After Katrina, Tulane's Architecture School Became A Community Builder

It’s blazingly hot outside and five summer fellows from the Tulane City Center are standing in a playground at a youth center in New Orleans. The architecture students diplomatically describe the playground’s design as “unintentional”: There’s no grass, trees or even much shade, and it’s surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The students, both graduate and undergraduate, are there to make the playground a little nicer.

“Right now, it feels like a prison,” says Maggie Hansen, the center’s interim director.

This project — one of about 10 the fellows are working on this summer — reflects a major change over the past 10 years at Tulane University’s School of Architecture. The architecture program, established in 1894, is one of the country’s oldest, but before Hurricane Katrina it was a little stuffy, known, if anything, for historic preservation, and not particularly prestigious. After the storm, the school reinvented itself as a destination for students and faculty interested in building in low-income neighborhoods and fragile environments.

Architects Make an Ocean Out of a Million Plastic Balls

Snarkitecture, the Brooklyn architecture studio known for its monochromatic aesthetic, designed the “beach” as part of the National Building Museum’s interactive installation series. You could think of it as the answer to the annual Serpentine Galleries’ pavilion program, which taps an architect to design an imaginative outdoor structure. Last year Bjarke Ingels constructed a wooden labyrinth in the great hall; this year, Snarkitecture transformed the atrium into an arctic sea of balls.

 

A Professor Takes His Students Around the World to Build Modern Spiritual Monuments

That Travis Price defines himself as a storyteller is not, on its face, unusual; “every architect is,” he acknowledges. But the stories that Price favors—mythological tales of bygone civilizations, like those of the Incas and the ancient Greeks—set him apart from his peers. For more than two decades, as a professor of architecture at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., he has been taking small groups of students to the birthplaces of these myths and recasting the ancient stories into modern structures.

The point of this design-build program, called Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design, is to produce a generation of architects unfazed by cultural boundaries. “To dig deep into cultures, I can’t go to the mall,” says Price, who runs his firm, Travis Price Architects, from a cluttered office in Georgetown. “That’s just consumer culture.”

Price has long been a student of ancient civilizations. A peripatetic childhood in a military family, with stops in Georgia, Germany, and Panama, instilled in him an insatiable curiosity about people and cultures. Those interests carried over into his architectural studies at the University of New Mexico, where he reportedly coined the term “passive solar” after studying how melting snow glides off the terraces of the prehistoric pueblo structures in Chaco Canyon.

Architects’ Choice: Design Books

Architectural education introduces students to a trove of reference materials that aim to influence how they think about design. But which ones are worth a coveted spot on the bookshelf? We asked six architects plus a few ARCHITECT staffers who studied architecture or engineering to share the texts they’ve held onto and why.

José Alvarez, AIA
Principal at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple Architects, in New Orleans

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick (MIT Press, 2007) | “This fantastic pocket-sized book is my professional companion. I picked it up well after my master’s of architecture, and since then, this reliable resource has helped me to break down the most complex design problems. Its clarity and simplicity always helps me focus back to the basic lessons in design and the creative process.”

The College Majors That Make the Most Money

If your biggest motivation to earn a bachelor’s degree is to pump up your earning power, the data overwhelmingly suggest you major in one field: engineering. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce analyzed Census Bureau data to determine the average wages for 137 college majors and found that students who focused on architecture and engineering come out on top, with a $50,000 starting salary. Within that group, those who studied the skills needed for oil jobs got paid best. People who majored in petroleum engineering made an average of $135,754 a year by their mid to late 20s—more than any other major.

Then there are the jobs people do more for love than cash: Early childhood education majors pulled in the least, making an average of $39,097 a year. While that’s still a significant bump over high school graduates, who typically pull in $22,000 a year, it’s a drastic cut of what STEM and business majors reported making a couple years out of college.

“A college major isn’t destiny,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center and the report’s lead author. But it does appear to be a more significant factor than some college counselors and brochures might suggest. “For today’s high school graduates, and an increasing share of middle-aged adults who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the decision about what to major in will have critical economic consequences for the rest of their lives,” Carnevale said.

Architects and engineers made, on average, $50,000 a year in the first three years after graduating—more than any other group of majors. People majoring in industrial arts, consumer services, and recreation—which includes family and consumer sciences, transportation sciences and technologies, and parks recreation and leisure—made the least.

Pinterest Founder Evan Sharp On How To Manage Design Talent

Khoi Vinh: Was your grad school experience in architecture enjoyable?
Evan Sharp: It was revelatory, actually. I’ve always been a good student, made good enough grades to do well, and enjoyed a lot of different subjects. It wasn’t until I went to architecture school, though, that I really loved school work. All of a sudden I was working harder than everybody else. I felt like I had found what I should have been doing for years. I got addicted to the hands-on problem-solving through the process of making or designing something. Architecture school was really influential and amazing.

You hadn’t had that approach to solving problems before then?
I mean, growing up I had been lucky enough to have my dad’s old hand-me-down Macs. I used Photoshop for years and used to draw skins for MP3 players and draw icons for Mac OS 8. I had always done pixel-level stuff for fun, not realizing that was a career. And I had never done any of those things as, like you said, a method of solving a problem. For me those things felt like a hobby. It was something I did when I was messing around instead of doing my homework.

What’s it been like to build Pinterest into a company, from the ground up?
We ended up hiring people at Pinterest who I feel like are my peers. Even though technically I manage them, I have been able to create that environment. When you’re the co-founder you get to pick the people. So by definition for me it’s one of the best companies to work at because I made the company and it’s a reflection of me in some ways

 

Working out of the Box: Production Designer and Art Director, Colin Sieburgh

Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.

In this installment, we’re talking with production designer and art director, Colin Sieburgh.

Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.

Nowadays, a handful of schools seem to be aligning with Sieburgh’s lateral move from architecture to filmmaking, offering programs in cinematic world-building for films or interactive, computer-generated experiences. As virtual realities become more sophisticated and integrated into our everyday lives, our experience of the built environment may no longer be limited to the physical world – something film has allowed us to vicariously experience for over a century, through the efforts of people like Sieburgh.

Where did you study architecture?

Cornell University, BArch 2005, and Harvard University, MArchII 2007.

At both institutions, I majored in architecture, but always had my fingers in many pots, from designing clothes for fashion shows to guerrilla installations around campus and exploring film theories in relationship to my design processes.

At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?

I have vague memories of playing with Legos, Lincoln logs and the cliché catalog of children’s toys that indicate a sense of architecture tendencies as a child. But I had my concrete epiphany after I did the Exploration of Architecture program at Cornell University in between my Junior and Senior years in High School. I came home from that speaking a new language and 100% sure that this was a field I wanted to explore academically. I had a curiosity that couldn’t be controlled.