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An Introduction to the First Year Architecture Program

Foundation Studio

“I’ve never felt so challenged in my life!” claims first year student, Carley Chastain, when talking about the First Year Program in Architecture at Auburn University. We asked Professor Margaret Fletcher, the coordinator of the First Year Program, what she thought about that comment and she replied, “Well, that sounds like we did our job! We work diligently to set up an environment where students are consistently challenged both mentally and physically. Architecture is not for the faint of heart!” When I asked Professor Fletcher to explain the “faint of heart” comment, she said, “What I mean by that is it takes a significant commitment to participate in the program and train to be an architect. However, the rewards of this commitment far outweigh the challenges.“

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Foundation Studio 2012The First Year Program in Architecture is set up around a series of courses designed to promote an emergent ecology of design knowledge based on the reliance on oneself as well as a reliance on one’s colleagues.  “It is important for the class to understand that we learn so much more when we work together—really work together—than we ever could in an isolated situation. That’s the primary reason we work together in studio.  It helps us all understand studio as a class, studio as a place, and studio as an activity. That’s a concept that’s a little hard to understand until you’ve actually experienced it. Ask an upperclassman, they will do their best to explain it. It really is a culture of design that we choose to immerse ourselves in and frankly enjoy our time spent there,” says Fletcher.

It comes as no surprise that students will be challenged in an architecture program. Any educational program in architecture has the reputation of being a commitment. The program at Auburn is not different. We asked Professor Fletcher about this, if it was true at Auburn too and she replied, “Architecture school will be challenging just about anywhere you go. The difference about Auburn is that we work diligently in the First Year to help students understand their potential, to help them realize what they are actually capable of. I know that most students come to college thinking they understand this, but we feel that they haven’t tapped into what they can really do. When they come with the drive and are given tools from us along to way to propel them forward, it can be a powerful thing to experience.”

Foundation Studio 2012Gabe Dew, another first year student, says, “I have really come to realize that nothing is impossible.”

Professor Fletcher responds, ”Brilliant! That sort of realization tells me that our students are beginning to understand that they possess all sorts of power to achieve great things as they move through their academic and professional careers. The fantastic thing about an architectural education is that it prepares you for a lot more than just the profession of architecture. You will learn a great deal about the built environment around you; how you, yourself, think and work; how to collaborate with your design colleagues, how to solve a variety of significantly complex design problems. It really is an incredibly satisfying thing to work through the problems set forth in the design studio.”

Foundation Studio 2012We asked Professor Fletcher if she could relay to us any specific moment of realization from her students about their experience in the First Year Program. She told us, “During a procedural stalemate last year while struggling with a particularly difficult problem of prototyping, the students framed a discussion of how to push the project forward based on their new expectations developed through their experiences of the previous few weeks. This is a short list of the themes they decided to carry forward:  work as a investment; who you can count on, and for what; adaptability and agility; a ‘yes, and’ approach to collaborative work versus a ‘yes, but’ approach; a broad yet efficient use of resources, whether physical or otherwise; planning the plan; working alone while simultaneously working together; disengaging in order to reengage; paying attention to detail; time management; understanding the success of failing (failing forward); rolling with the punches; embracing iterative work; developing multiple streams of exploration; using anticipation as a motivator; testing beyond your imagination and the need for constant documentation of everything that is said or made. I had to write those down; it was a pretty good day in studio!”

Foundation Studio 2012We asked first year student Jessica Walker what she thought of the First Year Program in Architecture at Auburn, what she would like to say to those considering coming to join the program.  She replied, “First year studio provides an environment where creativity is harnessed and developed, where skills are corrected rather than criticized, and where every risk has a reward.”