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Teaching By Example: Architecture Programs Get Boost from New Facilities

November 6, 2009

By Mae Ryan

Before moving into its new home in 2007, the University of Arizona's architecture program had been housed in some unlikely locations over the years: in the 1960s, classes were held in a former Safeway store, and until 2007, an old Episcopal church. “When we moved to our new building we took the altar and rectory table with us,” remarks Ron Stoltz, the director of UofA’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, “but otherwise the new building is a complete departure from our past.”

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UofA is just one of a dozen U.S. architecture schools that has built, expanded, or renovated its facilities in recent years. While the impetus for these projects varies, most schools typically are in need of larger and more modern facilities. Often, they also want venues that encourage interaction among various departments, and green elements that can serve as didactic tools. In many cases, these new facilities have aided considerably in student recruitment.

University of Arizona
UofA is a prime example of these trends. Designed by Phoenix-based Jones Studio, the 70,000-square-foot, $12.4 million project involved the renovation of an existing facility and construction of a new 33,000-square-foot building. The school, which brought together the architecture and landscape architecture departments, features large, day-lit rooms, complete with exposed structural and mechanical systems.

Architecture and landscape also converge in the building itself, with an exterior 54-foot-high and 200-foot-wide trellis, designed by Christy Ten Eyck, that’s climbing with vines. The building has been a powerful marketing tool, according to school officials, with application numbers in the architecture and landscape architecture departments rising 40 percent and 15 percent, respectively, over the past few years.

Penn State
Penn State’s Stuckeman Family Building, which opened in 2005, offers a similar story. Originally, the architecture and landscape architecture departments were located in a series of 50-by-50-foot buildings connected by skyways. “Some of the faculty liked the old buildings because they felt homey,” says Scott Wing, head of Penn State’s architecture department. “But there were a total of 40 doors leading outside, so professors and students came in and out without interacting with others in the department.”

Designed by Overland Partners of San Antonio and WTW Architects of Pittsburgh, the school's new 110,000-square-foot LEED Gold building has large atria and open floor plans. Faculty and students now have space to meet and collaborate on projects and competitions, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Similar to UofA, application numbers have jumped 35 percent, which the school partly attributes to the new facility. “We wanted to attract some of the best students in the country,” Wing says, “and now that we’ve moved into our new building, we’re seeing higher caliber applicants.”

Stanford University
The non-accredited Architectural Design (AD) program at Stanford University recently settled into the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2), a $120 million project designed by BOORA, a Portland, Oregon-based firm. The facility houses the Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which the AD program falls under.

In the department’s former home, architecture students were confined to a single studio with a slim clerestory window that offered a limited view of the outside world. Y2E2, which offers large studio spaces and open common areas that promote interaction between faculty and students, is a welcome change.  “In Y2E2, the students and faculty easily flow between studio and informal spaces overlooking the large atrium,” says John Barton, head of the AD department. The building boasts a variety of green technologies, including photovoltaic panels, radiant slabs, and four-story atria that take in cool air at night to chill the non-air-conditioned building.

Syracuse University
Other schools have opted for renovating existing campus buildings instead of building anew. Brooklyn-based Garrison Architects revived Syracuse University’s 90-year-old Slocum Hall to reveal grand spaces that had been sliced into cramped classrooms and studios.

The project had an unexpected outcome. During construction, the architecture school moved to an off-campus site—a renovated warehouse in downtown Syracuse designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects. Even though most of the department moved back to Slocum Hall last fall, the school decided to keep the temporary facility, dubbed The Warehouse, open for studios taught by visiting scholars. “Architects are always influenced by their environment, landscape, and urban environment,” says Mark Robbins, dean of SU’s School of Architecture, “In The Warehouse we can encounter urban realities in ways not possible in our idealized campus on a hill.”

Correction: The University of Arizona's architecture program was housed in a former Safeway store in the 1960s -- not in the 1980s as originally stated.

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