At the School of Architecture, teaching via travel

For graduate students in the School of Architecture, the field trip has grown up.

Most four- to eight-day trips for School of Architecture students, which ended early last week, brought students to foreign destinations such as India, Italy and Brazil; two stayed domestic, travelling to Los Angeles and Massachusetts. Each trip came after an extended period of examining a subject in a studio setting, culminating in visits to sites about their projects.

The trips are a steal for students. An endowment at the school covers airfare and hotel expenses, and students pay the rest out-of-pocket. For one group, which traveled to several cities in India, the client for the studio project picked up the tab for some of the group’s miscellaneous expenses as well.

While trips abroad have been a long-standing tradition of the School of Architecture, an endowment established in 1999 by Henry Hart Ricemade it much smoother for the administration to fund them, according to John Jacobson ’70, the associate dean of the Architecture School.

“It certainly allowed for a different way of doing it,” he said. Prior to the founding of the endowment, students were expected to foot a significantly higher proportion of the bill.

The value of these voyages, though, lies not just in the subsidized travel, but also in the opportunity to spend days at a time with seasoned industry experts, like starchitect Frank Gehry. Jacobson added that the trips allow students to engage with the site in-person, which teaches students things that they wouldn’t otherwise learn about the location from drawings, slides or books,.

In the case of the weeklong trip to India, a philanthropic organization asked the studio to design a residential college system similar to Yale’s or Oxford’s, in the small city of Behror, which is about two hours outside of Delhi.

“The client is using us as consultants to explore both Eastern and Western ideas of what a residential college is,” said Will Gridley ARC ’11, one of the nine students on the trip. “Yale and Oxford are two campuses in the world based on this model, and we’re trying to implement it in a completely foreign country.”

Gridley said traveling to India made students more aware of the country’s lack of infrastructure and the implications of its climate on a potential architectural design. Unlike in New England, one can spend a day in Delhi without ever fully stepping inside a building, said Gridley, adding that citizens instead may spend most time outdoors, under partiallyroofed spaces and open-air structures.

A second studio group, led by the Italian professor Massimo Scolari, spent a week in Venice and nearby cities. The trip looked at the implications of building a monument at the water’s edge of the town of Chioggia, which historically has had a contentious political relationship with Venice. For Brian Spring ARC ’11, one of the students who journeyed Venice, the trip provided a valuable perspective on the scale of the project.

“We’d only been looking at Google Earth images,” Spring said. “When we got there, we learned you could traverse the city in about 10 minutes. It was much smaller than we realized.”

Spring and the other eight students are now working on scaling down the size of the design.

A third studio group of nine students traveled to the Canadian cities of Toronto and Orillia, where they worked on a design for a bridge and a cultural-interpretive center for the Mnjikaning First Nation, an aboriginal group in the nearby area.

The students spent two days living with the Mnjikaning First Nation, immersing themselves in the culture. There, they also took part in a religious sunrise ceremony, which included singing, ashesand the passing of sacred objects.

“Since their culture is still conveyed through oral tradition, it is very challenging to represent visually,” said Brad Baer ARC ’11, who also partook in the ceremony.

The studio is also trying to pay homage to a number of 5,000-year-old weirs, or fishing traps, which lie beneath the waters where their bridge would hypothetically be built. Since the weirs are fully underwater, the challenge is to “make the invisible visible” through architectural storytelling, said Baer.

In the city of São Paulo, Brazil, the largest city in the southern hemisphere, 10 architecture students took a week to design an environmentally sustainable urban master plan for the entire metropolis.

Since the city is both very dense and very temperate, the unique conditions let students experiment with innovative environmental strategies that would not apply in New Haven, a city with frequent inclement weather, said Mark Gettys ARC ’11, who went to Brazil.

Aside from the abovementioned trips, studios also travelled to Ireland, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

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