Architecture midterms draw outside critics

For students in the School of Architecture, “midterms” are a little different.

On Thursday, architecture students presented the development of their semester-long group projects before panels of architects from around the world. In groups of two or three, the third–year professional and postprofessional students have been working on themed projects. These motifs are more international than ever before, Dean of the School of Architecture Robert A. M. Stern ARC ’65 said, and range from designing artistic studios in Berlin to a development site adjacent to Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Stern said the “visiting critics system” is an integral part of the school’s curriculum, and brings in outside professors to evaluate students’ work. Since Yale started the program, he said, several other schools have adopted it.

During yesterday’s midterm review, these critics provided feedback on the work conducted in the school’s “studios.” Each studio ­­— a semester–long course in which students create their own designs based on a broad assignment — has a unique focus: while one course teaches students to employ cutting-edge architectural technology, another emphasizes applying traditional design techniques to contemporary building practices, Stern said. Students get to choose which professor they work with through a lottery, Stern said, with some instructors coming from outside the Yale faculty.

“Each studio is about an idea as it relates to a building,” Stern said.

More studios’ themes draw on international inspirations this year than ever before, Stern said. This was a significant discussion point at yesterday’s review.

Daniel Dickens ARC ’12, who went to Beijing for a week at the end of September as part of professor Alan Plattus’ ARC ‘76 11-person China studio, said the trip abroad provided a chance to consider the structure and needs of a different city.

“[We started] the semester with a hypothetical analysis [of] what we thought the structure of the city was and how it functioned,” Dickens said. “We tested and explored those concepts while we were there.”

After the students returned from the trip, Dickens said, they spent the next few weeks working in small groups to develop “broad schemes” for their assigned development site in Beijing — a large area on the eastern side of the Forbidden City. Yesterday’s midterm review provided an opportunity to receive feedback before drafting their plans in detail, Dickens said. The presenters previewed specific ideas for their designs with 3-D models and slideshows.

Though other architecture schools have incorporated Yale’s outside critical review process, travelling abroad to experience the studios’ underlying architectural themes remains more unique to Yale.

Paxton Hornbostel, an architect who was visiting New Haven and attended the reviews, said his alma mater, Boston Architectural College, encouraged an international perspective but provided little opportunity to travel abroad.

“Our teaching staff was coming from MIT and Harvard, which are both very strong international programs,” Hornbostel said. “But any [international] projects were based in our environment, and if we were getting any information it was from other people.”

According to Dickens, the group recorded the way people interacted with the physical space of the development site, information that would have been difficult to obtain without direct observation.

The School of Architecture offered 10 design studios this semester, all of which had their midterm reviews from Monday to Thursday this week.

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