Architecture students, the studio dwellers

With sleepless nights and punishing workloads, a variety of complaints about studio, or the various nicknames, including “Architorture,” a certain stigma has developed in the depths of one of the most rigorous, yet rewarding, curriculums at Tech. At Tech, architecture is considered synonymous with suffering

For those unfamiliar with the College of Architecture, the COA offers a variety of degrees in the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. Undergraduates can choose from three degrees in the COA: Architecture, Industrial Design (ID), and Building Construction (BC). All three differ very distinctly, providing a unique experience under the declaration of each major.

Building Construction involves the planning, management and processes behind the construction of the built environment. While BC majors still have to enroll in the Common First Year (CFY), they spend most of their years at Tech learning about aspects of architecture concerning contracting, business and infrastructure law amongst other issues.

Industrial Design deals with the design of products in the real world. Common jobs in ID involve designing common household and office products, like furniture, to the advertisement world, and even areas in computing. The curriculum at Tech requires much hands-on activity with the design and construction of real-life, typically usable products.

Architecture is the study of the design of the built environment. The study of architecture at Tech differs from other universities in that Tech demands a more grounded and applied education in architecture. While other more liberal arts based universities, including Yale and Pratt, study the theory of design, Tech students think more technically and deal with the function of the structure as much as the form.

Over the past hundred years that have culminated in the COA, students outside of college have seen the curriculum with a different perspective than the students inside the program. Some of these emotions have gravitated towards negativity, as is common at Tech. Unfortunately a general “bad” stigma envelopes a highly ranked program at Tech.

It’s the studio. All across the COA, students enroll in the CFY program, which connects the three undergraduate disciplines. CFY consists of only three COA courses, two of which are studio classes, and one which is a lecture. COA 1060 and 1011 are the fall semester courses, the former is the lecture requirement, and the latter is the studio requirement. The spring semester houses 1012 which is the follow up studio course. “They’re fun, first of all. I think they’re the basic skills that we’ll need for our major. With the guidance of our TAs and instructors, we are improving at an exponential rate,” said Kuan Tong, a first year undeclared College of Architecture.

The rigid structure is continued in the Architecture and ID majors, where sequence studios follow from every fall to spring semester. Less than a thousand students enroll in the COA, two hundred of which are in the CFY program.

The main issue with studio involves the long hours, and in some opinions, little credit. “The work is not too difficult, however, it requires a lot of time. It’s great how you see your work paying off after so much patience,” says Andy Debusk, a first year undeclared College of Architecture.

For example, in COA 1011, the first studio course in the curriculum, students are required to be in class nine hours a week, but receive three credit hours towards their transcripts. The CFY program is very difficult both in time and in content. A primary feature in CFY is its “immersive” approach.

“It’s kind of cool to think differently about architecture, to learn different ways that describes a certain issue,” Debusk said.

A certain jargon exists in the COA environment. Some find it poetic and abstract, while others find it descriptive and fluid. In any case, it’s quite different from any other curriculum at Tech. Especially in the lecture environment, the jargon can be very difficult to understand to the untrained mind, but the CFY program attempts to immerse the student into the world of design and expects the student to pick up, understand and eventually employ the dialect of design.

This design language tends to create confusion for the newcomers in CFY, as well as other strangers to the environment. The main strategy for the education of the language is immersion, throwing the student into the world of design, rather than trying to create some sort of dictionary and learn word by word how to describe something.

Aside from the qualitative aspects of the COA curriculum, the massive workload is daunting to most. With at least nine hours of class during the week, the amount of time spent outside of class tends to match the time inside. Many find these hours unbelievable and unfair, but others might consider the time equivalent to other classes. Tech students find it common to study subjects like chemistry, physics and calculus until one or two in the morning, but for studio to require these times is unbelievable.

The difference between the COA curriculums and other curriculums is that the hours in studio are spent drawing and crafting, constructing and designing, while other homework depends on solving complex math and engineering problems, conducting delicate labs and writing lengthy lab write-ups. Lindsey Sharp, a fourth Year ID major, said “I’d rather spend twelve hours in studio than two hours in lecture.”

The amount of time doing COA homework can be predicted more obviously than doing work for other classes, simply because the grading criteria are intrinsic with the quality and composition of the project.

For these students, the amount of work is less straightforward, but in the end, both design students and non-design students must put in similar hours to achieve higher grades; for students that do not study, the story is a little different, but generally speaking, the common COA student spends as much time working as someone in engineering typically should.

As stressed and busy as COA students are, the copious amount of time spent in the same place allows these students to get to know each other better.

By practically living on top of one another, and being in a very exclusive and rigorous program, these students also want to get to know each other. Sharp says her favorite aspect of studio and the curriculum is “the sense of community. I really have a studio family.”

It is very common to see people in the same section or sub-section of studio hanging outside of studio, simply because they share similar experiences and have gotten to know each other on a more personal level. In other classes that take place in auditoriums and lecture halls, the interactivity amongst students is less frequent, and outside of textbook studying in the library and dorm rooms, the other curriculums do not necessarily promote the same of camaraderie as the students who design, create and spend large amounts of their days in the same location, doing similar things in very unique ways.

“Everybody is friendly towards each other, because they’re all going through the same thing, and they can all sympathize about CFY. It’s a close-knit community. It’s also an input and output for sarcastic comments, as well as serious ones,” said Foroud Azimi, a first year undeclared CoA.

Though the stereotype about Architecture and studio may never be erased, it is important to understand the helpful and upbeat facets of being in the COA.

With talented students who get to know each other more easily than other students, and the creative and rhetorical curriculum that truly unites its distinctive individuals, the COA provides an experience both singular and in many ways optimistic.

Sharp gives good reason as well as solid evidence for participating in the COA. “It’s for the love of your work,” she said. “I would never turn in a project half-done.” More importantly, “it helps you learn a lot about yourself. It takes a certain type of person to be in the College of Architecture, but you find out pretty quickly if you are.”

As the college celebrates 100 years in Architectural education, students continue to make significant strides in the fields of design, construction and the built environment, inviting several successful Tech alumni throughout this fall semester to give guest lectures.