Design Bridge

The Univeristy of Oregon student run Design Build Organization
Eugene, Oregon

by Lucas Gray

designBridge is a student organization linking the University of Oregon's school of Architecture and Allied Arts with the surrounding community. The focus is to bring the resources and energy of students to organizations that are in need of design services but can’t afford to hire a professional practice. The devoted group of students focuses on projects that have a mutual benefit to them as designers and to the community - seeking projects and clients that share their commitment to sustainable design and green building practices. The services offered range in scope from weekend design charrettes and conceptual design, to design development and full design-build depending on the client's needs. designBridge was recently nationally recognized by “Champions of Sustainability in Communities” and was awarded honorable mention for being an exciting new national initiative.

The organization started a few years ago with a small group of students, a professor and a commitment to growing their education and community. designBridge has rapidly grown to be the most active student group in the school of Architecture. This year there are over 50 students on four project teams as well as a number of students committed to helping the organization with administrative duties. Organized like a large firm, student Project Managers are chosen to manage the project teams. All design work is carried out in a collaborative environment while the entire organization is updated on the status of all active projects at weekly meetings. When more hands are needed additional students are pulled in to the project – often for builds, which are open to all group members.

One thing that makes designBridge unlike any other university design-build program is that it is student lead. Without students volunteering their time to go out and find projects, and then taking on the design and build of those projects, this organization would not exist. However, designBridge could not operate without the tremendous support of the architecture department and the faculty. Assistant Professor Nico Larco is the Faculty Director and Juli Brode is the Faculty Operations Director. Additional faculty members get involved as Project Advisers and help to teach designBridge classes. Recently, designBridge has been integrated into the curriculum in a program entitled “designBridge Year.” Students may choose to enroll in a year long program that consists of Pre-designBridge, a designBridge Studio, and finally a designBridge Build. Larco’s and Brode’s course, Pre-Design Bridge, discusses issues spanning from an initial client meeting up through the beginning of schematic design. Learning about issues such as contracts, financing, site surveying, code reviews, permitting, etc. provide the organization with strong leaders possessing a solid foundation in project management. designBridge Studio, taught by Melinda Nettles, will take each project through design development and have students prepared for building in the spring. designBridge Build will then offer students academic credit for building their projects and learning construction and project management skills. Most exciting is that each project team partners with a professional firm in the community to provide oversight and advice. By integrating the group within the curriculum the department supports its students by allowing them to earn credits towards their degrees.

Recent projects range from landscape design and renovations, to new design and construction. Just this past year, a studio was devoted to the design of a community garden and food preservation facility, construction was completed on a seedling house for the North West Youth Corp - a local alternative high school, and renovations were made to the Edison Elementary School bike shelter. Three new projects were launched this fall; Roosevelt Middle School Bike Shelter, Moss St. Child Care Center outdoor play structure, and a new outdoor entry sequence and sun shading for HIV Alliance. There are dozens of other projects that aren't mentioned here as the portfolio of work is growing rapidly from year to year.

The group relies on donations and grants for financing overhead costs. In the past 18 months designBridge has generously been awarded two grants by the Williams Fund and one from OTREC. These funds have been used to develop the infrastructure necessary to sustain the program including hiring the Faculty Operations Director, Juli Brode. Clients are thus only responsible for the costs of construction while the students often help raise project funds by providing presentation materials for grants.

For more information on this group, how to get involved, or how to commission them for a project visit the website or email contact

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