New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) new architectural curriculum received high praise from Campus Technology magazine. In the magazine’s August issue, NJIT was recognized for allowing freshmen architecture students to work immediately with electronic digital media in their design studio classes.
Urs Gauchat, dean of the New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA) at NJIT, said it’s rewarding to receive recognition for developing a new way to teach architecture students.
“The faculty has developed a curriculum that prepares our students to reach their professional prime 10 to 15 years from now,” said Gauchat. “We feel that the new curriculum provides students with a sound foundation for both a general and a professional education. It is important to enter the profession with broad knowledge in the liberal arts but also some specialized expertise. That’s what our new curriculum aims to do.”
From the first day that freshmen arrive in their first-year design studios they work with three-dimensional, digital architectural design, said Glenn Goldman, a professor at NJSOA. Goldman, the coordinator of freshmen design studios, lead a team to revise the curriculum, and was assisted by John Cays, an adjunct faculty member at NJSOA. The team inaugurated the new curriculum in the fall of 2004.
“Though digital tools have been used in architecture schools for decades,” Goldman said, “students are still generally introduced to design the way their professors were taught - by hand - with mechanical drawing and drafting. Someone had to break that pedagogical mold and I’m pleased we were the school to do it.”
“The new curriculum was enjoyable,” said Patrick Casey Mahon, of Teaneck, who as a freshman last fall was among the first to use it. “Being all digital helped me and the other students in my studio to concentrate on learning the software, which allowed us to quickly become proficient in the digital aspects of design.” Goldman said students bought their own computers and were given access to state-of-the-art software when they connected to the architecture school’s Imaging Laboratory Network, which Goldman co-directs along with Steve Zdepski, an associate professor at NJSOA. The software applications allowed the students to draw, paint, compose and model on their computers. Their computers needed to contain reasonably powerful and fast graphics cards and a moderately fast processor, said Goldman.
The students’ design project required the use of scanning, digital photography, raster painting, vector modeling and drawing applications. Students were given chances to learn how to use these tools in the context of their assigned studio projects - learning specific skills on the need-to-know basis - and programs were developed to make these tasks easier.
And though the curriculum eliminated the so-called parallel rule – mechanical drawing and drafting - students still used free-hand drawing and worked with physical models, maintaining an emphasis on sketching. “We use the computer for what it can do well,” Goldman said. “But we also use some traditional methods to slow down the process, allowing for maturation and to reinforce the belief that there is still a connection between the hand, mind and eye.”
This is not the first time that the NJSOA changed the way young architects are taught. In 1985, the school was the first in the nation to offer its students fully electronic three-dimensional modeling design studios. And the school is a long-time leader in the field of computer-aided design (CAD), with its students commonly dominating an annual international competition sponsored by Cadalyst Magazine.