Austin, Texas-based Jack Sanders is a builder by trade and an advocate at heart. He also happens to be a “sandlot all-star” with the Texas Playboys, a baseball league taking community building up to bat, and the principal and founder of Design Build Adventure, a “full-service design, build, and adventure company,” that’s a platform for architecture as social advocacy.
The “adventure” in the name refers to process—or, as the company’s website refers to it, “the choreographed sequence of events that have to take place to make your unique idea (or dream), a reality.” It’s a vision of the world that some might call idealized; Sanders calls it “sandlot solutions”—holistically connecting direct action to community building. It’s a way of working that creates space with intention, increasing direct access to resources alongside a model for economic independence that feels increasingly necessary. (Sanders recounts being inspired by one Texas artist organization that donated the proceeds from their work directly to the local fire department, which used the money to buy a new set of tires.)
↑ Jack Sanders and The Texas Playboys
It’s an admirable goal and one that befits a disciple of architect Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee’s Rural School, which saw architecture as a social discipline. Sanders studied under Mockbee and represented the Rural School in the 2002 Whitney Biennial with his thesis project, the Newbern Baseball Club, which realized the renovation of a historic baseball field. With an educational background spanning design, construction, service, and education, and projects that range in scale from commercial and residential interiors (Sanders is the man behind El Cosmico, a yurt, tepee and trailer complex in Marfa) to designing furniture and art objects, Sanders is uniquely equipped to create programming that reflects the multifaceted and complex localities he serves. His latest effort, Camp Heavy Metal, is something of an artistic-philanthropic synthesis of all of his interests, manifested with a side of fries.
“When I graduated and left the [Rural School] program I worked in conventional architecture and construction jobs, but was on the lookout for areas to mix in elements of service and education—thus, Camp Heavy Metal was born.” The “camp” is a three day design-build workshop where attendees can learn to work with metal—building models; surveying and sketching; basic metal cutting, bending and welding techniques—while giving back to Austin’s musical community.
↑ Jack teaching welding to a Camp Heavy Metal attendee
To bring an element of “hyper-localness” to the programming (another tenet of the Rural School), Sanders added “live music, tacos, campfire and beer,” to the mix. “I like the idea that this camp has a good ROI—a lot of bang for your buck,” he says. “We’re exploring a fully collaborative process; everybody that signs up, no matter their experience level, they’ve all got something to bring to the table. Trusting the process leads to a scenario where the final result is ‘more than this’—more than what each of us individually is capable of coming up with.”
↑ A model for the so-called “Sandlot Slinger,” a chair designed by camp attendees Maura Ambrose, Max Delaney + Melanie Falick
All of the art, objects and furniture designed at the camp are auctioned off to benefit the Health Alliance of Austin Musicians; currently, the organization is able to turn every dollar donation into seven dollars-worth of in-kind medical services for Austin musicians. This year, the silent auction pulled in over $160,000—double the previous year’s amount—no small feat considering the financial impact musicians have on the Austin economy.
“It’s always hard to steer ‘artists’ towards building items that will sell well at auction,” says Rikki Hardy, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator at HAAM. “We’ve started to guide the artists and campers toward [creating] music-related pieces, which has worked well; guitar stands last year, a record and turntable stand this year. It’s been a real treat to watch folks across the creative community come together to support a line of work that they may not be familiar with or [necessarily] a part of, but still consider an art. It’s all a big family. Camp Heavy Metal is really about these campers expressing themselves in a way that they know will benefit HAAM.”
↑ Musicians performing at the HAAM auction
As the program continues to grow (it took off with five participants in Austin in 2013 after humble beginnings in Marfa and currently allows a maximum of twelve participants), Sanders has been able to attract bigger, bolder local talents such as Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers, Maxx Delaney of creative agency Preacher, and Natalie Davis of custom leather goods company Canoe. “The impact of their confidence and experience with trying new methods and techniques, [not to mention with] making mistakes is very good for the whole team,” says Sanders.
Ambrose, a quilt maker and natural dye artist who started her business by growing and foraging natural dyes, met the DBA team on a photoshoot a few years back. “We’ve been friends ever since,” she says, noting that she took the camp to “better understand Jack’s philosophy—and learn how to weld from friends I admire.” It’s a symbiotic relationship if ever there was one, fueled by a local need but nurtured by a national impact; a way of being in the world—and with each other—that knows no bounds. “There are people who leave this camp and go straight to Alamo Welding Supply to buy tools,” says Sanders. “They realize that they might not be an artist, but they could make some shelving or organize their garage with some hooks. These things become really accessible after the camp.”
And it’s increasing accessibility that remains key—nurturing skills and potential within individuals who see themselves as part of something bigger, and can understand the impact their contributions can make when they bring what they’ve got to the table. While Design Build Architecture remains Sander’s “main gig,” it’s in pursuit of his diverse passions that he really comes into his own, bringing his community along with him—one home run at a time.