For the past three semesters, Associate Professor Kevin Klinger in the i-Made studio has employed a technique called “design through production.” This studio provides graduate students in architecture with intensive immersive learning opportunities to help the community by applying their design knowledge and planning skills toward solving local challenges.

Working at MadJax, the maker hub in downtown Muncie, students create, build, fabricate, and construct their designs into real objects. This “design through production” model provides students with field experience working with clients, the community, and the industry.

As a result, students forge valued partnerships among themselves, with community partners, and industry professionals. These experiences help prepare students for their careers post-graduation.

Industry professionals, such as Midwest Metals in Muncie, the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association, and EcoVantage (a provider of thermally modified wood) in St. Joe, Ind., have been keen to collaborate by generously donating materials, machine time, and engineering consultation towards the student work and by inviting the students into their operations.

During studio time, Klinger mentors the architecture students who take active roles in all phases of each project’s development. During the planning stages, students take charge of the team meetings with their clients to identify the problem and then later review their proposed solutions and prototypes. Once they have final approvals in hand, students work with industry partners to plan, purchase, schedule, fabricate, and produce the necessary parts. Finally, the project moves into its final stage with full-scale assembly and installation at the site. By completion, the students’ work serves the needs of area non-profits and benefits the community at large.

As client Jennifer Greene, director of operations at MadJax, describes, the students received great respect from the community by how they were able to take charge of the conversation, identify the problem, and find solutions. “They were able to come in and dream and design and coordinate with us as a community. The students listened to our vision and came up with some incredible ideas.

The design and production stages take advantage of both digital design and modern fabrication technologies. The marriage of both technologies provides flexibility during the design, prototyping, and approval phases by employing 3D printing and CNC to create scaled models to show clients or uncover unforeseen design omissions. These steps provide the client with absolute certainty in their decisions to move forward with the installation.

Some of the architectural products developed, fabricated, and constructed at i-Made included benches, rubbish bins, a bus shelter, market signage, and other structures for Minnetrista’s campus and farmers market. The students also redesigned the courtyard and entrance threshold area at MadJax to maximize the potential of this gathering place. These improvements will benefit the community as a whole as Minnetrista and MadJax play central roles in the Muncie cultural scene.

This immersive studio has taught graduate students how to help the community, build partnerships, and, most importantly, allowed them to experience the gratification of helping others, making a difference regionally, and contributing to the places they live and work.