Master of Architecture Studios

First Year Studio Fall: Elements

The first year, first semester of the three year graduate program focuses on the introduction of the fundamental elements of architecture, which are explored through a series of short design exercises. The course is centered on the development of systematic thinking and core architectural design and communication skills via an iterative design process.

The semester begins with a series of distinct, sequential assignments based on four fundamental architectural elements: Floor, Wall, Roof and Stairs. These exercises serve to explore the principles of making space and concepts of parts to whole. The sequence ascends in scale, detail and complexity and evolves into a catalogue of conceptual, programmatic, organizational, formal, structural and material strategies.

The second phase introduces the complexities of an urban context to the design problem and challenges the students with the design of an urban pavilion, a final unified structure. The investigation focuses on the study of spatial organization and qualities, user experiences and basic tectonic principles, as well as examining the relationship of the structure to the urban environment.

Throughout the semester students work both individually and in pairs with a strong emphasis placed on craft, making, communication of ideas and documentation of process.

First Year Studio Spring: House

The first year, second semester of the Master of Architecture focuses on the development of the fundamental aspects of building-space, structure, and materials that are explored through the design of a small dwelling, an essential unit of the metropolis.

How do we forecast domestic life in 10, 25, 50 years? What spaces will we need as life patterns change? How will new technologies, processes and social trends affect the ways we live? Hybrid programmatic elements, including spaces for entertaining, eating, sleeping, and working/making, are explored in a quest for innovative solutions.

The course serves as a premise to comprehensive design and focuses on research, analysis and synthesis as a means to frame a design problem.

Through a series of assignments, students are guided step by step through the design process. The first part of the semester is focused on understanding the context, both local and global, through the careful investigation of current issues, historical and contemporary precedents, and an in-depth analysis and documentation of a particular site within a specific neighborhood of the city. This process is followed by forecasting, conceptual framing, schematic explorations and culminates with the strategic development and detailing of the building. Design projects are developed individually with the support of team research.

Second Year Studio Fall: Neighborhood

This course introduces graduate architecture students to the concerns of the metropolis through analysis, design and critique of urban environments at the scale of the neighborhood, emphasizing the potential influences that shape its spaces, forms, structure and character. Pulling together the diverse strands of urban place-making, economic diversity, social equity and environmental stewardship, this course promotes the design of places that reflect the values of their inhabitants and create a lasting sense of community with meaningful identity.

Within the broader context of neighborhood planning, this studio emphasizes the experiential aspects of urban place-making by focusing on the quality of the neighborhood environment at the scale of the pedestrian. Issues of craft, scale, ergonomics, accessibility, visual beauty, and cultural identity are all seen as critical factors in creating neighborhoods that attract and retain their populations over time. Economic diversity and commercial viability over time are also emphasized as key factors of success. The use of hybrid zoning, mixed-income planning and mixed-use buildings are promoted in the studio as a hedge against the onset of urban blight and the principal way of insuring cultural as well as economic diversity.

Special emphasis is placed on the environmental sustainability of urban regions. Attention is given to regenerative design and the functional re-purposing of abandoned regions of the city and to the shaping of new neighborhoods that are ecologically integrated, carbon neutral and human health conscious.

Beginning with several research projects geared towards building familiarity with contemporary concerns in regional planning and design, students spend the remainder of the semester participating in the planning and design of an actual urban neighborhood. Sites are carefully selected for their topicality, viability, scale and level of complexity. Likely projects include the revitalization of blighted inner-urban regions or the re-purposing of former industrial zones for residential and commercial uses.

Second Year Studio Spring: Institution

Situated between the scalar concerns of the neighborhood and the metropolis this course seeks to create a logical and critically compelling segue that focuses on the institution within the city. Studio sections are encouraged to adopt and promote a critical stance intended to take the discussion of institutional architecture beyond what is typical. Students are invited to debate on the concerns of the city and produce building designs that address these concerns. Starting from the position that is indeed the rare urban building that has a singularity of purpose, these studios promote projects that research the idea of hybridization within institutional architecture, encouraging opportunities for co-location of various institutions or uses where the resulting synergies would enhance both the institutions themselves and the surrounding neighborhood. The conditions of high-density with mass-transit, proximity to work, leisure and markets and a well-established neighborhood identity are all seen as necessary criteria of site selection.

Emphasis is placed on the environmental sustainability of the building design approach and execution. Special attention is given to material/spatial efficiency, mechanical system selection and envelope design. Students are encouraged to evaluate and provide proof-of-concept data for decisions pertaining to energy use and efficiency, recycling and the reuse of natural resources.

Beginning with several research projects geared towards building familiarity with the given site and program, the semester is structured around a series of assignments that work sequentially toward a comprehensive design solution. Throughout the semester, discussions are orchestrated to alternate between the smaller-scale particulars of establishing institutional identity within the confines of programmatic accommodation and the larger-scale issues of acknowledging or responding to adjacent institutions, site features, landmarks and wide neighborhood concerns. In the final weeks of the semester, students are required to re-imagine their largely schematic proposals as a set of building details and a fully realized and rendered corner detail.

Third Year: Cloud Studios

Global urbanization and spread of information technology are probably two most important trends at the beginning of 21st century. These trends correspond with politics, practices, and processes generating the new millennium metropolitan developments, which are becoming ever more complex and contradictory.

The Cloud Studio program provides the intellectual climate as well as material infrastructure to explore the forces that shape the built environment. In the contemporary world, subsequently developing by the means of design, alternative models, and new insights are necessary to devise a transformative impact on the built environment. Therefore, studio work should insist on direct engagement with real-life conditions, as represented by public authorities, cultural institutions, and private entities with whom students, researchers, and other participants directly communicate and debate.

The Cloud Studio program 2015/16 will position its investigations in the void that exist between rapidly changing forms of worldwide urbanization and absence of advanced models. It will look into the principles available to structure the physical environment into socially, culturally and ecologically sustainable habitat.

More inclusive than traditional architectural design, yet more form-oriented than conventional urban planning, our urban-based design-research Cloud Studio is striving for experimental and exploratory methods. It demands provocative discourse, distrust of earlier approaches, and the creative invention of new forms of housing vitality and life. To achieve this, the program must be global. This global program is especially well situated within the ever-transforming metropolis of Chicago, a city that provides both the testing ground and the variegated fabric for the program's initiatives.

This intensive two-semester program is structured around two design-based research studios. Series of lectures, reviews by invited specialists, fieldwork and exhibitions complements the curriculum.