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Center for Engagement and Community Development

And the Kremer Award Goes To... David Dowell!

“It’s a genetic calling. …it’s just always been there,” said architecture consultant David Dowell, explaining his connection to the profession. “I can’t explain it, it’s chemical.”

Dowell’s vision extends far beyond the walls of El Dorado Inc., a Kansas City, Mo. architecture firm. He employs his form of engaged teaching in the fifth-year architecture studio at K-State. Most recently, the studio he led, “Making a Mark”, was awarded the Kremer Prize for outstanding collaborative design achievements.

The students in the “Making a Mark” studio worked on two projects: a shade structure for the pool in Alma, Kan., and the Johnson County Sunset Drive Pavilion.

Dowell said engagement is an important ingredient in the studio process. “How do you engage with carpenters…contractors…crafts people?” he said. “How do you get into a dialogue with them and harness all of that collective wisdom and knowledge that exists in any project?”

Dowell’s role as a studio consultant keeps things running smoothly. “He pushes us,” said Lauren Harness, a former student who now works at El Dorado, “He facilitates the entire process.”

Despite its challenges, engaged teaching is a role Dowell takes very seriously. “It’s really about setting up these opportunities for them [the students] so they can be successful.”

Harness agrees. “It pushed me to learn new things that I wouldn’t learn otherwise and overall was just a nice transition from the academic world to the field of architecture,” she said.

The Pavilion in particular was a challenge. Dowell said it was originally El Dorado’s project that had been shelved. He suggested the students take it on. “The students understandably were concerned,” said Dowell. “They didn’t want to build someone else’s design.”

Dowell hopes he was able to change that approach. “It’s an… attitude that the studio is set up in part to break that down,” said Dowell. “Nobody creates architecture on their own. Nobody.”

Both Harness and Dowell agree that Alma had a special significance. “You have these small towns that are kind of hanging on,” said Dowell. “They’re stable, but they never had any experience with architecture. There’s a small town ecology that I think is an interesting and untapped source for architects.”

Dowell said he wants to return to the small town environment. “I’m really interested with Alma in particular,” he said. “This little shade structure on the side of the pool… people notice the difference. I want the work of architects to be meaningful to them. This kind of opens the door.”

Dowell said the students were crucial to the studio’s success in Alma. They were able to build community trust, which ultimately resulted in a partnership of mutual understanding.

Dowell expands on the importance of engaged teaching, and merging the academic world with the professional. “Without that connection, it can be so academic that it doesn’t benefit those in the real world, and it certainly doesn’t benefit the students,” he said.

Dowell, who said he’s “always taught in some form”, plans to continue this type of engaged work in the future. Whether it’s changing students’ perception of architecture, developing new ways of reaching out to small towns, or involving professional firms, Dowell knows the gains will extend far beyond the classroom studio.