Design Reviews for Keene State Architecture Program

Recently I ventured over to Keene State College to help out with a mid-semester design review for one of Bart Sapeta’s studio classes. Many of you may know Bart, but for those of you who don’t, he has been an Associate Professor at Keene State for about eight years now. He is also currently an AIA New Hampshire Board Director, and has been nominated to become our chapter’s Vice President next year. I always enjoy his passion for design and his ability to spark that passion among his students in the Keene State Architecture program.

Now in addition to helping out a few times before with these design reviews, I had also joined Bart a couple of years ago to assist him in teaching a rather large studio class for that semester. So by this time, I was familiar with the syllabus for the class and the usual scale of project. But this semester Bart had set the students up with an even more ambitious project on a real site located on the Mediterranean coast in Spain.

On the floor of the studio was a large context model that the students had built, with quite a few buildings on the seashore site, and there were many photographs of the actual site and these surrounding structures, all keyed to the model. Posted on the review wall was the first student’s colorful bubble diagram, analyzing the building program of almost 10,000 sf. Yes, these are timeless methods still alive in today’s architecture programs. It was going to be interesting to see just how many students would rise to the occasion on this one.

I am happy to say that the group of students I met that day really impressed me. As each went through their description of the parti that was guiding them in their thought process about the design, they explained (and in a few cases rationalized, but hey, they’re students) the connection between their ‘big idea’ and their evolving building. As in any academic exercise of this nature, the goal is generally first to get them flexing their imagination with regard to form and imagery, and then seeing if the program spaces and flow have been integrated with that idea. It is also interesting to see how they have responded to the context (even when that is intentional contrast). As you can imagine it brings back either fond memories, or not, from one’s own academic experience.

It was fun to see a dozen different approaches to the same site, program, and context – ah, the plurality of ideas. It was also refreshing to see a couple of very different architectural beginnings that were very expressive ideas, and had also integrated the program requirements. You may be wondering what tools and skills these students are using to produce their work, and I can say that Bart emphasizes some thoughtful hand sketching in plan and form before they dive in with any computer tools. Many of the students that day had used Sketchup to present a basic section and/or elevation view of the building. This was only the mid semester work, so I am really looking forward to seeing how their designs might evolve based on the engaging discussions we had that day.

So perhaps you have received one of these emails from Bart over the years asking if you could spare a morning or afternoon to join in the teaching/learning experience at Keene State. I can report that if you can manage to break away from the daily grind at the office, I think you will really enjoy the opportunity to encourage a few students who could benefit from your experience in the profession.

If you are too far from Keene or just too buried in the day to day, there is another great way to help Architecture students at Keene State College round out their education and develop their passion. You could consider making a modest (or even beyond modest) donation to the “AIA New Hampshire-Kahn Family Fund for the Advancement of Architecture,” created by Jay Kahn PhD, Hon. AIANH. If you attended the AIANH meeting this past April held at Keene State College, you may recall that Jay Kahn (former Vice President for Finance and Planning at KSC) made a short presentation about its mission, and started the ball rolling with the initial funding. It was also the topic of an article in the April edition of the Forum that you can access again with this link One of the things the fund enables are traveling scholarships for students, allowing them to experience a broader view of Architecture, and participate in meaningful projects in less privileged countries.

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