The Brooks Building at IYRS
This letter to the editor was first published in the Newport Daily News
By Terry Nathan, Little Compton
President of IYRS School of Technology & Trades
A building has a narrative. It leads you someplace. This week at IYRS, we officially opened The Brooks Building, a 20,000 square foot maker space. The building harmonizes well with our historic campus, but does not imitate. It has some pretty remarkable technology in it that students explore in preparation for any number of careers in design and manufacturing: you make stuff as diverse as a tool or mold or the next big electronic devise that might leapfrog an iPhone or make a medical instrument safer.
But the building that I am referring to with a good narrative is the one next to The Brooks Building. It’s called Restoration Hall. Its narrative ultimately led us to The Brooks Building, through a journey that is today a collection of mostly historic structures in a town rich in the history of buildings and boats.
I have been at IYRS during a period of reinvention — a couple of reinventions since 2004. Proudly, and symbolically, Restoration Hall has stood at the center of this journey. The 1903 electric generating plant reminds us of our connection to Newport, our core values, and the school’s unique learning system. It is home to the genesis of IYRS, i.e., the Boatbuilding & Restoration program. For an entire decade, this program has been near or entirely enrolled. As IYRS has expanded, out of necessity to be economically self-sustaining, we have reaffirmed an almost religious commitment to the values, learning method, and history associated with Restoration Hall – sometimes to just make sure that we ourselves believe in what we are saying! It is reassuring in a time of throw-away values that we would keep checking.
Some years back, in the pre-Alexa and Apple watch period of the digital age, IYRS published a glossy journal, “Restoration Quarterly”. A 2002 IYRS grad, and subsequently an employee, wrote a piece on growth and change at IYRS. “…Some things are better left alone,” referring to the boatbuilding program. Not much stays entirely the same if it’s going to keep getting better, but at the core of IYRS’ narrative is a deeply embedded secret sauce called the IYRS experience. It is a learning system that enables students in both team and individual work to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills to make almost anything.
In Restoration Hall, they build and restore boats, and now chests too. Over a decade, there have been thousands of hours of work in this space. I don’t know how many have been hours of learning, but it must be substantial given our record of grads getting good employment. Across a wide breath of the manufacturing economy too.
As the school has grown, so have the type of tools. In The Brooks Building, there are old fashion Bridgeport laithes next two state-of-the-art CNC routers and 3D printers — the latter basically layer materials into a three-dimensional object by way of an extruder going back and forth, spitting out plastic or another material. Whether by hand or through the use of technology, students in all these buildings are learning how to build, restore and maintain stuff, and many of them don’t care what tool it takes as long as they learn how to build to the highest standard, and that the people learning with them are taking it seriously too.
What problem will we solve today? That’s the narrative around campus.
The other day I walked through the Digital Fabrication program in new The Brooks Building. As it turned out, before the students get to use CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, they have to build a 3D prototype out of construction paper. By hand. Some things are better left alone.