November 30, 2021 Students in U.S., Venezuela Design, Build Gathering Spaces for Local Community

pouring concrete

Since early 2021, students and faculty in the School of Interior Architecture have been working on a grant-funded project with a unique purpose: To move knowledge between the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a university and community in Venezuela to make a long-term difference in people’s lives.

The fascinating project connects the UT team with the Universidad de Oriente (UDO) in Venezuela, a large country that peeks across the Caribbean Sea toward Florida, and other organizations to collaborate on the construction of a sustainable built project that will benefit the small Venezuelan community of Volcadero.

At the end of the year-long project, this fishing village will have a new community gathering place, thanks to the creativity and Volunteer Spirit of students at UT, designs from Arizona State University, the students and faculty at UDO and the hard work and enthusiasm of Volcadero community members.

Spirited Collaboration

How does a bi-national team achieve a design/build project together? The answer is simple: One spirited collaboration at a time. From March through October 2021, students, faculty, community members, city officials and other stakeholders researched together, gathered feedback from one another, listened to all and designed collaboratively. They learned how to build, how to solve problems and how to create change in the face of significant obstacles.

“When working in underserved communities, it is important to go back to the community and present what was heard to build trust among everyone involved,” said Milagros Zingoni Phielipp, director of the UT School of Interior Architecture. “This effort’s main mission is to empower and develop agency among the community of Volcadero, and therefore, each voice matters.”

Throughout the project, the team from the U.S. has engaged virtually with their counterparts in Venezuela. After months of research, discussion, feedback-gathering, designing and redesigning, permitting and empowering, the collaborative project is ready for the final phase: Construction.

The Project

With input from all stakeholders, the students and faculty from the two continents designed a project that will include

  • Bleachers, boat-offloading spaces, vehicular circulation and areas to host rowing and water polo teams for competitions
  • A community-gathering space, a market for crafts and food and a play area for children

The process of building the structures will be supported by construction documentation and video tutorials created by the UT students.

A requirement for the design/build project is sustainability, including using locally sourced materials, and the goal is to optimize the design for zero material waste. This not only respects finances, but the practice also is environmentally friendly.

In October 2021, with building permits secured, the first shovel pierced the Earth. This act launches the construction of this collaborative, bi-national, dual-continent, history-making design/build project for a fishing village in Venezuela. At the same time, it celebrates the Volunteer Spirit, aligns cultures and builds empathy as students learn to overcome barriers through design.

Read the full story of this far-reaching project:


Listen to this Venezuelan radio interview featuring Milagros Zingoni talking about the project:

Learn more!

Read this article on Universidad en Linea’s website about the collaborative project.

Learn more about the college’s design/build program.

Read about the School of Interior Architecture.