APLA Study Abroad Programs Offer Diverse Options for International Travel

Girona Spain

Learning through travel has long been an important part of a design education, and Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA) offers students a wide array of opportunities to enhance their awareness and understanding of design in venues around the world.

In the Spring semester of 2022, 20 third-year architecture students traveled to Barcelona with faculty members Xavier Vendrell, a Barcelona native who continues to practice there, and Mary English. They spent the first two weeks traveling the country of Spain by train, visiting Girona, Olot, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla, and then stayed in Barcelona for the remaining eight weeks. While exploring the city’s architecture, history, geography and culture, the students completed a design studio course as well as two electives. In the elective course “Documenting as a Way to See,” they attended workshops to learn to observe intensely and to practice intention to photograph and sketch their subjects. They later produced a book filled with photographs and sketches from the course. The second elective course focused on guided trips to buildings and urban spaces, including visits to the offices of local architects.

Also in the spring, third year architecture students traveled to Scandinavia for a similar accelerated semester of study over 10 weeks. They began by spending the first three weeks traveling throughout Denmark before settling in to their accommodations and studio space in Aarhus, Denmark, for the remainder of the trip. By the end of the semester, they had seen important historical and cultural sites across the region and earned 12 credits in design and history. Associate Professor Matthew Hall, who has lead the trip for several years, said students are always excited for this annual study abroad opportunity. “Our travels allow us to be directly engaged in architecture, giving students plenty to pull from when they pursue their own designs at the architecture school in Aarhus,” he stated. Student Claire Couvillon said that having studio space within a larger unit made her group feel like a part of the community. “We got to engage with the studios around us,” she explained. “We sat in some of their reviews and their professors helped in some of ours. I really enjoyed forming a routine there similar to the one I have here, walking to class every day through a city that became like home for a few weeks.”

This past summer, Environmental Design students had the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen to complete Environmental Design Workshop II, a senior-level course where students complete capstone projects while traveling within the U.S. or internationally. Those who chose the study abroad option for this course spent two weeks studying on Auburn’s campus before traveling to Copenhagen for three weeks with Professor Emeritus Magdalena Garmaz. As they researched and developed their independent senior projects, students studied in situ different applications of sustainability principles, urban living and transportation issues while exploring the city by bike, boat and train. Copenhagen is one of the world’s most livable cities and students experienced human-centric design principles on a variety of scales in the built environment, from different contemporary housing typologies and an extensive network of urban parks and playgrounds to a wide variety of public transportation options and thoughtfully integrated or reconfigured historic buildings and monuments. Students’ project topics included an analysis of the city’s playscapes, a study of jazz music venues in outdoor urban spaces, a study of community street design and different sustainable housing prototypes. “Students loved their Copenhagen experience and the sense of freedom and safety that came with their ability to navigate the city easily on their bicycles,” Garmaz said. “The city’s bicycle infrastructure is safe and enjoyable and seamlessly integrated with other modes of transportation, thus allowing Copenhagen citizens and visitors to experience full impact of human-centered design on our well-being.”

In addition to faculty-led study abroad programs, students in the architecture program can study in Spain or New Zealand via exchange programs. Under these reciprocal partnerships, students from Valles School of Architecture (ETSAV) in Valles, Spain, and Unitec Institute of Technology in New Zealand can study at Auburn, and Auburn students can study for one or two semesters with these partner schools. APLA currently has one student at ETSAV and will have two students studying at Unitec in the spring.

Many APLA students are considering study abroad in future semesters, and one option this coming January will be a three-week trip to Japan led by faculty member Il Kim. Fifth-year architecture students will be able to study Japanese modern architecture as they split their time between Tokyo and Kyoto. Upon returning to Auburn, they will take the rest of the semester to digest their travel experiences and complete work on their theses.

What other options might be on the horizon? Vendrell and English will take another group of third-year architecture students to Barcelona this coming spring. APLA faculty members are planning new opportunities for next summer, and the Landscape Architecture program is gearing up to launch its first study abroad offerings in 2023. Couvillon said she appreciated how study abroad allows students to get to know their classmates and instructors better than they would on campus. “A lot of us weren’t close before we went, but we all meshed so well together and that became an advantage to us,” she explained. “We explored the city together, collaborated on our projects and bonded over the architecture we got to see. I loved every second of our trip!”