When applying to college it was expected that each one of us was a well-rounded student; we worked for 4 years to build a resume that spoke of our many involvements, dreams, and accomplishments. Stepping on Grounds, each one of us came with a multitude of experiences and backgrounds, allowing for a unique outlook. From birth we have cultivated a sort of design toolbox that has been expanding our ability to sympathize with our surroundings and manipulate them to integrate new solutions. But with the amount of hours that we now spend in studio working, what are we doing to expand our creative inventory?
A-school students are notoriously busy. Trying to find time to balance studio with another intensive class or club is difficult and sometimes downright impossible. But for every student who intentionally makes the effort to leave the A-school, they always come back refreshed and with a renewed sense of creative passion. While not everything I do outside of Campbell Hall is architecture related, my daily living experiences have changed the way I process information and visualize the built environment.
The classes we take in Campbell Hall are meant to teach us the design process and critical thinking. But the courses we take outside of architecture give us a perspective as to why and how the design process can be applied. While I have taken at least one class outside of Campbell Hall every semester the most impactful class has been SOC 3404: Cities and Cultures. The interest lies in the title. Fresh out of foundation studio I was craving architecture. I was tired of critical thinking and POD making. I was naïve in thinking that I knew what I wanted, but the prospect of learning about cultural ramifications to cities as well as the large scale understanding or city-wide planning intrigued me more than what I was learning. Coincidentally I was enrolled ARCH 2010, the Lynchburg studio. Immediately, I saw the intersections between sociology and architecture. Looking at architecture from a sociology perspective I could begin to understand the social interactions that drove city planning and I could more accurately understand the need for cultural architecture in places like Lynchburg. Likewise, viewing sociology with an architecture lens shaped my view on how architecture has created a dynasty of cultural thinking and instigated the need to respond to people, not necessarily a programmatic need. While I had a hard time during that semester applying the practice to my studio project, I have since been able to adapt my design intentions to reflect the people being served and handle the cultural implications of my actions. Regardless of the subject of the class, I challenge you can find a relation back to architecture.
No matter what kind of club you join, athletic, intellectual, religious, social, hobby, or service, each one helps shape the type of designer you become. They give you the chance to meet people with different backgrounds and begin to learn their perspective on the environments that shaped them. Often times, we are extraordinarily engrossed in design and we become blind to the impact it has on the people who may not understand the design implications. Last year, on a last minute decision, I went to New Orleans on an Alternative Spring Break Trip. I had the privilege of volunteering for St. Bernard’s Project, a non-profit design build program that works primarily in New Orleans to help citizens regain their lives after Hurricane Katrina. I spent a week with other UVA students working on one house. It’s been 10 years since the hurricane but the lower district is still rebuilding. It was a culture shock to see the devastation still apparent in some neighborhoods and listen to the residents’ stories and daily lives since the disaster. I learned about the multitude of groups that went down to the Gulf in order to rebuild and I saw the tragedies that occurred because some people weren’t critical and deliberate in their actions. I was told that several communities were promised new homes but were lied to and in multiple cases people were financially and emotionally hurt. I personally saw one community that was meant to be a platform for designers to aid the disaster relief but they altered the community without any real thought as to the impact it would have on those homeowners. Since coming back I have been invested in disaster relief and actively shaping my design process around people. This club, that was meant to provide a positive self learning experience, has changed the way I look at architecture as a function of societal change.
College is not about being the perfect and most well-rounded student you can be at the start. Rather college gives us the chance to interact and expand our understanding of the world we live in. In turn, we design to give others the chance to explore new worlds. UVA has a plethora of classes and clubs to fit your interests. Take a crazy class or actually show up for that club who’s list-serve you’re still on. You never know what you might see or who you might meet. Architecture is all around us and it only takes one experience to change the way you see the built environment.
Group photo from Alternative Spring Break