Chicago Studio

Semester-Long Professional Residency

CHICAGO STUDIO is an alternative to the traditional upper level design studio that integrates education and practice in a direct way for architecture and design students in tandem with urban living. Students reside in one of the downtown neighborhoods adjacent to the Loop and their learning environment interconnects academia with professional offices. Its distinctive structure and curriculum promotes a collaborative design process encompassing multiple points of view within academia, the profession and the broader community. It is an integrated set of courses — design studio, building design technology seminar, and a professional practice seminar — that incorporates a range of activities of daily professional practice and urban life with academic studies.

Host firms provide a direct relation to contemporary practice as well as providing each student his or her own workstation. For the first twelve weeks, students work in teams of two on their own projects situated in the city. There are assorted interactions, planned and accidental, as practitioners critique student work during formal reviews as well as spontaneously through daily dialogue. From study of the city’s neighborhoods to meetings with practitioners and community leaders, students expand their awareness of the relationship of ethical and social issues to architecture and design in this distinctly American metropolis.

During project development, students come to recognize the suitability of their designs within the context. In addition to reviewing their projects, practitioners illuminate the role of Chicago’s political and business leaders in shaping urban design policy and initiatives towards sustainability. In studying the infrastructure network, students gain insight to understand the context as more than buildings. Practitioners also give presentations on their own projects as well as provide exposure as to how they work with clients and manage the design and construction process. In various and multiple ways, students are able to better develop their leadership, collaboration, negotiation, presentation and listening skills.

A building design technology seminar complements the design studio. The seminar addresses the technical components such as zoning, mechanical, structural, etc. as well as sustainability. Students attend weekly lectures given by local practitioners who then assist in the addressing these systems in the students’ projects in ways that integrate into the design.

The professional practice seminar seeks to support the design studio by providing the students ways to understand the relationship between the design process and daily operations of the office. The numerous visits to design firms of all sizes and expertise illuminate the multiplicity of ways to practice architecture and design as well as provide students with a sense of where they may fit in the profession. Chicago practitioners in

various ways expose the conventions and innovations of contemporary practice as well emerging forces that may change how one practices in the near future. The course content exposes the cross-disciplinary, collaborative nature of the design professions through a diversity of readings, research, essays, discussions and presentations by practitioners.

For the final four weeks, students work in the capacity of architectural and design researchers for the host firms. These practicums take different forms depending on the focus of the firm.

A pre-requisite seminar, Chicago Urbanism is taught in Blacksburg the semester preceding the students’ participation in Chicago. This 6-week module provides an overview of Chicago’s development from trading outpost to international metropolis, and subsequent influence economically and politically in the Mid-west, nationally and globally. Students will explore the seminal plans that architects, landscape architects and planners have proposed from 1909 to present day, which address the various issues of the changing city from its center to its periphery. They will also examine the role of new technologies, transportation infrastructure, park planning and building typologies in shaping its urban form. Analyzes the buildings and landscape of a dozen of its neighborhoods surrounding its downtown core – The Loop.

Chip von Weise, Director (Chicago)
Kathryn Albright, Liaison (Blacksburg)