Summer vacation is right around the corner and schools are getting closer to finals week. You can probably envision students pulling all nighters, cramming for tests or furiously writing essays. But architecture studio courses work a little differently at the end of the semester. Instead of taking an exam, you must give a formal presentation of your project. It isn’t uncommon for you to have been working on this project for the entire semester. You speak on the concept, intention, process, and most importantly, the progress you have made to a panel of jurors. These jurors usually are not your professors but people with architectural knowledge such as other faculty within the school of architecture or individuals working in the industry. Rather intimidating I assure you.
Similar to a thesis or dissertation, you have to defend your design choices. It is really bad if you justify a decision with the reason “Well it just looks cool.” Professors push students to not only come up with a concept but a strategy derived from that concept to help guide all the design choices. Now this may seem overwhelming to consider each decision separately but the guiding strategy should help make your decisions easier. But one of the toughest aspects to the presentation is being able to talk eloquently and concisely about these decisions and the overall project. You know this project in and out but your jurors have no frame of reference about the project, context, or proposed location. Architecture school is driven to help your design skills but also to develop your architectural vocabulary. You have to be able to talk and understand architectural language. The entire studio gets their turn in the hot seat. Everyone presents and then must answer follow up questions. It is stressful but rewarding to see your own project and others grow and evolve. These practices are tried and proven, going back to some of the most influential schools of architecture and design, the École des Beaux-Arts and Bauhaus.
The École des Beaux-Arts, often shorten to Beaux-Art, was established in 1648. The school was originally divided in to two focuses, painting/sculpture and architecture. It was a highly important architectural school especially from 1830s to 1890s and established its own architecture style. A number of the famous buildings of Paris fall within this style, such as the Grand Palais and Palais Garnier. It is known for highly ornate buildings with monumental spaces. Symmetry and axiality were two key aspects to these layouts and facades. A number of these buildings have golden accents, sculptures, and impressive detailings. The interiors were just as luxurious as the exteriors. Chandeliers, velvet, crystal, gold. There are clear influences from classical Greek and Roman structures. Students were required to study, draw, and have an in depth understanding of classic architecture. Advanced students were pushed to quickly come up with a conceptual sketch and stay true to that initial sketch all the way through the final highly detailed presentation drawings. The advanced courses centered around a competition called the “Grand Prix de Rome.” The winner was given a full scholarship to study in Rome. This created strong ideas but also competition amongst the students. The results are incredible buildings and a testament to this architectural education.
Bauhaus was a school of design, architecture, and applied arts in Germany from 1919 to 1933. The school was founded by Walter Gropius, who believed in power of mass manufacture for design. The overall goal was to step away from luxury, expensive, custom objects. Gropius wanted aesthetically pleasing and function designs for the everyday people. The school pushed for a balance between functionality and aesthetics for a design. Form coming from function. Architecturally, this is a huge step away from the ornate Beaux-Arts style. The buildings of this style are very clean cut. The purpose of the building influencing the design. Students were required to take preliminary courses first and then moved forward into workshops. These workshops were focused on different crafts, such as carpentry, pottery, stain glass. The architecture department wasn’t officially established till 1927 but the Bauhaus model for teaching is still one of the most common structures for teaching art and architecture today. While this school was not around too long but is still heavily talked in architecture studies and the buildings iconic.
All of this is to say architecture school is a little different than other majors. It is hard work but always worthwhile. All of us at MEL/ARCH wish everyone good luck with the end of their semesters and a special shout out to anyone graduating this May!
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