Studio H: Bertie County

Project HUSA


Emily Pilloton & Matthew Miller, Project H


Studio H is a high school design/build curriculum for rural community benefit. Launched in Bertie County, North Carolina, the program now resides at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, California. By learning through a design sensibility and “dirt-under-your-fingernails” construction skills, we’re developing creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and capital to give students the skills they need to succeed, while building the assets the community needs to survive. Given the opportunity to engage within a public education system, we believe the next generation will be the greatest asset and untapped resource in rural communities’ futures. Studio H is a different kind of classroom. We design, build, and transform.


Studio H is the core educational initiative of Project H Design, a nonprofit design organization that connects the power of design to the people who need it most, and the places where it can make a real and lasting difference. Project H Design was founded in January 2008 by Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller. Our five-tenet design process (There is no design without (critical) action; We design WITH, not FOR; We document, share and measure; We start locally and scale globally, We design systems, not stuff) results in simple and effective design solutions for those without access to creative capital.


Students for whom college had not been an option graduated from the Windsor high school in Bertie County and went on to college, starting with 17 college credits they earned in shop class. Emily Pilloton of Studio H says, “I joke that Project H should have been ‘Project P’. If I could sum up the entire mission or vision of Studio H, it’s possibility. I don’t care whether these kids become architects or go back to work on their family farm or go to med school or whatever. But if they can leave our program feeling like anything is possible, then I’ve done my job. That was the only thing that mattered to me – not just that anything is possible but that they can have a role in making anything possible. They feel really proud of the market building they designed and constructed, and hopefully they feel proud of the place they came from in a way that they didn’t before.”

Over the course of two years, students learned a wide range of design, drafting, tool, design and building skills, applying them to a series of projects for their community, from attractive and surprising chicken coops to a town farmer’s market that not only has a building, it is an operating business. The mayor gave the Project H students the key to the city – the second key to the city ever given out. The sense of pride that grew among the students spread to their families and out to the wider community.

The Studio H curriculum — a design-and-build approach to transforming public education and empowering communities — has been applied in other communities and is now coming to life in the REACH charter school in Berkeley, CA.


Studio H teaches by doing. Inspired by a “design/build” process that moves from alpha to omega with cohesive thought, Studio H represents a “shop class” renaissance, this time infused with design thinking, and put towards a community benefit. Using a design sensibility that values human- and context-driven research, students approach learning through creative problem solving, while the development of industry-relevant vocational skills results in workforce-ready youth and a full understanding of how ideas become real. We believe that the most formative educational experiences happen through the hands, and in building visible progress.

Over the course of one semester, students earn high school credit and have the opportunity to design, prototype, and build a full-scale community project. Our students have designed and built some crazy chicken coops for families in need, and a 2,000-square-foot farmers market pavilion.


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