- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sarah Shipp is designing a “well-tempered” music conservatory fit for Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier.” As a graduate student at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, she created the building for her thesis project, which she presented earlier this month. She currently is looking for her first job.

“I told my Mom I was going to be an architect when I was 7,” the 23-year-old from Great Falls says. “You have to do what you love. It’s more than a job.”

Learning to become an architect is a matter of manifesting the imagination. Through drawing, models and computer work, students create masterpieces in brick and mortar.

After completing a professional architecture degree — usually a master’s degree — it is a nationwide requirement that graduates must complete an internship, a full-time salaried position under a registered architect, says Jaan Holt, director of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Upon completing their internships, which can be hard to get, students take the licensing exam, a comprehensive test taken over several days. Once an architect is registered in one state, he or she can receive reciprocity from other states, especially with a National Council of Architectural Registration Boards certificate, which is additional to the state license.

“It’s easy to have dreams,” Mr. Holt says. “It’s difficult to materialize them.”

Since Mr. Holt hopes his students will one day take their designs into the world, he tries to aid them in every way possible while in school, even allowing them to use the campus building for architectural experiments, such as making benches and shelves. The school has year-round classes and hosts students from 10 universities from around the world.

“We use the building as tacit learning, learning by doing,” Mr. Holt says. “You learn as you manipulate materials.”

Joining old and new architecture together is the basis of Anna Barbour’s thesis project. As a graduate student at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Ms. Barbour, 28, defended her thesis project earlier this month. She designed a violin shop atop a row house that would be built on King Street in Alexandria.

“It’s like artwork that you live in,” she says. “It’s like sculpture. It has meaning. … We’re not just in dreamland. We try to get into reality and make the whole concept work.”

Although Ms. Barbour is interested in working with residential projects, she also speaks of the need for better work settings.

“So many people work in cubicles,” she says. “You want to give them something better.”

With advances in technology, architects are rethinking the design process, says Luis Eduardo Boza, visiting critic at the Catholic University of America in Northeast. He is coordinating the 2004 Summer Institute for Architecture, which includes about 75 full-time students.

After formulating an idea, many of his students use computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (often called “CAD/CAM”) to make 3-D models, which can be printed with a printer, a laser cutter or a high-pressure water-jet cutter.

“It prints like a puzzle, and you put it together,” Mr. Boza says. “In the past, architects would do a lot of drawings by hand or physical model-making. Recently, they’ve been starting to use the computer.”

A 3-D digitizer also allows students to scan surfaces into computer graphics programs. Once the shape is in the computer, it can be modified, says 21-year-old Sean Dorsy of Miami, who used the 3-D digitizer to model a lampshade. Mr. Dorsy, who is going to be a senior architecture major at Catholic in the fall, is taking courses at the Summer Institute.

“Architect students end up having many overnighters,” he says. “There’s a passion for perfection, which causes them to lose sleep.”

About 15 students from Catholic currently are working with Travis Price of Travis Price Architects in Northwest. An adjunct professor, he teaches a class called “Spirit of Place,” in which students design a building during the spring semester and construct it themselves in the summer with the help of local people. In the past, they have created such projects as a floating house on the Amazon River and a stargazing temple at Machu Picchu in Peru.

“In architecture, we constantly try to reinvigorate the wholeness about you,” he says. “Don’t just see things in two dimensions… but three dimensions and four dimensions, which is time. If you walk through a bad space, like a mall, you begin to realize that different spaces have different effects. We go through [buildings] every day in our lives, and we don’t pay much attention to [them].”

This year, his students created “A Vault of Heaven,” a shrine they will erect in western Ireland in August. It reflects the folklore and mythology of the region, in the tradition of the pre-Celtic era.

“It’s not about building the same old boxes and decorating exteriors,” Mr. Price says. “What architects do is explore poetry and meaning behind their buildings. Educating an architect is showing them how to build and then how to build something that stirs people’s blood, and not just making a vanilla box. That’s sort of Washington’s problem: It’s the world’s largest classical theme park.”

It’s beneficial for architecture students to travel abroad to learn from the history of other cultures, says William Bechhoefer, professor of architecture at the University of Maryland at College Park. This summer, he is taking 12 students to Turkey for three weeks.

“The world today is larger than just Europe and America,” he says. “Since at least the 18th century, travel to study architecture has been an integral part of architectural education. You cannot really appreciate architecture without being there.”

Similarly, learning on the job teaches better than book work, says Dave Matusiak, 21, a rising senior architecture major at the University of Maryland. He is interning for the summer at Pulte Homes in Baltimore, a national home builder.

“I thought it was time to get some real-world experience in my chosen field,” he says. “I now know more about the connections between the drawings we make in school and the way that a house actually gets built.”

In school, students learn theories and principles, but in working with clients, they test and evaluate their knowledge, says Richard Lloyd, director of the Institute of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Two projects designed by students during the spring semester will be built by the end of August, he says. They are creating a park plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore and an urban design on Somerset Street in Ocean City. The projects were commissioned by the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Collaborative and the Ocean City Community Development Corp., respectively.

“You get feedback as to whether or not you satisfied their programs,” he says. “It raises the professionalism of the students.”

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