Architecture majors face uphill battle at the Institute

According to the Georgia Tech Institute of Research and Planning’s 2023 Fact Book, College of Design students make up 686 of the 19,505 enrolled undergraduate students at the Institute. // Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

At the Institute, certain majors are more popular than others when it comes to student acceptances and enrollment. According to the 2023 incoming class profile published by Tech, the top intended majors for students consisted of AE, BMED, BA, CS and ME, indicating a strong preference shown by students towards majors listed in the College of Computing and College of Engineering. However, there are plenty of other majors at the Institute who receive less visibility, especially when it comes to Institute’s College of Design. 

The College of Design (formerly known as the School of Architecture) at the Institute was originally formed after World War II, and other program offerings such as Industrial Design and Building Construction were added in 1940 and 1958, respectively. Currently, the College of Design houses five individual schools: the School of Architecture, the School of Building Construction, the School of City & Regional Planning, the School of Industrial Design and the School of Music.  

One organization at Tech that has focused on shedding more light on issues facing the College of Design, specifically for students in the ARCH major belonging to minority backgrounds, is Tech’s chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS). 

Shaina Lofton, fourth-year ARCH and president  of Tech’s chapter of NOMAS, spoke about the club’s role on campus and the importance of providing guidance and mentorship for minority students who have been historically underrepresented in the field. 

“We focus on creating a safe space for minority architecture students on campus, and allowing them to network with different professionals around the Atlanta area. Given that architecture is already a small field, for minority representation, architecture is even smaller. It’s really important to give students these opportunities to, you know, network with different architecture firms, and get to know these necessary skills that they would need to succeed in the industry. We also do portfolio reviews and resume reviews, and these are things that students need to know in order to succeed when they’re applying for jobs and when they’re finishing out their studios,” Lofton  said. 

Lofton also mentioned how NOMAS hosts different collaborations with other architecture student organizations at Tech such as Equity in Architecture and the American Institute of Architecture Students. These collaborations are seen as a means to build community and other events like mixers give students a break from the studio. 

In terms of general student sentiment about resources provided for ARCH majors, Lofton broke down the mounting expenses that students must pay out of pocket.  

“My largest complaint would be like the lack of funding given to students. I’ve had semesters where I’ve spent up to $500. And that’s just for one semester on building materials alone. Not to mention to use the Rhino software, we have to buy it ourselves. I pay $30 a month for Adobe Creative Suite. Still. And then there’s also our rendering software, which is like another $150, I think, and having to buy model materials, which could be hundreds of dollars a semester. And then on top of that, for our final review boards, we have to plot them and so that’s another expense, where I’ve spent up to $90 on that in a semester,” Lofton said. 

Lofton also mentioned access to technology as a common difficulty for ARCH students. Specifically, she spoke about how ARCH majors at Tech have a virtual lab that they can log into free for charge, but the downside is that the program is very slow, which makes it not feasible for the types of projects that they have to work on. Lofton spoke about how only two 3D printers belong to the School of Architecture, and while the School of Industrial Design has their own set of 3D printers, ARCH majors cannot use them despite both schools being housed under the College of Design. 

“Laser cutters are another big issue. Around the same time every semester, all architecture students, both undergraduate and graduate, have final review. So we all need the 3D printers and laser cutting, so you literally have to sign up for a slot sometimes. And that time slot could be in the middle of the night. It just
depends,” Lofton said. 

Aside from organizational issues that ARCH majors face, Lofton talked about the importance of including students from the College of Design in the campus community and how long studio hours can sometimes impede on that experience. 

“My current studio as a fourth-year student is from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays, and from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. And because it’s literally the middle of the day, it’s hard for us to eat sometimes and we’re not allowed to eat in the studio. I also feel like we miss a lot of things that are going on on campus because there’s so many times where my friends ask me to come to an event on Tech Green for students, and we’re stuck in the studio. We want to be a part of campus. It’s just very hard. A lot of our projects are really time consuming and it’s just difficult for us to feel part of the campus community sometimes,” Lofton said. 

However, the Institute, along with student leaders, have been working together towards creating more resources for ARCH majors and the larger College of Design community. Working alongside the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Vice President of Academic Affairs, Hunter Richardson, third-year CS, Lofton is working to develop a form of a “technology fee” for the College of Design that will help cover costs for subscriptions to the Adobe Creative Suite. Additionally, Lofton spoke of connecting current ARCH students to SGA in order to get an SGA representative for the School of Architecture as a means for creating a seat at the table for ARCH students to directly advocate for their needs. 

In terms of what the Institute could do better to support students in the College of Design, Lofton said, “I think through my conversations with SGA, more initiatives like the development of a technology fee can help a lot with funding issues. But I think the reason that that situation was even brought up was because an initial conversation was had. So just giving ARCH students a chance to speak up for, you know, the program, it helps the Institute to see us better. I don’t think it’s that the Institute doesn’t care about us. I think it’s just that they don’t know that these problems are occurring, because ARCH majors are very internalized and very tight-knit. I really think it is just a problem of communication between the School of Architecture, students and the Institute and I’m seeing that getting better.”