AUdapting: Final Design Review

In the school of Architecture there is a continual effort to understand, and report, the effects of the current remote learning situation on students and faculty due to COVID-19. Prof. and School Head Christian Dagg has previously reported that the profession itself has become more fluidly digital in the way it communicates, a method the School has been following and developing for the past several years. It is obvious that transitioning the studio model to a remote and digital form of communication, and project development, presumably has its own challenges. For instance, in studio each student typically works at their desk as they wait to meet with their professor. The same arrangement can still be available with remote communication, although the presentations require some forethought to prepare for this new way of presenting ideas. Traditional studio tools are not as successful when communicating over a computer screen; how have students adapted to this different method? One way to test these questions was to experience an end of the year review with invited jurors, and witness how the process was achieved in real time.

Prof. David Hinson’s fourth Year design students had been working on the development of a new master plan options for the Hill Dorms district of Auburn’s campus. That part of campus will soon be repurposed from undergraduate housing to new buildings for academic units from across the university. The students had completed about 10 weeks of work on their design proposals before the university shifted on a remote teaching approach.

One impact of the change to an online teaching format that became apparent early on were the constraints on the one-on-one access to faculty that has long been at the center of design education. In response Hinson recruited a group of about a dozen architects to serve as design mentors to the students. Drawn from the practice communities of Birmingham, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, each of these mentors was paired with a student, serving as an additional online contact for design advice and feedback as the students developed their final design proposals. Each of these mentors, along with APLA faculty, AU planning staff, and local architects then served as reviewers in the four online review sessions completed over four afternoons.

Using Zoom as a presentation platform, each of the four students presented clear graphic presentations outlining their project history, with developed ideas that were clearly communicated in a digital format. Each reviewer had several comments to make critiquing the work, but every individual commented on the seamless transition made by the students in this challenging time.

“It is incredibly encouraging to witness the ability of these students to, after leaving for Spring Break, plan to return to school unaware of what they would face and move forward without hesitation.” Prof. Hinson stated, “the remarkable thing about our profession is that I can call a group of busy professionals, all of whom have full workloads, and every person I contact says, ‘I would love to help.’”

In response to student Hunter Swatek’s comment to the jury thanking them for participating even though it is, “weird working remotely, and working from home,” Ballinger Principal Terry Steelman (Philadelphia, PA) stated that being involved in the current studio review model, “was a nice change from the normal, everyday routine.” Looking back on the lessons learned from this unexpected change in teaching format, Hinson observed that its likely that some of these new approaches will become a part of the norm once we return to the in-person classroom. “The technology tools we shifted to in response to the COVID 19 shutdown made it possible to engage these remote practitioners in a new and impactful way. I’m pretty confident that I’ll now be looking for opportunities to leverage these tools more often across all my classes.”