Monthly Archives: October 2013

Field-based design studies – Vermont

In the summer of 2013, the Nature of Design collaborated with Yestermorrow Design/Build School by leading it’s Semester Program students on an orientation wilderness design immersion in Vermont’s Green Mountains.


Students hiked from shelter to shelter along a high ridge, stopping to participate in a number of design exercises along the way, with nature as studio.


Students would go on to spend a semester working intensively together to design and build an entire house, so we wanted them to have an opportunity to get to know one another, and learn to communicate and work together.


The course invited students to shift into deep observation mode, to quiet their minds, and practice following nature’s forms.


Students speculated on the function of the structures they encountered, and how these might be taken as design inspiration.


Everywhere, constantly, natural forms presented themselves for closer study.


Students worked in teams to create installations using natural media. People got the feel of working in a studio with no furniture, walls, computers, and definitely no fluorescent lights. How does constant, dynamic physical movement change brain activity, and thus learning and the creative process?


Though students ranged in age from 19 to 43, emphasis was on interaction with the natural world, on inquiry, and on play.


Not only were students constantly surrounded by opportunities for visual design studies, but with several days’ walk separating them from most sounds and smells of civilization, quiet minds and absence of constant electronic distraction allowed for extended focus and attention


The only textbooks we brought were field guides.


The result was a lot of spontaneous laughter, comfort with curiosity, willingness to try new things.


There was time for small details and acknowledgment of other species’ serious design skills.


There was also time for individual reflection, unstructured conversation on the trail, and just being.

Students shared their work, and offered feedback.

Projects were intended to bring nature into the design process, and to stimulate leaps between disciplines.

Students connected what they saw with information from other studies.


Because the students would go on to design and build a tiny house as a collaborative process, we wanted to practice talking things through, to play with how to build a group aesthetic, and explore the iterative process of executing a collaborative design.


We loved experiencing what the students created, but the emphasis was on process.


Yestermorrow’s Semester Program in Sustainable Design/Build draws students from all over the US and the world. This diversity made for lively discussion, and dynamic interplay of ideas.


Heading back to Yestermorrow’s campus down in the Mad River Valley, there was time for a cleansing swim in the Mad River.


The Mad River offered ample opportunity to observe the endless forms water creates in itself, on rock, and around our bodies.


Our hope was also to invite students to re-examine their role as humans, and human designers, working between nature and culture.

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A big thank you to Kate Stephenson and the Semester Program instructors at Yestermorrow for supporting the Nature of Design Project! Learn more about Yestermorrow and see the house the students built at



And  of course a big thank you to our living laboratory, the windswept subalpine ridges of the Green Mountains.