March 6, 2014 — 19 Comments

IF YOU BUILD IT is a documentary by filmmaker Patrick Creadon, that has been brought to my attention by my good friend (and excellent architectural photographer) Brad Feinknopf. I was lucky enough to be able to screen this film last weekend and thought it was worth letting other people know that it’s definitely worth your time and money to see.

'If You Build It' movie poster

IF YOU BUILD IT follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills: it shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to re-invent not just their town but their own sense of what’s possible. Directed by Patrick Creadon and produced by Christine O’Malley and Neal Baer, IF YOU BUILD IT offers a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn the tools to design their own futures.

If You Build It photo of the Windsor Market by Brad Feinknopf

In my initial conversations with Brad Feinknopf, he mentioned that he was watching a program on TV titled “Character Approved” and had learned of Emily Pilloton. Brad was so impressed with her that he reached out to see if he assist her with anything. Emily invited Brad down to Windsor, North Carolina while they were filming IF YOU BUILD IT where he helped them out with the architectural photography of the final project the students had designed and built.

The completed Windsor Farmers Market at dusk. From IF YOU BUILD IT, a Long Shot Factory Release 2013. Courtesy of Brad Feinknopf

IF YOU BUILD IT will be screening in my neighborhood March 21st – 23rd at the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth but I know that there will others who live elsewhere that will want to watch this film. The movie is currently screening around the US [click here for locations that might be near you] and if you are in the field of architecture (or if interested in design – not that they’re mutually exclusive), this is a can’t miss movie. Besides, I am dying to talk about it with someone. This is one of those movies that is at the same time joyous and sorrowful … I found myself rooting for teachers Matt an Emily, cursing the school board, cheering on the students … but things hardly go as you think they should.

I do hope you can find the time if you are lucky enough to have the movie screen in an area near you. I’d like to thank my friend Brad for bringing this movie to may attention and for allowing me to use his beautiful photography in today’s post. I’d also like to thank Patrick Creadon and his wife Christine O’Malley for letting me screen the movie.

Enjoy the show,

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  • I’m going to have to see how many fellow classmates I can ‘drag’ to the Modern to catch this one! Sounds like an amazing story and as students, we can always use some inspiration to keep going!

    • It is inspiring but also a bit depressing so be prepared. Going with others will make a difference for sure

  • Thanks Bob! I’ve got our Chattanooga AIA looking into bringing it here.

    • I hope you are successful – I think you will enjoy it, especially seeing it with a room full of other architects.

  • Baxter

    Saw Emily speak at Drury University in Springfield, MO a year ago. Her work and story was not only incredibly powerful, but she is also an incredible speaker.

  • AlmostJane

    It figures. A great many independent films, documentaries etc never get as far as upstate New York. They hit NYC and that’s it. And this one sounds like it’s just my speed. I’ve spent a fair share of time bucking unimaginative school boards myself. So I’ll wait for YouTube, Netflix or whatever technology is next and say “May the force be with them!” :>)

    • I think you’ll really enjoy it and if school boards drive you even the slightest bit crazy, prepare to completely lose it on this on!

    • Brad Feinknopf

      Do not be discouraged. Documentaries seem to be a slow boil. It starts with film festivals, followed by special screenings and the, if word of mouth is strong enough, a greater release. If you look at the screenings page, you can even bring it for a special showing in your area, which I know several AIA Chapters are doing. Ultimately, it will end up on Netflix and DVD but hopefully, it will return to your area so keep you eyes peeled. They are adding new screenings daily.

      • AlmostJane

        Thanks. It took a while for “An Inconvenient Truth” to get here too – and that had TONS of press. :>)

  • scott fleming

    Thanks for the tip Bob. I’ve been an architect in the K-12 market for a over a year now and really enjoy a project based approach to education. We are now looking into bringing this film back to Atlanta since I missed it the first time around.

    • I wish that I had seen it with a group of architects, there is a lot to talk about. Architectural kegger movie party sounds about right to me.

  • Steve Tracy

    It looks amazing. Unfortunately it appears to have come and gone from Minneapolis area already. I guess I’ll have to wait for the DVD.

    • Bummer – I’ve always wondered what happens to limited release films after the limited release is done … I suppose DVD is the answer.

  • Priyank

    Aww man! Can’t watch find it in the UK 🙁 really wanna watch it!

    • There’s a link on the site that I believe allows you to ask for it to come to your area. It’s coming to Australia so why not the UK?

  • lancotf

    ….and it is Timber Framed!

    • Now you have to see it 🙂

    • designyouraddition.com

      awesome “design and build” timber frame.
      hope I get to see the film. I’d love to see the model.

    • awesome “design and build” timber frame.
      hope I get to see the film. I’d love to see the model.