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 LA MESITA    In architecture schools, students seldom move beyond schematic design and rarely see construction as a design exercise, missing out on a range of creative opportunities that occur after schematics are solidified. Teaming with 27 volunteers and 34 students from 5 countries enrolled in 24 different design programs, we designed and built 5 projects in 5 consecutive spring breaks to help fill this void.  Four years before shovels hit the earth, we formed an alliance with:  San Pablo Etla, a village on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico, and  A dozen passionate expats excited by the idea and willing to provide local support,  La Mesita, an eco-reclamation site on degraded land in San Pablo Etla  A Oaxaca-based foundation that supplied funding for building materials.  Work begins in summer - in Minnesota and Oaxaca - to identify next year’s project. Two clients - San Pablo Etla and the architecture students - burden us to identify a project that meets specific programmatic needs at La Mesita, while offering an engaging design/build experience for students. We must also plan around the understanding we have only a week to deliver a completed project, as an unfinished build is just a liability for the community.  We spend fall and winter developing schematics with San Pablo Etla to ensure approvals are secure before the end of winter, so materials are on the ground the first day of spring break. Planes land, we meet the group, try to sleep, (optional) yoga at dawn on the hostel roof, attend a traditional  desayuno  prepared by the village, and shovels flying by 10.  Atop the hill after breakfast, students see the approved schematics for the first time. One or two hands inevitably raise as many shoulders slump. “What, design is done? You mean we’re just building this?” At the closing day fiesta, after the last nut is wrenched tight, those same students will be heard over the music in broken Spanish, “no, no, we designed it together!” They realize, maybe for the first time, that design is not just an initial idea, but a process of rigor, innovation and refinement covering the duration of a project.
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