in the right direction, a pocket companion with injections of insights and reflexivity.

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For more information on Design/Build with Jersey Devil, visit the Princeton Architectural Press website.

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Alix Krahn is an urban planner and designer, who is particularly interested in the intersections between urban design and equity. She lives and works in Vancouver.

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