Building Community Through AIAS’ Freedom by Design Program

AIAS Garden of Hope

The Roger Williams University AIAS chapter celebrates the unveiling of the Garden of Hope in Bristol, RI. Photographs by Andrea Hansen, courtesy of the AIAS.

Clayton R. Daher

Clayton R. Daher

2016-2017 AIAS Northeast Quad Director

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

No matter how much time you spend in studio working away on projects, you will never be one hundred percent prepared for the profession. That is where Freedom by Design (FBD), the American Institute of Architecture Students' (AIAS) community service design-build program, can help. Available on campuses across the country, the program allows you to step into your community and change lives. Plus, you will be exposed to an actual project that will teach you the realities of the industry—and you can earn credit toward the Architectural Experience Program (AXP).

Jumpstarting Your Architecture Career

As a student at Roger Williams University, my involvement with FBD helped me feel confident in my abilities, build the stamina I would need to head into the profession, and even jumpstart my career. Volunteering for FBD has shown those on the other side of the interview table that I am capable of standing on my own in their firm. This past summer, the owners of a 400+ person firm gave me the opportunity to help coordinate designers and consultants, as well as produce construction documents, for a 7,000 square foot renovation project. They had confidence that I could handle this project management role—even though I was only a fifth year student.

Getting Started and Giving Back

My involvement with FBD began freshman year, working on a stagnant planter project that had begun three years earlier. I soon found myself at the helm of our AIAS chapter—assembling a team and trying to find a way to finish the project, all while trying to grow momentum. But after our support fell through, we set out to find a new project: the Garden of Hope, a breast cancer awareness garden in Bristol, RI. 

The project brought together over 200 members of the community to help build the garden, including cancer patients and survivors. As director, I led a three-person team and over 60 volunteer designers and builders. It was the first time many of the students were able to design using building codes, review cost and client feedback, and also keep to a project schedule.

To my knowledge, this is one of the largest FBD projects an AIAS chapter has ever completed. It was amazing to see the entire community come together through donations, love, and support. Now, patients and families affected by breast cancer have access to a tranquil and healing space—a mission I hope future AIAS chapters will carry on.

To get involved with your AIAS chapter or an upcoming FBD project, visit www.aias.org. During the 2016-2017 school year, NCARB will support the AIAS and its Freedom by Design program by providing local chapters with grants for building materials, as well as mentorship opportunities with members of state licensing boards and local architecture firms.

Clayton R. Daher currently serves as the AIAS Northeast Quad director and is pursuing a 4+2 master’s degree in architecture from Roger Williams University, as well as a certificate in urban planning. An avid volunteer, Daher also served as chair of the Freedom by Design Advisory Group from 2015-2016.

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