March 08, 2010

Architecture students’ talents on display

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new gallery display at Quigley Hall on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale highlights a significant evolution.

It reflects the making of architects, from first-year students creating less detailed drawings, sketches and models, to graduate students crafting detailed and intricate architectural plans. Student work fills the gallery in Room 119 and visitors are welcome to check it out. There’s no cost to enter and it’s open during school days until the end of March.

You can see the basic freehand drawings and large models and masks the first-year students made, and then move on to the more technical work of second- and third-year students. By the time you walk through the chronological pathway to reach the projects from fourth-year and graduate students, you will encounter some impressive and detailed projects.

Senior urban design student projects show revitalization concepts for Chester, Cairo and other communities, primarily within the upper Mississippi River Delta. The advanced architecture display also features concepts for the new Saluki football stadium and an addition to Shryock Auditorium, along with a zero-energy high rise in Chicago, an exotic hotel and much more.

They aren’t just sketches either. They are intricate designs mapping out heating and air systems and the entire infrastructure involved in a construction project. Interior design students have lent their expertise for some projects, creating the beautiful interior building décor. Some of the work is so realistically depicted it looks like photographic portrayals.

“We’re very proud of the quality of this program,” said Walter Wendler, professor and director of the School of Architecture, as he perused the gallery. He said the program is home to some exceptionally bright and talented students and noted that the architecture program has a particularly high percentage of students with chancellor’s and president’s scholarships.

The architecture program is in the midst of an historic restructuring and the gallery display is illustrative of that process. In its earlier days, SIUC offered an associate degree in architectural studies and later that became a bachelor’s degree program. Now, one must complete a master’s program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board and then pass a state exam to be a licensed architect in Illinois. So, SIUC has evolved again, becoming a graduate degree program seeking NAAB accreditation.

The accrediting board visited campus in mid-February. The extensive display of student work in the gallery isn’t just an extraordinary showcase of student ability, expertise and learning.

“It wasn’t originally set up at a gallery display but as an evidence locker, showing what our students are learning and how they progress in the program,” Wendler said.

The NAAB will make an accreditation determination for the SIUC program during its June board meeting based upon the student work, the accreditation team’s visit to the University and the program’s compliance with 34 accreditation obligations. Wendler said the program met the vast majority of those conditions, including two met with distinction, and they are addressing the few NAAB concerns.

He said he is circumspect and hopeful about the board’s determination. Meanwhile, work continues to enhance the architectural education of current students.

If the decision is in SIUC’s favor, the students now in the SIUC program will get credit with graduating from an accredited program, enabling them to sit for the architecture exam. The initial accreditation would be for a three-year term and if renewed, a six-year accreditation cycle would then apply.

Wendler said there are at this time just about 120 institutions in the United States offering professional architectural degrees.

“This is probably the most cost- and time-effective professional degree program in the Midwest,” Wendler said. That’s because SIUC’s cost is already comparatively low, and then the master’s program in architecture runs 15 months straight rather than for two years with summers off like most programs, Wendler said.

While the official NAAB accreditation decision is in the works, the School of Architecture invites the public to come experience the evolution of the program and its students at the Quigley Hall gallery.