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CTL Faculty E-Newsletter

Professional Props: A Project for Seniors in Architectural Studies

by Kirin Makker
Assistant Professor of Architecture

The Portfolio is a crucial component in the internship and graduate application process for anyone going into the design industry. More than a cumulative summary of work, this document presents an opportunity to establish a cohesive picture of the student that transcends individual projects and accomplishments.  Although not required for graduation, 80% of our architectural studies majors take the Portfolio studio course, ARCS 405, a senior level class offered each semester.  

In the class, students produce not only these hard-copy booklets, but also business cards, resumes, and website portfolios.  The students undergo a rigorous design process as they develop these items, working from broad ideas to fully developed products.  This class, more than anything else, is about learning how to brand and package oneself based on one's unique talents, skills and interests as well as a very well-conceived sense of who their audience is.  HWS students leave the Architectural Studies major knowing not just who they are as designers and creative people, but how to prove to everyone how much they have to offer, whether they are looking to get into graduate school or a company.

The learning goals of the course are simple:  learn how to brand oneself to a known audience and design a set of materials reflective of that brand.  The take away is that each student learns the skills and process of “branding to an audience” so that they can re-brand themselves in the future as needed for different situations.

Studio learning is not like learning in a traditional classroom.   I'm their critic, their coach, and their teacher.  I have multiple responsibilities in terms of their learning, but helping them understand the role and purpose of critique is one of the most important.  
 
In design, learning is not done in a vacuum:  you can’t learn how to be a good designer if you don't develop skills in receiving and giving critique.  (You can't critique your own work if you can't critique someone else’s!)  As first-year students, they’re a little sensitive, but by the time they are seniors, our architecture majors are used to critique—they know that no project is ever “done,” that there is always room to develop or to take something in a fresh direction—and, in fact, get frustrated if they don’t receive feedback that helps them improve.  

Here are my top five components of good feedback:

  1. Help the student see what's directing their decisions in what they’ve done.  Help the student "own" the project and the project’s potential.
  2. Help the student refine the logic they’ve got; help them be more of who they already are.
  3. Make sure you know the student feels that you are interested in making sure they succeed, that feedback is not about what's “wrong” but rather “what's not working.”  It's a subtle difference, but an important one.
  4. Ask the student what they want feedback on.
  5. Always end with the question, “have you received enough feedback to move forward?”

This semester, Makker invited several members of the HWS community to act as guest jurors during a critique of students’ professional props (resumes, business cards, and brochures).  Here is what Associate Director for Planning and Construction Christopher Button had to say about his experience: 

I found the majority of the students I talked to smart, engaging and passionate about their work.  Some very traditional, some more cutting edge – all engaged.  Kirin has created a culture of students who are open to receive criticism in the positive sense it is intended, yet able to defend their ideas and creations as well. 

The feedback I gave was threefold.  First, I looked at the designs with a detailed critical eye, pointing out both the positive and negatives of particular points: Thinner line here.  Why that color, or more white space. Beautiful curve, captivating image… Second - I took time to inquire about what the images said about them, and what messages they wanted to convey.  I then reacted with agreement or disagreement as to the success of their attempt.  Finally, I offered some feedback on how they presented themselves and shared their work and how it might be perceived by others. 

Each of the students seemed engaged and appreciative.  We had wonderful dialogue and exchange, and it really was a delightful experience.

It is always a great pleasure to engage students, particularly in their places of study.  For me personally, having participated in the design and construction of the Studios, it was a unique pleasure to experience the quality of work we have enabled by our construction efforts!