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Studying at home: Architecture students tour the South

Archtecture students at Fountaine Bleau during Architrek

Architectures students pose on a staircase in the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. The hotel, which opened in 1954, was designed by Morris Lapidus.

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published June 19, 2014

“Because there is such an emphasis on study abroad, it devalues what is here in the States.”
Greg Delaney, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture
Architecture Students at Hyatt Regency as part of architrek

Students sketch the atrium of the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. The hotel was designed by John C. Portman Jr.

Studying abroad was the last thing Timothy Boll wanted to do. A senior architecture major at UB, Boll understood that the experience would make him a more cultured person, but he believed students should explore their own country before heading elsewhere.

Greg Delaney, adjunct assistant professor of architecture, agrees. Having led study abroad programs across the world, he wanted to create a program that emphasized experiencing architecture within the United States.

“Because there is such an emphasis on study abroad, it devalues what is here in the States,” says Delaney. “The assumption is that since we’re in the States, people will see things on their own. That doesn’t happen.”

His solution was Architrek, a 17-day tour of the southern U.S. that capped off a seminar he taught in the fall. The trip began on Dec. 27 in Dallas and concluded on Jan. 12 in Miami, just in time for the start of the spring semester.

“The reality is most of our students will live and practice in American cities. Getting to know American cities through travel is more valuable in terms of relevancy,” says Delaney.

Equipped with only a bus and a few guidebooks, Delaney and Chris Romano, assistant professor of architecture, led 21 students across 3,000 miles and through 20 cities. Their journey featured stops in several major cities, including Houston, Atlanta and New Orleans.

And unlike typical architecture study abroad programs, which are studio-based in one location, Architrek never kept students in a city for more than two days.

The plan was simple: see as much architecture as possible.

To squeeze everything into the schedule, days began at dawn and often ran 13 hours. But the time was well-invested, as students learned that viewing textbooks and PowerPoint slides pales in comparison to experiencing architecture firsthand.

The group visited more than 200 buildings and landscapes, including Louis Kahn’s famous Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the work of Frank Gehry in Biloxi, Miss.

Lesser-known architecture resonated with students as well. They were fascinated by the neighborhoods of Seaside, Fla., that were used in the filming of the “Truman Show,” and by the homes built by the Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans.

Many students also found the South to be a completely foreign place. For Colleen Creighton, a graduate student in architecture, Miami’s city structure and culture resembled that of a European city.

“Going to Barcelona (Spain) made me realize I don’t know enough about my country. We live in the U.S., but we don’t know a lot of the places that exist, or the amazing architecture that is here,” says Creighton. “We take it for granted.”

With these new realizations, students returned to classes at UB with a catalog of references for future work. Delaney has even gotten word from his UB colleagues that Architrek participants have shown their knowledge in their classes.

Students on the trip also have distinguished themselves from their peers with their new knowledge of the value of hand-drawing. Although architecture students still draw in studio, the profession has become digitally focused.

To revive the art, Architrek participants were required to sketch from the first day of the trip. Students created a program guidebook by researching assigned sites, but instead of including pictures of the buildings, they were required to produce blueprints. Students were required to sketch every place they visited as well.

While not every student is an artist, most left Miami with a new perspective on the profession.

“It’s amazing how important sketching is, especially in the real world when you have to express yourself quickly for a client,” says Creighton. “You see how architecture can be something different than four plates stacked together.”

The trip was only weeks ago, but Delaney already is planning another Architrek for next year’s winter break, this time to the West Coast.

“Winter break is perfect because it’s usually the least productive time of year. Some of the students just want to take a breather from studio,” says Delaney. “Architrek is a way to keep the architecture conversation going, but in a fun way.”