Life as an architecture undergraduate at WU
Students in the College of Arts & Sciences may have until the end of sophomore year to choose their majors, but students in Washington University’s four other schools focus their curricula from their first days on campus.
One of the most focused of those curricula is that of the College of Architecture.
Incoming freshmen are attracted to the quality of teaching and the opportunities available at the architecture school, which is ranked among the best undergraduate architecture programs in the country.
According to statistics from the fall of 2007, 593 students applied and 52 freshmen enrolled in the school. With a total of approximately 200 students, the architecture school is the smallest school division at Washington University.
Students in architecture are required to fulfill both architecture requirements and the Arts & Sciences (ArtSci) cluster requirements. Architecture students are the only ones outside of ArtSci who have to fulfill clusters.
Freshman and sophomore years
The typical list of courses for a freshman in architecture includes the first courses in Introduction to Design Processes, Introduction to Architecture, and Western Civilization. Most students also fulfill their Calculus I and Writing 1 requirements in their freshman year.
In addition to lecture courses, students engage in hands-on architectural work in their first semester at the University. Freshman architecture student Anna-Marie Muchen explained that she completed six hands-on projects that were divided into 15 parts in her first fall semester.
For a sophomore architecture student, the list of typical classes includes continuing Introduction to Design Processes and Issues in Design. Students also enroll in physics and architectural history.
Despite what may seem like a long list of requirements, the architecture school emphasizes the importance of a broad-based education in which students are exposed to curriculum outside of the architecture community.
According to Bruce Lindsey, dean of the College of Architecture, 60 percent of the students in the architecture school pursue a double major or a minor.
Junior and senior years
In their junior and senior years, architecture students work to fulfill one of two degree paths offered at the architecture school. Students can choose to graduate with either a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in architecture or a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree.
Both degree paths require students in their junior year to take classes such as Beginning of Architectural Design, Architectural Representation Sequences, Case Studies in 20th Century Architecture and Building Systems I.
“Junior year is definitely really intense, a lot more intense than sophomore and freshman year,” junior architecture student Nicole Zee said.
Zee explained that freshman year’s architecture studio was divided into four parts with the first quarter being either a 2-D or 3-D studio, which alternates each quarter.
“Aside from class, I normally spend anywhere from 20-30 hours a week doing studio work,” Zee said.
But students noted that senior year offers a sort of break.
“There is an intense atmosphere junior year,” senior architecture student Sean Flanagan said. “I think it is because the studios are very structured and cram three projects into one semester. We just all worked in studio during every shred of free time we had.
“Senior year, we tend to end up with professors that do not apply that level of structure to studio,” Flanagan added.
During senior year, B.S. and B.A. candidates take different requirements. A B.S. candidate has to complete more architectural design courses—Structures I & II, Site Planning or Climate and Light—and at least one of the architectural electives.
Senior year is also time for post-graduation planning. A director of career services at the architecture school assists students with finding internships and jobs. In addition, Lindsey said that while 80 percent of the graduating seniors intend to go on to graduate school at some point in their lives, many choose to gain working experiences before going back to school.
Flanagan, who said he started post-graduation planning second semester junior year, plans to go straight to graduate school and will hear back in March from the schools to which he has already applied.
“There are also a number of students graduating who are not looking to continue specifically in architecture but will work where they can in any design-related fields,” Flanagan said.
John Kleinschmidt, who graduated last year, said that that the professors in the architecture school helped him successfully find work post-graduation.
“I had something lined up for summer, a grant for a small project at Wash. U., so I did not have to scramble to find something quickly. Professors are always available to talk about grad schools and look at portfolios, which are the most important thing for grad school applications and getting a job,” Kleinschmidt said.
Lindsey has worked to strengthen the study abroad program, and architecture students have the opportunity to study abroad in their junior or senior year. Lindsey explained that students can go to Florence in the spring semester of their junior year and Copenhagen in the fall semester of their senior year.
“Besides the study abroad opportunities, every spring in the last three years, several seniors have the opportunity to go to New Orleans to learn about the local environment and participate in designing and building,” Lindsey said.
He said that the experiences included students building a chicken coop in New Orleans.
Kleinschmidt was a member of the group of students who built the chicken coop.
“My studio professor, Derek Hoeferlin, led a crazy studio in which we designed, built and assembled a prefab chicken coop in a community garden in New Orleans,” Kleinschmidt said. “That was pretty sweet—four years of education paying off in a huge way.”
A personal atmosphere
The ratio of students to professors at the College of Architecture allows students to have close interaction with the professors. The hands-on teaching philosophy permits students to be creative.
“I have only had one architecture class that had a textbook,” Flanagan said. “The teaching culture in the school is more hands-on, with personal interaction with professors. Almost all courses also involve projects as a way of learning. Creating houses in ‘The Sims’ and playing with Legos were the extent of my knowledge about architecture.”
Kleinschmidt now works for a firm in New Orleans.
“I think that Wash. U.’s undergrad architecture program is pretty good preparation for anything,” he said. “In my freshman year, we drew and built things not to rehearse the design of building but to learn to see the world around us and respond to it—exposing truths and getting to a heightened awareness of our environment.”
This is the first in a series of articles examining curricula outside of the College of Arts & Sciences.