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Built Environment

In the College of Architecture and Design, classrooms extend beyond four walls.

Education is about more than lectures and exams, and UT students get hands-on experience that improves society.

For 50 years, the College of Architecture and Design has offered students opportunities to propose and create real-world solutions for the public good.

Assistant Professor Liz Teston guides her students to experience learning by applying classroom lessons in communities near and far.

Recent examples include the Beardsley Farm Education Center led by Assistant Professor Jennifer Akerman, and two projects led by Professor John McRae: the Fod-des-Blancs School in Haiti and the Red Bird water kiosk in Clay County, Kentucky.

“Giving students the experience of working directly with a client allows them to test the skills they’ve been honing in the classroom,” Teston says. “I enjoy contributing to their growth as professionals and seeing the aha moments learned in real-life experiences.”

Teston’s research focuses on healthy communities, cultural identity, and the everyday in the built environment. She translates what she gathers from her research into the classes she teaches on community engagement, design theory, and drawing communication.

Each student in her 2017 studio is developing a design concept based on a different at-risk youth population in Knoxville. The youth include those with disabilities, those facing educational challenges, and those who are homeless. Teston’s students are using the speculative project to suggest solutions for real-life problems. The project is a sponsored studio with Crossville Tile.

Her 2016 project allowed students to travel to Atlanta to help design an Alzheimer’s care center set in the year 2065. Their goal was to determine how a future residence for people with memory problems might look and to incorporate design elements that aid people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Teston’s junior-level studio course was part of UT’s Smart Communities Initiative—a collaboration between UT and the city of Cleveland, Tennessee—in spring 2015. The students renovated the Bradley County Health Department offices to better meet community needs. It was the first time they had presented to a client, explaining how their solutions met the organization’s goals.

Exploring design frontiers that lead to new solutions allows Teston and her students to contribute to positive change in our region.

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