Students of design know the power a single line can have to transform a space or draw a new connection. That idea is exemplified in a current exhibit at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design that showcases work produced through Harvard University’s Undergraduate Architecture Studies track.
While the Architecture Studies track—nested within Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture—was introduced in 2012, this installation marks the first time its studio output has been on public view. Located on the GSD’s Experiments Wall, the exhibit highlights work from the program’s spring 2017 semester, including models and renderings alongside student quotes and photos from classes throughout the semester.
The Undergraduate Architecture Studies track involves two studios, entitled “Transformations” and “Connections,” both of which are taught in Gund Hall’s HILT Room, an innovative classroom built to explore ways in which technology can enhance studio instruction. Offered sequentially, the courses are open to undergraduates at Harvard College interested in architectural means and methods of design. Due to the nature of the studio experience, much of the work featured in the current exhibition was done on site, resulting in a dynamic learning environment that differs from the normal classroom experience for many undergraduates at Harvard College.
“Working in an open studio setting on assigned work or during class meeting sessions allows for the students of the Architecture Studies track to share technical knowledge, live-check the legibility of architectural concepts, and observe how their peers are tackling the same spatial problem through a different formal or fabrication point of origin,” explains Megan Panzano (MArch ’10), assistant professor of architecture at the GSD and program director of the Harvard Undergraduate Architecture Studies program, as well as co-curator of the current exhibition. “There is a great deal of collaboration and discussion in the studios as the students evolve their projects.”
Through the use of a continuous black line of tape that traverses the gallery space and visually links show content, the exhibition’s design serves as a conceit for the main themes of the “Transformations” and “Connections” studios. While each begins at a different scale of inquiry, the two studios converge at similar investigative ends, the trajectory for which is charted by the show’s zigzagging black line.
The exhibition also provides background on the overall program—a track within the History of Art and Architecture concentration, jointly administered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ History of Art and Architecture and the Graduate School of Design. Its timing coincides with the 10th anniversary of Harvard University President Drew Faust's Task Force on the Arts, which identified both existing and desired arts initiatives at Harvard, and is responsible, in part, for the inception of the Undergraduate Architecture Studies program.
While few students in “Transformations”—the first of the two studios—enter with experience with studio work, the course has been popular among undergraduates (each is open to any undergraduate Harvard student). Last spring, “Transformations” attracted more than double the number of interested students than the course could accommodate. About 70 percent of students who complete “Transformations” go on to enroll in “Connections.” Panzano was recently honored with a third sequential Harvard Excellence in Teaching Award for her instruction in the program.
Last spring, five students took an AB degree in History of Art and Architecture with a track of Architecture Studies. Since the program's inception, two graduates have entered the GSD to earn Masters in Architecture, while a number of other Architecture Studies alumni are pursuing graduate studies in architecture at peer institutions or other work related to design.
Both studios featured in the exhibition will be offered again this spring, and the program hopes to continue to offer the design seminar “Tectonics Lab” each fall. The program’s faculty are also developing an advanced design seminar for upperclassmen that is tentatively scheduled to become available starting next fall.
“We hope this will help meet the increasing student demand for such classes throughout both terms,” says Panzano.
Transformations + Connections: Harvard Undergraduate Architecture Studies Studio Projects, is on view through September 28, 2017. It is co-curated by Panzano and and Lisa Haber-Thomson (AB ’02, MArch ’09), instructor in architecture and current PhD candidate Architectural History and Theory.
Photography by Justin Knight.