A+D students chat about Foundation Studio constructs cast out of rockite or plaster on display in Cowgill Lobby. Photo by Chiravi Patel.

Director’s Fall Letter 2021

We’re back! It is with great joy that I can report that our Architecture + Design community is together again in Blacksburg and Alexandria. The desks are in place, the air quality has been improved, and we are fully outfitted. Our international travel still has to wait a little bit, but we do hope to be able to enjoy working at the Steger Center in Switzerland shortly. We are also hoping to travel again in the spring, and we have planned a workshop in Capri, Italy, for next May.

At the main campus in Blacksburg, we are trying something new: we are mixing all the different disciplines so that an interior design student might find themselves sitting next to somebody studying architecture and an industrial design or landscape architecture student. We hope that in this manner we can all learn from each other.

What made all this possible was the hard work our students, faculty, and staff have done during this health crisis to make sure that we can all learn together safely. Along the way, we have discovered new technologies and ways of teaching and knowing that we are now integrating into our regular studios, labs, and other courses. Learning design has become more complex, but also easier because of these new ways of collaborating, garnering knowledge, and exploring.

What has also made this work is the fact that, as of this writing, almost 100 percent of all students and close to 90 percent of all faculty and staff at Virginia Tech are fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, we still have a mask mandate in place, and the University remains vigilant to ensure that we all stay healthy and sane during this difficult time.

Our students continue to shine, as they always do, winning accolades and, what is most important, making designs that help us imagine a more sustainable, equitable, and beautiful future. Students in architecture won most of the awards in the Virginia State AIA competition in the spring, and the students at WAAC won the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge in office buildings.  Several Interior Design students were featured among Metropolis Magazine’s Top 100 architecture and design graduates of 2021. 

We also welcomed several new faculty members to our program, including Assistant Professor Yaoyi Zhou in Interior Design; Assistant Professor Shawn Rosier, Dr. Jenn Thomas, David Hill, and Sara Lamb in Landscape Architecture; Diane Pfeiffer in Industrial Design; Dr. Shadi Abdel Haleem, Dr. Chip Debelius, Dr. Andrew Gipe-Lazarou, Miranda Shugars, Ben Pennell, Kevin Sullivan, and Parke MacDowell in Architecture; and Shanice Aga, Isaac Alejandro Mangual Martinez, and Nero He in Foundation. At the WAAC, we will be joined by Dr. Tuwanda Green, Andarge Asfaw, Cristina Murphy, and Kathie Prigmore. We welcome all the new Teaching Hokies.

On a personal note, I am enjoying teaching a First-Year Experience class to all the Foundation students, in which I use the campus as a way that we can all learn about our communities and how to be part of them. I am also co-teaching a graduate design studio and will be advising five thesis students in architecture. I very much look forward to teaching as well as continuing my administrative duties.

I look forward to seeing all of you in Cowgill Hall this fall; please drop my office there.

Best wishes,

Aaron Betsky

Director