CHICAGO STUDIO is an alternative to the traditional upper level design studio that integrates education and practice in a direct way for architecture and design students in tandem with urban living. Students reside in one of the downtown neighborhoods adjacent to the Loop and their learning environment interconnects academia with professional offices. Its distinctive structure and curriculum promotes a collaborative design process encompassing multiple points of view within academia, the profession and the broader community. It is an integrated set of courses — design studio, an urban design seminar, and a professional practice seminar — that incorporates a range of activities of daily professional practice and urban life with academic studies.
Host firms provide a direct relation to contemporary practice as well as providing each student his or her own workstation. For the first ten weeks, students work in teams of two to four on their own projects situated in the city. There are assorted interactions, planned and accidental, as practitioners critique student work during formal reviews as well as spontaneously through daily dialogue. From study the city’s neighborhoods to meetings with practitioners and community leaders students expand their awareness of the relationship of ethical and social issues to architecture and design in this distinctly American metropolis.
During project development, students come to recognize the suitability of their designs within the context. In addition to reviewing their projects, practitioners illuminate the role of Chicago’s political and business leaders in shaping urban design policy and initiatives towards sustainability. In studying the infrastructure network, students gain insight to understand the context as more than buildings. Practitioners also give presentations on their own projects as well as provide exposure as to how they work with clients and manage the design and construction process. In various and multiple ways, students are able to better develop their leadership, collaboration, negotiation, presentation and listening skills.
An urban design and theory seminar complement the design studio. The seminar highlight aspects of the Chicago urban environment and engage students in a dialogue that considers history, planning concepts, theory and sustainability through research, writing, sketch problems, lectures and engagement with practitioners, neighborhood groups and civic groups. Using Chicago as subject, the focus is analyzing and questioning the role of the planner, architect and built environment on the human experience in, and of the city.
Students explore half dozen neighborhoods as a way to gain understanding of the city’s development over time from the core to its periphery as well as its radially-connected regional parks system. The city’s street network and transit system provide mobility and coherency for its numerous neighborhoods, yet many have a strong sense of boundary, ethnic and racial identity and sense of community. Walking around with a camera and sketchbook in hand, students ascertain how some neighborhoods have changed as a result of an influx of new immigrant groups, university students, and young professionals while others have been regenerated through warehouses converted to residential lofts, expansion of universities, and construction of new housing, schools and street landscape. One question that guides the students’ investigation is how do the daily activities of people of varying cultures, the everyday routine of shopkeepers and workers or lifestyles of residents manifest in the physical form of the neighborhood.
The professional practice seminar seeks to support the design studio by providing the students ways to understand the relationship between the design process and daily operations of the office. The numerous visits to design firms of all sizes and expertise illuminate the multiplicity of ways to practice architecture and design as well as provide students with a sense of where they may fit in the profession. Chicago practitioners in various ways expose the conventions and innovations of contemporary practice as well emerging forces that may change how one practices in the near future. The course content exposes the cross-disciplinary, collaborative nature of the design professions through a diversity of readings, research, essays, discussions and presentations by practitioners.
For the final five weeks, students work in the capacity of architectural and design researchers for the host firms. These practicums take different forms depending on the focus of the firm.
A pre-requisite seminar, Chicago Urbanism is taught in Blacksburg the semester preceding the students’ participation in Chicago. This 5-week module provides an overview of Chicago’s development from trading outpost to international metropolis, and subsequent influence economically and politically in the Mid-west, nationally and globally. Students will explore the seminal plans that architects, landscape architects and planners have proposed from 1909 to present day, which address the various issues of the changing city from its center to its periphery. They will also examine the role of new technologies, transportation infrastructure, park planning and building typologies in shaping its urban form. The studio analyzes the buildings and landscape of a dozen of the neighborhoods surrounding Chicago’s downtown core — The Loop.