DESIGN/FIND/BUILD: A New Motto for Creative Makers


By Bryan Mossing

The typical order of events on a new construction/fabrication project is as follows; Conceptual Design, Design Development, Construction Drawings, Material Purchase, Construction/Fabrication. The key here is that there is an established, typically uniform bill of materials that can be purchased at any moment from a variety of suppliers. Well doesn’t that sound just a bit too easy?

The challenge that we give ourselves repeatedly here at Emergent Structures is to build beautiful things with what some call trash, which requires a different relationship with a bill of materials. Even though it says it right there in the mission statement of Emergent, that doesn’t mean it gets easier. Accordingly, the challenge we have provided ourselves in our latest project—Adam’s Farm Cart—fits with our standard MO: how to plan and execute a collaborative design/build project based on outstanding design research…and no clearly defined bill of materials?

In my building with trash experiences, I’ve come to see that projects with reclaimed materials usually fall into 2 categories: ‘ I’ve got a bunch of trash, let’s see what I can make with it,’  or, ‘I’ve got something to make and have time to wait for the right trash to be found to build it’. Neither of these options fits well into a set project scope or multi-department class schedules.

This process has led us to coin the terms Find/Design/Build—which would be what we followed with projects such as the Shuman Elementary School pergola, where a collection of available materials leads the architect through a process of reconciling needs of the structure with performance properties of available materials—and Design/Find/Build, where an understanding of specific needs of an identified project sends our teams on a journey of seeking  just the right kinds of harvested trash for the job.

Both of these fit more accurately into a process which might be more accurately called Design/Find/Re-Design/Find/Re-Design/Find/Re-Design…. One thing each example of this process has in common with the others is that somewhere at the end of that ellipses is the word Build.


How’s this for a curious dilemma: our Farm Cart team has not been waiting on materials from a supplier, but waiting on materials from a demolition project that we had verified would provide us with just the right materials. Naturally, as the construction world goes, there were unforeseen delays.  A delay in their demo schedule put a delay in our construction schedule. When thinking of it in terms of large scale use, its easy to see how challenging it will be to make the demo schedule at one site work seamlessly with construction on the other.

In this case, our design/find/build process was interrupted at the finding stage. The insulated panels we were waiting on from one construction site were eventually acquired, as you’ll see in a coming post. The worlds of useable trash and functional, inspiring design have been reintroduced in the form of Fabrication Drawings…and the build can begin!

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