Monday, February 05, 2007

A Professional Architecture School for Memphis?

Gate, architectural drawing of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris.The University of Memphis is planning a professional architecture program. According to Professor Michael Hagge, coordinator for the University's architecture program, they will base their professional program "on the national 4+2 model. The degree will be for persons already holding the four-year pre-professional degree or a professional Bachelor of Architecture (we will offer the one-year M.Arch to these people, primarily for people who wish to teach). We will not be offering the three-to-four-year M.Arch degree. That is available at UT-K."

The emphasis of the M.Arch will be on "city-building," an interdisciplinary approach to building livable cities that will include collaboration with the University's urban planning and real estate departments (and hopefully will have a strong preservation and redevelopment element).

Right now, the school has a 4 year pre-professional program. It appears to have a lot of dedicated students -- I saw a bunch participating at the AIA's chalk art festival -- but Memphis loses them at the end of their 4 years because we don't have a professional program. They have to go to a professionally accredited architecture school if they're going to be an architect. Presently, the closest professional architecture schools are at UT-Knoxville, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Mississippi State University in Starkville and Auburn University in Alabama.

The professional program is not a done deal -- it still has to go before the Tennessee Board of Regents for approval. If approved, Memphis will have 6 years of architecture students in the city.

I don't know how activist architecture students tend to be, but 6 years of future architects could end up being a major independent force for visual and physical quality in Memphis.


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Blogger fearlessvk said...

i am NO expert on this subject at all, and i'm sure these things vary enormously from program to program. but, just as a tangentially relevant tidbit of interest, a friend of mine back in SF was a masters student in a landscape architecture program at berkeley, and she told me that activists and politically motivated students gravitated more toward landscape architecture whereas architecture itself attracted relatively more "staid" students, and that there was a certain degree of mutual suspicion between the two disciplines. again i have NO idea if this is a general pattern or a berkeley thing but i just thought it was an interesting little factoid.

that said i'm excited about the possibility of this new program, and given the emphasis that they want it to have, it sounds like it could attract some great people.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Justin W. McGregor said...

I know it's doesn't exactly constitute a trend, but the students at Mississippi State tended to be the same way. The Architects were the engineers and the activists went the landscape or horticulture route.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Justin W. McGregor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:04 PM  
Blogger MATAlac said...

I concur with the two previous posts. Its very rare for Arch students to develop this maturity for some time. Rarely do young (<40yo) Architects reach this level of involvement. As for the LArch, the social consiousness is definately higher, but rarely do they bear as much responsibility as the Architect in the out come of a project. I was fortunate enough to have some of the best LArchitects in DC as critics during my studies. I studied a lot of urban planning, but have never practiced it.

As for U of M upgrading the program, its a high hurdle to make the NAAB requirements to say the least. There are rarely new additions to the accredited set and frequently schools accreditation are suspended or revoked because of minor glitches in academic programs. The re-accreditations occur every two or three years and are extremely extensive. I've spoken to a couple of the Arch staff and they believe its a good goal, alas, I gather they secretly don't believe it will happen in their tenure.

That being said Gates, I think the idea of having a full blown accredited Arch studio in Memphis is an excellent idea, but not for an influx of concerned students, but as a focal point of the Architectural community for the following reasons.

1)Studios (especially in the lower classes) are usually staffed by younger architects that give up an afternoon or two a week to come in and mentor students one on one at their desks and review their work on a regular basis (critics.) I believe that this would give the average working Memphis architects a reconnection to what brought them into practice in the first place, rather than clammering for a management position at a firm. I've been offered this elsewhere but I feel like I need a few more years in and get my son off to college before I can devote time to this.

2) An accredited program would have a large budget to recruit top name lecturers. In NY I got to pick between lectures at Cooper Union, Pratt and Columbia in the city (hell, I would even go out to Yale or Princeton to see some good ones) Theres nothing like a solidly curated lecture series to get the populace thinking.

3) Visiting Critic chairs have to be established (and well funded) to bring in top talent for the grad students.

4) Stunning new facilities will have to be built rather than the Arch department constant moving from anonymous academic buildings to engineering schools and back again.

5) One benchmark for Arch schools is how many students study abroad. Being that this school is located in Memphis, I would see this as a requirement. The admin would have to build ties to other schools around the country and overseas to make sure that the students are getting a well rounded education in what is going on in the built environment outside of they place they were born.

Until I see that the regents are ready and willing to commit to nothing less than these points, I think that they are just looking for a hollow recognition and no real benefit.

9:15 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

The activist part would be nice, but not essential. Producing architects is the important part. (Although I do think, and have said before, that our Memphis Ugly problem isn't we don't know what good design is, but we don't have the political will to defend it. Therefore, more mofocratic dissent will lead to a better physical city.)

MATALac, I guess as long as we can get accredited I'm happy -- for now. We can figure the rest out later.

As for later, like so much else in Memphis, if we compete on pure dollars, we're going to be a raggedy knock-off of a leader. I'm hoping that the University is more ingenuitive than imitative (unless the NAAB accredition is based on how closely we ape a Princeton).

Entering the delusional realm here, I'd love to see the architecture school do what the Law School is about to do -- move to a landmark building. I'd pick the Tennessee Brewery or Sears Crosstown, for both location and laboratory. Then you sell students on a) the building and b) the opportunities of putting their skills to work reviving a real place. If it were Crosstown, the possibilities of working with both the building and the surrounding commercial and residential districts. Talk about city-building!

Plus we can let the Dean of Architecture have the tower. He can stand in his office overlooking the city, rubbing his hands gleefully together as he ponders his plans for Memphis.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Michael Hagge said...

It is nice to see this up and being discussed. As director of the Architecture Program at the University of Memphis, I am pleased to have yet another source of information and dialogue on the subject of architecture.

On the proposal for the new Master of Architecture degree, I can assure everyone that we are quite aware of the rigorous process to achieve NAAB accreditation. Our faculty (full time and adjunct)is totally committed to the development of the M.Arch and hope to see it implemented so as to accept the first class in the fall of 2008.

Over the past several years, we have been in constant contact with the NAAB Executive Director as well as ACSA and have had preliminary site visits and an independent peer review by two well-respected architectural educators, Larry Speck (University of Texas – Austin) and Peter Waldman (University of Virginia). The overall response to these reviews has been very positive, which has encouraged us to continue to improve the pre-professional BFA in Architecture degree and move towards the M.Arch. Our undergraduate curriculum has been developed in accordance with the NAAB Student Performance Criteria and our graduates are regularly accepted into M.Arch programs around the country, almost always with advanced standing.

On the new building, while we would certainly welcome that, it is not a NAAB requirement. Rather, NAAB requires adequate space for studios, to teach, and conduct the necessary related activities. While our space at present is not adequate to meet NAAB standards, there is an understanding that additional space will be provided, as needed, for accreditation. Perhaps, when the Law School moves downtown, Architecture will take the building they will be vacating.

We are also fortunate to have substantial public support for the current and proposed programs. This support includes an occasional pat on the back, in-kind contributions, and cash in the form of scholarships as well as unrestricted funds. In fact, several of the students had expenses covered during our Prague Study Abroad Studio and more recently, the out-of-Memphis studies my studio participated in this past semester.

We are always looking for more involvement from the community and would welcome readers of the blog to our studios.

9:09 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Michael, thanks for your comments. Between you and MATAlac, you dealt with much of the process that I, as a civilian, didn't know about and therefore didn't ask about.

Fall of 2008 is wonderful. This is going to be a very good thing for Memphis and Memphis' built environment.

How can the readers and writer setup a visit to the school's architecture studios?

11:50 PM  
Blogger Michael Hagge said...

Architects and designers wishing to serve as design jury members should telephone me at 901.678.2677. Others can stop by just about any time - the studios are almost always filled with students working diligently on their projects.

4:21 PM  
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5:24 AM  

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