A Current Student's Reflection on her Architecture Education
What is architecture school like in 2022? How are the studio courses structured? What kind of projects do architecture students of today work on? Architecture schools of 2022 can be influenced by many factors: digital and physical tools, history, sustainability, professional experience, outside activities, and connection with others.
My name is Abby McCue, and I am from Northborough, MA. I am a rising third-year architecture student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. I am also pursuing minors in music composition and landscape architecture. In addition to my education, at NC State I participate in multiple activities to build my leadership, teamwork, and time management skills. Some of the organizations that I am part of include AIAS, my sorority, and an honor fraternity. Outside of school, I run a small Etsy shop, do freelance graphic design, and am a childcare provider.
These different opportunities and activities help shape my unique experiences in architecture school. Being exposed to multiple avenues of creativity has allowed me to learn more about my interests and approach to the design process. I have found that exploring different areas of interest is helpful in the broad scope of architecture, as it is a cross-disciplinary field.
My design and architecture education so far has been impacted by COVID-19. My first semester was in the fall of 2020. Following the gradual reopening following lockdown, many schools faced the challenge of controlling case numbers while also providing your “normal” college education. In NC State’s case, the fall semester of 2020 started as a hybrid structure, with most students living on campus and taking only some in-person classes, with the rest of their coursework online. After three weeks, however, cases spiked drastically, forcing everything to be remote and closing campus. As a result, I only had a taste of in-person design education. For the College of Design at NC State, the first semester of all studio-based design majors focuses on the general understanding of design. The curriculum starts with the First-Year Design studio and Design Thinking, a lecture/lab-based class introducing design principles.
The spring semester of my first year was my first introduction to architecture-specific courses. Our studio was a First-Year Design studio with a concentration in architecture, with classes like An Introduction to Architecture and Digital Representation to supplement our studio projects. For this semester, some students were on campus, with most classes still remote. As a result, all of our projects were digitally focused. Like the fall semester, the studio course was divided into three modules: Design as Pattern, Design as Projection, and Design as Collage. Each module focused on digital software and architectural representation while introducing architecture as an abstract concept. The main goals of our projects were to understand how to create inhabitable spaces with intentional and engaging user experience, while also improving our design processes.
My second year was fully in-person, which allowed for the application of my digital skills and the improvement of my physical skills. The fall semester focused strictly on traditional methods: physical model making and hand-sketching. The refinement of the design process was emphasized with multiple forms of iteration with quick tools; by doing so, physical craft increased. The projects from this semester were still in the abstract realm, focusing on the intentional creation of form to accommodate movement and inhabitation.
The spring semester of my second year was the next step to real-world projects, with an emphasis on the understanding of the relationship between architecture and its environment. This semester blended skills learned in previous semesters, with the focus shifting to space as defined by the program. My studio section had a semester-long project which focused on different design methods to create an intriguing form and program.
In my upcoming years at NC State, the studio projects are going to build upon the skills learned in the first two years and apply them to more realistic settings. Some projects are going to be based at local sites in Raleigh and the Triangle Area of North Carolina, allowing for site visits and a better understanding of the environment. In past years, these projects included libraries, community engagement centers, schools, athletic arenas, and more. Third-year classes include studios focused on tectonics and technology, structures courses, construction systems, environmental controls, and the history of contemporary architecture. As a result, the focus is shifted from the abstract to technical and realistic applications.
In contrast, fourth-year classes are more malleable to the individual, allowing time to study abroad and begin work in the architectural field. At NC State, international experience is a requirement of the BEDA program, meant to encourage the acquisition of global knowledge. In addition to studying abroad, studios are focused on urban and advanced design. The fourth-year is also the time to explore your minors and other interests, in my case, landscape architecture. During my fourth year, I plan to take a landscape architecture studio, in addition to the history of landscape architecture, plant design application, and more. Those in the iPAL program will also start to gain experience hours during this time. After the fourth year, many choose to pursue their fifth year at NC State and earn their B.Arch. During the fifth year, emphasis is on professional practice, with many gaining valuable experience in the field.
Outside of my education, I have found many ways to be involved on campus and connect with my peers. AIAS has been one of the most influential parts of my architecture school experience so far. I joined as a member in the fall semester of my first year to engage with others. As an out-of-state student, remote education was very difficult to create a connection with my classmates. Organizations like AIAS helped me build the foundations of new relationships and the understanding of the importance of community in architecture school. AIAS focuses on student advocacy and serves as a liaison with architecture students and faculty, administration, professional firms, and national chapters. Some of the things which AIAS takes part in include fundraisers, lecture series, firm crawls, national conferences, and student advocacy projects. To be more involved, I served on the board as the Fundraising Coordinator for my second year and now will serve as President for my third year. I am very excited for my upcoming year and hope to be able to use my position to help better the architecture community. I plan to continue to connect different groups in the architecture community and create a welcoming outlet and source for everyone. One of the main components of this goal is advocating for a healthier studio culture and promoting more mental health resources. Through AIAS, I hope to make a positive impact on NC State's School of Architecture and help foster a community that can last a lifetime.
AIAS, alongside many other experiences and opportunities, has served as a great way to broaden my educational experience. In addition to pursuing my architecture major, I am also pursuing a music composition and landscape architecture minor. Even though it seems untraditional, my music composition minor has greatly expanded my understanding of the development of the arts and creative thought. Music history and theory courses have been extremely useful for my architecture courses. I have found that I have expanded my own creativity and knowledge of creative media. Similarly, my landscape architecture minor, in my third and fourth years, will present another perspective of architecture, helping to expand my knowledge further. I have also found that student organizations and activities present other ways to engage with others in the broader design and NC State communities. Through leadership roles, I have learned many important skills in balance, time management, organization, and teamwork. The key element of these different experiences is learning how to engage with multiple types of people, and understand how they approach creative problems and develop creative solutions. By understanding people, I can understand how to design for them.
Today's architecture schools offer a unique opportunity to learn about architecture and its role in society. One of the most important lessons of college is knowing how to use the resources available to you to your advantage. The architecture schools of 2022 are shaped by the rapidly developing digital tools and programs that present a multi-faceted approach to design. In balance with traditional tools, the architectural design process can be explored and refined in numerous innovative ways. The course load is notoriously rigorous but can be helped by connections made through organizations like AIAS. These student organizations help foster a community that can help provide advice and support. The development of technology has also allowed for the connection of architecture students across the country, even globally, through online conferences, sharing tips and tricks on YouTube, and posting inspiration and memes on social media. These are the many different tools available to the architecture students of today, creating a diverse and unique experience in architecture school and education.