Mitchell Lab students collaborate with acclamed visiting architects

Third-year architecture students at Texas A&M developed residential housing prototypes during the spring 2011 semester with designers from two cutting-edge firms as part of the inaugural Mitchell Lab Visiting Designer Program.

The lab, a pilot project characterized as an extremely rigorous residential design studio, was made possible with funds from the $2.3 million Mitchell Initiative, a gift funded by the Bryan N. Mitchell family, owners of History Maker Homes in Fort Worth.

Over the course of the semester, Mitchell Lab students worked with noted designers Wonnie Ickx and Carlos Bedoya, two of the founding members of PRODUCTORA, a Mexico City-based firm, and Tom Wiscombe, principal of the Los Angeles firm EMERGENT.

Gabriel Esquivel, assistant professor of architecture and director of the lab, said that students initially worked with Ickx and Bedoya during their two visits, Feb. 7 – 14 and March 2-6, developing a residential housing prototype with an emphasis on using technologies available to students, including the machinery at the College of Architecture’s Digital Fabrication Facility at Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus.

In the lab’s second phase, students worked as a group with Wiscombe to create a futuristic housing prototype with special attention to techology’s role in the design.

“We tried to deal with technology where it begins to disappear and becomes more mysterious and embedded in surfaces in a way that creates atmosphere and architectural effect, rather than celebrating technology for the sake of itself,” said Wiscombe.

Senior environmental design major Mitch Rocheleau, teaching assistant for the lab, said it was the most valuable experience he’s had at Texas A&M and the capstone to his undergraduate studies.

“Throughout both phases of the workshop, I was able to interact and learn design criticism from top designers as well as implement various digital tools and processes within my own work,” he said.

The most vital component of the study, he continued, was the initiative taken to make the projects they designed a reality.

“Issues from materiality and fabrication to site transport were considered from conception of the project,” he said. “These projects proved to be a milestone not only within the college but also within the digital design community. The techniques and research developed from this project have provided a foundation for the actualization of this type of construction.”

In keeping with the Mitchell family’s vision, the aim of the lab is to revolutionize teaching in residential construction and design at Texas A&M. The lab project combines funds from the History Maker Homes Residential Studio, which was established by the Mitchells, with partial funding made available through two other Mitchell Family endowments: the Sandy and Bryan Mitchell Master Builder Chair, held by Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture, and the Liz and Nelson Mitchell Professorship, held by Mark Clayton, associate professor of architecture.

“This is an opportunity to give back to the university that has given so much to us and our industry,” said Bryan N. Mitchell Sr. ’70, CEO of History Maker Homes, when his family established the $2.3 million Mitchell Initiative benefiting the Texas A&M College of Architecture and Mays Business School. “This is the best thing we can do to encourage young people interested in building tomorrow’s communities.”

posted April 27, 2011