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Students Experience Architecture:  Chicago Field Studies

Student sketching on Chicago Field Studies

One must experience architecture first hand in order to truly understand its power and potential. Images in lectures and on websites persist in peaking interest and striking the imagination, but the actual performance of architecture and its problem solving (and creating) potential is best dissected, critiqued, and analyzed on site. It is for this reason the second year spring students embark on an architectural pilgrimage to the city of Chicago in early February as part of their studies in both design studio and materials and methods courses.

The trip has two goals: to engage and analyze exceptional 19th and 20th century architecture as an expression of a region’s cultural history, as well as to investigate the material and structural methods required to realize it. With visits to canonical work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Louis Sullivan and countless others, students perform field studies to analyze both the pragmatic and conceptual drivers for the work. In addition to looking at individual buildings, there is also hope that the nature of a context or fabric of connected and thoughtful urban spaces can be illustrated through participation in a few days of intense urban life in a major US city.

Both of the semester’s studio projects are sited in the Chicago area. The first is a new welcome center for Mies Van Der Rohe’s Iconic Farnsworth house where the students deal with issues of the “skin and bones” approach to making architecture with concentration on the clarity of a structural frame and a search for a contextual relationship with a natural landscape. The second project acts as a foil to the first by transplanting the traditional project of “Wood-Comp” into a dense Chicago urban site. The challenge deals with and/or embraces the constraints of wooden frame construction to innovate and relate to the context of “Chicago School” steel and concrete skeletal architecture.