Clemson University Feature Stories

Architecture professor and his students are leaving a wake of change behind their design work

Even though Dan Harding, left, has only been teaching at Clemson three semesters, his students have already received national accolades for their work involving spaces that connect people to themselves, others and nature. By Sarah Brown
College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

When associate professor of architecture Daniel Harding returned to Clemson in August 2009, he left behind an idyllic life in Bozeman, Mont. Co-founder and principal design partner of his own firm, Intrinsik Architecture, he was living in an area known for its outdoor opportunities, an ideal location for his sustainable design+build and architectural design work. However, when a job opportunity opened at Clemson, Harding jumped at the chance to return to the Upstate.

Graduating from Clemson with an M.A. in architecture in 1994, Harding experienced the wonders of the Upstate region while still in school. As a student, he lived on a sailboat for two years at Hartwell Lake, enjoying time outdoors while earning his degree. He felt connected to the Upstate’s landscape — the hiking paths, biking trails, beautiful waterfalls and more — which eventually pulled him back to this area.

Upon returning, Harding immediately connected his love of the area to his work.

“I love the spirit of Clemson and the Upstate region,” he said. “The agrarian landscape that is the history of Clemson is truly unique. This area already has so much going for it — my hope is that we can continue developing the area to highlight its strengths and really connect it to the community.”

Even though Harding has only three semesters under his belt, his students have received national accolades for their work involving spaces that connect people to themselves, others and nature. In the 2010 National ACSA Steel Design Student Competition, Harding’s fourth-year studio students won first place for their project “Subconscious Suspension.” His students also won first and second places at the Air Force Village Chapel National Design Competition in February 2010. With hundreds of entries at both of these national competitions, receiving any form of recognition, let alone first place, is impressive.

Harding involves his students in this work of connecting nature to community through his spring senior seminars. In spring 2010, Harding’s students worked closely with the Greenville American Institute of Architects and the Peace Center for Performing Arts to create a dynamic water feature for the center’s courtyard. Because of the success of this work, the AIA Greenville has invited Harding’s students to create a more permanent feature during Architecture Month this spring.

His students also gain hands-on experience in community building through his Creative Inquiry classes. Working with the Student Organic Farm and Clemson Elementary School last fall, Harding’s students taught about sustainability by creating a skit that was broadcast over the elementary school’s television system. To further the concept, the Clemson students developed a child-friendly building project — using recycled wood from homecoming floats — that coincided with the school’s farm festival.

The project just won an honorable mention in the international design competition, Structures for Inclusion 11: Social Economic Environmental Design International.

This teaching and learning combination is exactly what Harding wants his students to experience.

“This project with the children at the Farm Festival took learning to a new level,” he said. “The students became teachers, blurring the lines between learning.” Boundaries disappeared as Clemson students and elementary children collectively made art.

When he is not teaching, Harding continues his work as director of Clemson’s Community Research and Design Center (CRDC), which focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to design. The CRDC brings together resources to assist community initiatives. Planners, architects, builders, researchers and more collaborate to solve community problems. For Harding, the CRDC furthers the work that he hopes to accomplish personally, especially in regard to engaging the community in design.

Harding’s work at Clemson and in the Upstate is just getting started. He is developing plans for trails that connect the South Carolina Botanical Garden, Clemson Student Organic Farm and North Forest to the Clemson community. With a Creative Inquiry Design+Build class, he is currently developing a bridge and steps to connect Williamson Road to the Bottoms, making it safe to walk to the farmer’s market. Harding also envisions and is collaborating with civil engineering professor Leidy Klotz on a sustainable tailgating plan for Clemson football games that involves building pedestrian bridges, utilizing open-air spaces and creating collaborative family-friendly athletic fun.

Harding is, it appears, just getting started.

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