Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture and Design studios are still bustling 24 hours a day, even in the summer, with first-year students participating in the summer studio track.
The track is comprised of two courses, Design Thinking and Seeing Design, which are a combination of workshops, field trips and discussions, to introduce students of the program to the school.
Associate Professor and Foundation Chair of the School of Architecture and Design, Kathryn Albright, established the summer track in the summer of 2010, with 11 students, and she was the only professor.
The 2012 cohort has 24 students who study under a team of faculty from the various disciplines of the school over a five-week course.
Albright said the courses are offered as an opportunity for the students invited to have an introduction to the studio environment and how to use the basic design programs they will need.
Some of the students are not majoring in architecture or design but are either considering architecture as a future field of study or the workshops are relevant to work in their major.
Albright said that no matter the students’ field, they all do the same projects. Also, the summer track is focused on adjusting the students to the freedom of design education.
“It’s very different than anything they have done before,” Albright said. “It’s getting them to have confidence in experimenting and failing or (projects) not turning out the way they wanted it to, then learning how to re-think it or discover something in a failure that is actually really good.”
The studio environment and education can be discouraging to the new students, Albright said, but the summer track can help them adjust to it.
“Hopefully after the first 2 weeks, they realize that their successes come in their discoveries, not in their outcomes,” she said.
The faculty works closely with the students as they learn the process and culture of studio designing.
“It’s a big team of people, and that’s normal for design education that you would have a lot of intimate contact in terms of ratio of faculty and students,” Albright said.
One of the leading faculty of the track, Associate Professor of Interior Design Helene Renard, said there is a lot of emphasis from the faculty that the students need to take risks and the initiative to improve something.
Renard said that thinking and making are the two basic areas they start with, which the students must be responsible for channeling the information the faculty gives them into the excitement they have in designing their work. This responsibility is part of the freedom of a design-based field, which Renard said most students are not used to after a high school academic model.
According to visiting professor Chris Pritchett, design education has a lot of freedom as to what the student creates, which can be challenging for the first-year participants.
“I think we treat our undergraduates like graduate students,” Pritchett said. “They have a lot of freedom, and sometimes that is really intimidating the amount of freedom that you have.”
The initial intimidation of the open studio and all of the projects surrounding one in the design labs is what the summer track students are learning to overcome, which could be beneficial to them when other students arrive.
“I think they will have a heads up come the fall,” Pritchett said. “They will have a little more of an edge, will have acclimated to the space, and they will know to go around and check the other studios and see what other people are doing.”
This includes the students who are not architecture or design majors, according to Pritchett. Even the students who are in other majors but learning through this program will be able to return to Cowgill and Burchard Halls to use the space and expand their understanding of design.