• High school students at the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Camp Arch worked in various digital softwares to create 3-D-printed models. - photo courtesy Texas A&M College of Architecture

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the state’s summer architecture programs for high school students were discontinued in 2020. However, as restrictions began to ease up in late May, several schools of architecture reinstated these summer educational opportunities. Across the state, a hybrid of virtual and in-person programs were able to again inspire and introduce prospective students to the architectural realm. 

After a full year of providing virtual instruction, schools were able to apply learned “best practices” to their summer programs. One advantage of a virtual format is that a program is no longer limited by geography. Curtis Fish, director of the Summer Career Academy in Architecture and Interior Design at The University of Texas at San Antonio, reported having students from New York and Seattle attend the school’s month-long program in July. The curriculum included multiple lecturers from the AEC community to expose would-be students to as many of the divergent avenues, aspects, and perspectives of the industry as possible. 

“The virtual format provided a fantastic arena for such opportunities,” said Fish. The UTSA program was first offered in 2020, but it was expanded this year from a one-week intensive course into a twice-weekly, month-long endeavor that followed a more studio-like structure. Fish took over the virtual program due to his involvement with the UTSA architecture department’s transition to online instruction during the spring of last year. 

The University of Houston also held a virtual architecture program this summer. The transition to virtual delivery impacted the school’s event in both content and focus. The goal of this newly structured program was to provide an overview and larger perspective on architecture, which was a shift from the focus of years past. The program was project-based when held in person, but for the online format, U of H converted it into a two hour per day, four-week event. Led by Drexel Turner, the program broadened its curriculum for a wider view of architecture and the expanded range of opportunities available within the field. This included lectures about the history and theory of architecture, along with several focused on architectural projects provided by speakers such as Nora Laos, Stephen Fox, Ronnie Self, AIA, and Emily Moore. This new program also incorporated films on architecture with related discussions as part of the expanded course of study. Thirty-eight students participated in the program at no cost. 

The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture had stopped offering its program in recent years but this past summer partnered with the newly created NOMA Central Texas chapter to participate in the nationally conducted NOMA Project Pipeline program. This virtual camp was held in mid-July and consisted of two full days of architecture instruction. University of Texas program coordinator Charlton Lewis said it provided an opportunity for UT to be involved in and support both the new local organization and a socially impactful program. This two-day intensive course was also free to attend and provided supplies to each registered student.   

In contrast to modified virtual programs, a few schools held more traditional in-person camps. In a bit of ironic timing, the high school participants in these programs were some of the first students to inhabit architecture studios since the pandemic began.  

Camp Arch is part of a program encompassing all four departments within the Texas A&M College of Architecture. Twenty-two high school students spent a full week on campus in College Station immersed in architecture during the robust 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily schedule. Program coordinator James Tate stated that attendees were given a realistic sense of what architecture school would be like, and that they remained as enthusiastic about the field of study at the end of the long week as they were at the beginning. Students were instructed in digital design tools such as modeling software, digital drawing, and 3-D printing as part of the curated workflow. Their week of work culminated in a 3-D-printed model of their design.  

Rice Architecture’s Summer Immersion program had been on hiatus for several years but was also resurrected in 2021. The program was held in conjunction with the Rice Office of STEM Engagement. The week-long program consisted of mostly “analog” activities, including drawings and model-making, along with sessions about using photography to document one’s work. The school conducted two separate programs, with an in-person experience occurring in June and a virtual program later in July. The in-person event had an enrollment of 15 local high school students. This was the first year of the reimagined program, and according to director Reto Geiser, the curriculum and format will continue to evolve. He is hopeful the program will take root and grow. The goal is to find increased opportunities through STEM grants in the coming years with the Rice Office of STEM Engagement’s aid. 

Regardless of whether the programs were held virtually, in person, or through a hybrid model, the pandemic changed the structure of the educational opportunities offered by the state’s architecture programs. It also resulted in new opportunities: innovations that will remain long after the pandemic is over.

Andrew Hawkins, AIA, is principal of Hawkins Architecture in College Station and an assistant professor of practice in the architecture department at Texas A&M.

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