APLA Study Abroad Programs Provide Students Fantastic Learning Experiences

Japan window

Students in Auburn’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA) have study abroad opportunities year-round, and spring is no exception.

This past semester, several different groups of students and faculty members traveled halfway across the world to expand their knowledge of design and experience new cultures.


Associate Professor and Architecture Program Chair Il Kim led a group of fifteen fifth-year architecture students to Japan for three weeks this past January.  They were able to study Japanese modern architecture as they split their time between Tokyo and Kyoto. The group was based out of Kyoto Seika University but traveled all over the country, including Tokyo, with visits to St. Mary’s Cathedral by Kenzo Tange, Yoyogi National Olympic Stadium by Kenzo Tange, Meiji-jingu Shrine, Nezu Museum of Art by Kengo Kuma, Tokyo Station, and Kyoto, with stops at Nishiki Market, a market run by local merchants since the 14th century, and many temples such as Ryoanji, Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, and Daigo-ji Temples. They also took day trips to Nara, Ise, Osaka, Himeji and Hiroshima. Upon returning to Auburn, the students took the rest of the semester to digest their travel experiences and complete work on their theses. Many students said their favorite part of the trip was a visit to a state-of-the-art garbage incineration plant in Hiroshima designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.

Kim, who specializes in Japanese modern architecture, has been organizing this annual trip for several years. While these short duration trips have been the norm for several years, the architecture program is shifting to a new model. In the next academic year, the Japan program will be in fall instead of spring and will be a 10-week program instead of three weeks. Kim says this longer program will allow Auburn students a more in-depth study abroad experience as well as opportunities to collaborate with Kyoto Seika students.


Associate Professor Matt Hall is leading a group of 16 third-year architecture students on a trip across Scandinavia from mid-February through the end of the semester. Their first three weeks were spent traveling the region by train, bus and boat to visit Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. They settled in to their accommodations and set up studio at the Aarhus School of Architecture in Aarhus, Denmark, for the remainder of the trip. By the end of the semester, they will have seen important historical and cultural sites across the region and earned 12 credits in design studio, history & theory and representation. Hall, who has lead the trip for several years, said students benefit from this program greatly, both personally and professionally. “Traveling to experience architecture and culture provides students with the experience of being foreign,” he stated. “Like every new client and project, a new territory provides a venue to observe, critique and take a position on their place in it, what is different about it and how it changes their views of where they are from. In addition, visiting dozens of public and civic sites across four countries also provides a potential bibliography for their own projects as they find ways to make arguments for architecture in an increasingly problematic world.”


From mid-February through the end of the semester, two dozen third-year architecture students are in Barcelona with faculty members Mary English and Xavier Vendrell, a Barcelona native who continues to practice there. 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. They took excursions to La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila, Mercado de La Boqueria, Camp Nou and Museu Picasso. 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 “Aspects of Design: Seeing the City,” they explored the buildings, parks, streets and sidewalks of Barcelona and documented them through photography, writing and sketching, producing a book filled with photographs and sketches from the course. The second elective course focuses on guided trips to the offices of local architects.


While architecture students are wrapping up their travels, many Environmental Design (ENVD) students are gearing up to take off. Each summer, ENVD students have the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen to complete their senior capstone projects. They will spend two weeks studying on Auburn’s campus before traveling to Copenhagen for three weeks with Professor Emeritus Magdalena Garmaz. As they research and develop their independent senior projects with the help of Garmaz, students will have the opportunity to explore sustainability principles, urban living and transportation issues throughout the city.

These current students will only have three weeks of living internationally, but future ENVD study abroad students will be able to stay a little longer. While the Copenhagen program has experienced great success, the program will be transitioning to a longer multi-city travel model, where students focus on resilience, climate adaptation and the future of cities. Beginning in the summer of 2024, students will divide their time between Rotterdam, Paris and Barcelona, allowing students more time and opportunities to develop their capstone projects. The new program will be led by ENVD Assistant Professor Jennifer Smith along with one additional faculty member. “These three cities were selected for their robust integration of resilient infrastructure,” Smith explained. “Not only are there a multitude of field studies that can be conducted at each location, the students have ample opportunity to explore informally and on their own time.”