Salt Lake City is, by many accounts, a college town. We may not be Dillon, Texas, but come football season our streets and citizens sport more than a bit of crimson pride. The University of Utah, perched atop its palatial hill, is the target of a yearly wave of school spirit the valley over. Yes, organized sports are grand, but we’d like to present the next big thing to cheer about: The University of Utah’s College of Architecture + Planning. This is where we get all doe-eyed and wax a tad sentimental. Our city’s (and state’s) architectural landscape is vastly important, full stop. But perhaps even more important is the future of those who will create it. Those who will actually continue building our city. As a member of the Dean’s Council for the College of Architecture, Cody Derrick knows full well the significance of such a program. He recently chatted with Ashley Babbitt, the program’s Public Relations Specialist, in the interest of getting more acquainted with exactly what strides the Architecture + Planning students are making to better our city, one innovative structure at a time. We were so impressed by what she had to say (and by the fact that their Master of Architecture program has just received a full eight-year accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board!) that we decided to stop by the school to see for ourselves.
Though it's housed in a coolly-vintage space, the college is all about looking forward
The College of Architecture building, a slightly intimidating brutalist number built in the 1970′s, sits on the southwest side of the campus. It was officially started in 1949, but in 2007 it formally became the College of Architecture + Planning, and just like that, the two schools of thought were combined. The union makes perfect sense, really. “Architects are the engineers with imagination, and planners are the environmentalists that really want to be part of the solution,” explains Ashley. “Very rarely is it just about the buildings,” she says. “This is humans designing spaces. People think it’s just eye candy, but now we’re looking at larger questions,” explains Ashley. “Air quality, housing equity, climate change–we’re a part of that…we need to be a part of that conversation.” Here, students and teachers alike strive to push the college forward in terms of input and output. As part of a hands-on study, the University was donated a ghost town in Montana. While a few stray buildings already stood on the land, students were encouraged to think creatively, using recycled and innovative materials, to come up with multiple-use structures. One student designed a space that utilized recycled plastic bottles to reinforce the walls; another came up with a “Burning Man-style” building that could pop up for a few months, be collapsed, and then pop up again in a new location. They’re deconstructing and rebuilding how we design for “the elderly, the voiceless, and the vulnerable,” says Ashley.
“YOU’RE NEVER WORKING ALONE IN REAL LIFE...”
Group projects reign supreme at the College of Architecture + Planning. “We teach collaboration skills and how to manage conflict,” says Ashley. “And that’s really a labor practice, because you’re never working alone in real life.” Past students have helped a Rose Park community to mobilize and create more outdoor spaces, assisted a Tibetan refugee community with a project on the west side, and engaged with a store owner to re-imagine the facade of a building (with plans that he actually ended up utilizing). According to Assistant Professor (and close COLLECTIVE pal) Erin Carraher, the College of Architecture + Planning gives student work value. “It’s not just busy work–it’s something that’s for a client,” says Erin. For example, the University’s DesignBuildBLUFF program (which gives students hands-on experience with designing and building sustainable homes for those in need), is “one of the best in terms of design/build programs nationally.” The group’s work is so impressive, in fact, that we’ve featured some of their spaces as a Place of Worship. And perhaps most hands-on of all, there are even plans to open a housing project on campus in the fall, which any undergrad can apply to live in. Ideally, this would be a space in which students from many disciplines would get together organically to brainstorm (and eventually form) startups.
And why should all this matter? Because these students are quite literally designing our future. “We need more human-based design. More student innovation, community engagement, and breaking research,” says Ashley. “[We have to ask ourselves], what’s our response to the changing world? How do we respect our diverse community members?” And it’s this precise foresight that we’re COLLECTIVELY on board with–so much so, in fact, that we’ve opted to show our support in the form of a cityhomeCOLLECTIVE scholarship. Offered annually to a student in the School of Architecture who recognizes the importance of Salt Lake City’s growing architectural landscape, it’s our effort to foster our city’s growth and invest in those who see its worth (official application guidelines coming soon). Truth is, we always aim to amp up our city in any way we can, and this group is doing more than their share. They’re working to better our surroundings one structure at a time, and any group that sees the value in our salty city is alright by us. “Place really matters,” says Erin. “And we’re always trying to grow.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
The College of Architecture + Planning has an extremely high pass rate for accreditation exams, and students are continually well-prepared to go into practice.