UH Architecture Design Studio Connects Students with Real-World Projects

Fall Class Working on Designs for Gym, Theater for Lutheran South Academy

Feedback is critical for students. Receiving constructive comments from professors and professionals is essential to their growth. For University of Houston architecture students, however, having a voice from outside the profession can be even more practical.

The 5th Year Architecture Design Studio at UH's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture provides undergraduate students with the unique opportunity to work with clients on architectural projects. During the course of a semester, students consult with clients, present them with designs and receive real-world responses to their work.

For 24 years, UH architecture professor and Houston architect Barry Moore has led the studio. Each fall, he locates local non-profit organizations that have with specific architectural needs such as new facilities or building additions. Previous clients include Stages Repertory Theatre, KIPP Charter School, Salvation Army Houston, the Fay School and the city of Jefferson, Texas.

This year, Houston's Lutheran South Academy (LSA) - a Pre-K through grade 12 school - has sought the aid of the studio to design a 600-seat theater and addition to its existing gymnasium.

"The goal of this class isn't to have the client select one specific design or another," Moore said. "We're more focused on providing LSA with some ideas...some possibilities...of what this project can look like and how it can serve its faculty and students."

Moore's students met with members of LSA's administration and student body to receive specifications for this project and to better understand the school. Now, the studio's 15 student architects are drafting their plans and applying them to computer and physical models.  At 7 p.m., Dec. 7, they will visit LSA to present their designs. LSA's administration, Parent Teacher Association, faculty and students will review their work, ask questions and provide comments.

For both students and clients, this project is a win-win situation. Clients receive conceptual drawings and models, which can be helpful when contracting professional architecture and construction firms. Students benefit from designing a real-world project and participating in the architect-client consultation experience.

"Students usually get feedback from visiting critics, which is great.  But they're not directly involved in our projects," said Elena Rodriguez, senior architecture student. "This class allows us to interact with clients, who are connected to the work. They're not architects, but they tell us what they want. We try our best to accommodate them or to provide ideas. This is what we will experience as professionals."

The challenge for the student architects is not only to create designs that will spark ideas for LSA's constituents but also to communicate clearly. Up to this point, the students have only been critiqued by professional architects. Now, they are sharing ideas with those from outside the industry.

"We can't think strictly as architects," said student Marcos Gutierrez. "We have to put ourselves in their hoes. They might not completely understand the floor plans, so it's important that we make our presentations readable and create models that help them understand these designs. The presentation is just as important as the final design."

The student architects are eager to share their ideas, and the LSA community is equally enthusiastic to view them. According to Wyatt Schultz, LSA's fine arts director, the school's arts events are staged in either cafeteria or the current gymnasium. Having these designs in hand will help spur the school's growth and enhance the learning experience of its nearly 1,000 students.

"I am so jazzed about this project. This is just what we needed to move forward on these buildings," Schultz said. "With a new performing arts center, we will be a premier arts school in Houston. With the additional gymnasium and athletic facility, we also will be able to raise our level of service to our athletes. These two additions are the last of the major elements of our campus. With their completion, we at LSA will be fully functional to serve our students.