University of British Columbia (Courtney)



Aug '08 - May '09

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    getting a feel for the atmosphere and pedagogy...

    Courtney Healey Nov 13 '08 2

    The following are my responses to Stephanie from Dalhousie's really great questions as she begins her search for an M.Arch program... figured they may be useful for others as well... my opinions obviously do not reflect those of all UBC students, but probably some, and most likely some non-UBC students as well...

    S_DAL: I was originally interested in UBC for the campus and sustainability approach. I used to work for an architecture firm in Calgary, though, and everyone said that UBC's program wasn't great (okay, they used stronger language, but they are all U of C grads so I am taking what they say with a grain of salt).

    C_UBC: I've come to understand the reputation that UBC has amongst other Canadian schools is seriously outdated - read, more than 15yrs old... while its certainly no Harvard, neither is any other Canadian University, sorry McGill - you are also riding on an outdated reputation... the faculty and curriculum are very different and the program really seems to get stronger every year... funny how these things persist... probably for good reason...

    S_DAL: I noticed after reading your blog, though, that the graduate studios are located completely off campus, in a not-so-great part of the city... So how does that work? Do you have lectures on the main campus, or are you always working in the off-campus location? Do you feel connected with the rest of the school? Do you feel safe in the studio at night? Is there a good system of public transportation?

    C_UBC: Sorry if my posts misled you, but only the thesis students are located at the downtown studio, the rest of the M.Arch students are up on the UBC campus. Occasionally there is also a studio located downtown, but for the most part all studios and classes take place in one building on campus. DTS is, indeed, not in a great neighborhood, and the school has been debating whether or not to renew their lease on the space, and to be completely honest, no, I do not feel completely safe at night. Public bus system is pretty good and quite extensive, UBC students automatically get a U-Pass which comes out of your tuition fees at about $20 p/month. But, I won't lie, I am lazy about transit and default to the fastest and easiest option in whatever city I'm living in [bikes in Rotterdam, bikes+Ubahn in Berlin, Subway in NYC] unfortunately, this means driving in Vancouver... though, others are more hard-core about their modes of transportation...

    S_DAL: I want as interdisciplinary approach as possible to my graduate degree... i.e., the more classes I can take outside of architecture, the better. Are there electives available outside the faculty? I also want to have good resources: how are the facilities in terms of studio space, library access and the general services of the university? (i.e., Is there a transit card, lots of places to get printing done, are the admins helpful?)

    C_UBC: About two years ago the School of Architecture merged with Landscape Architecture, and since then there has been a big push for more interdisciplinary study, each semester there have been joint studios, some Arch+Larch, some Arch+Larch+Urban Design (the School of Community and Regional Planning is still part of a different college and is quite policy based, but they do run an Urban Design studio each year in the Arch building and I'm pretty sure Arch students have taken it before)... There have also been joint seminars, workshops and design/builds with Larch, Wood Sciences, Emily Carr University of Design, and BCIT... I'm also pretty sure you are free to take a few courses completely outside arch, something like 9 elective credits... and then of course there's co-op work placement and study abroad opportunities, you can read more about them on the sala website if your interested...

    studio space is pretty good, plenty of room, nice new desks, etc. Arch has its own small Reading Room in the basement and is also right next to the two main campus libraries with larger collections, general library access is good and this year they renamed the Fine Arts Collection the "Art, Architecture and Planning Collection" and did a bunch of workshops with SALA, so i think the new librarian is all psyched up to help Arch students, we'll see how that goes... decent plotters and printers are at school (and have been free all year so far, sometimes IT problems can be good... we'll see how long it lasts ;) plenty of fast cheap poster printing in town... Arch IT guys are useless, and admin is sort of hit-or-miss... Last year the school got a bunch of new equipment, laser-cutter, 3d printer, plotters, and a few new fancy studio computers and monitors...

    S_DAL: How do you find the teaching? I know that there will be good and bad instructors wherever I go, but in general I am looking for a school with the potential to assess my strengths and work with them rather than try to shape me into their brand of architecture. I don't want to be groomed to work at a firm, and I don't feel that a thesis is the pinnacle of anyone's architectural career (or at least, it shouldn't be). I'm wary of people who treat it as such rather than as the tool it is for critical examination and research, and as a way to learn your own methodological approach to design. Do you feel this is something that would be supported at UBC?

    C_UBC: I feel comfortable saying that UBC is quite brand-free... but that also means it is sort of identity-free as well, this can be good and bad... you are mostly free to shape the program into whatever you want... at least this has been my experience, maybe I'm just more pushy than most, but coming out of an Ends program might make you more clear about what you are interested in, who knows... there are instructors from pretty much every school of thought, again this can be good or bad, you may feel jerked around and confused, or you may connect quite closely with one or two faculty members... not coming from an arch undergrad, I took the opportunity to try things out, in each of my studios I sort of tested the methods and theories of the professor and then set my own terms within the framework of the studio... similar to my feelings about religion... in the end I pick and choose what makes sense for me, collage together a method and forget the rest... thesis, again, is what you make of it... if you are smart, hard-working and convincing, you can find support for just about any kind of project...

    S_DAL: Are the instructors mainly UBC grads or are there a variety of backgrounds? Is there a solid base of good professors who make time for the students? How is the student organization? Is the school well integrated with the rest of the university or does it feel separate?

    C_UBC: of the full-time faculty, I think only the Department Chair is a UBC grad going on thirty years ago out of Art History... oh, and the new structures prof, the rest are from M.Arch programs like UofT, the AA, Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, RISD, quite a few American profs, and a number of Germans. A few of the sessional lecturers are UBC grads, but most have been in practice for 10 years or more... SALA's director, Ray Cole, is an engineer. The faculty is incredibly energetic and committed, and they are very available, this is a serious strength.

    The student organization remakes itself every year and is essentially run by the second-year class, they have a budget from student fees and they decide how to spend it... they run weekly happy hour, put on a lecture series, thesis reviews, in the past they have organized design-builds, published books of student-work, bought practical stuff like lounge furniture and filtered water and fun stuff like dart boards and kegerators... like most things at UBC, it is what you make of it... the school feels quite separate from the rest of the University, it is only Grad students and it is very intense which makes it difficult to meet people outside Arch, but honestly, you will find this at any Arch school, the close-knitedness is also what makes it great. Students come from many different backgrounds as UBC does not require any previous arch experience, you would likely enter with advanced placement and waive a few studio and core course credits, but about 2/3 of your incoming class might not know what a section is, or how to use any computer software, you may find this frustrating or interesting.

    S_DAL: Finally, do you find you get instruction in any solid skills, or are you expected to telepathically learn things on your own? Many schools says they will 'prepare' you for architecture and list off a bunch of must-have skills that are hard to quantify (like design), but ignore the methods of how to get there (like drawing, and model making, and photography, etc).

    C_UBC: UBC has an Ends program, their hands get held much longer and much more often, objectives and expectations are clearly laid out. The M.Arch program will necessitate a certain amount of telepathy, I'm interested in this "preparation" stuff these other schools are promising... I will graduate in May and I feel about 50/50 on the whole preparedness thing, not that I only feel 50% prepared, but I feel 100% prepared about 50% of the time... but I also think this will continue throughout my architectural career... what are these must-have skills... they better not have anything to do with rhinoscripting or grasshopper whatnots... which are useful, but so are lots of other things... as you mentioned, drawing, modelmaking, photography... At the risk of repeating, you will find a prof who will love that you are drawing and three that hate it, one that loves photography and two that hate it, etc. etc. etc. Dal has a reputation for loving the drawing more than the building... maybe similar to Cooper Union's rep... there are a few from that camp here, and more who are not... but there is no majority on anything... which is both freeing and frightening.

    Good Luck in your search and finally.. VISIT the schools you are applying to or thinking of applying to, because I can say whatever blah blah blah, you have to find the place that feels right to you, sit in on a class and some crits and visit the library and meet with a professor and talk to students...



    • will gallowaywill galloway
      Nov 13, 08 7:02 pm

      lucky to have clear answers to questions before picking grad school.

      as a side note, don't worry about whether your university is preparing you to be an architect or not. that might sound counter-intuitive, but the truth is that the skills you need to practice are not really taught at any school of architecture (i am not exaggerating). the only way to get past that hump is experience. years of it preferably. the really impt thing to learn at school is 1. how to learn and 2. how to think critically.

      and most of all have fun experimenting. it is a perfect time to figure out what you think of architecture and where you want to go with it. The HOW part - the building, the negotiating of contracts, dealing with builders, sourcing materials, finding clients - is going to be informed by that base more than the other way around.

      Courtney Healey
      Nov 13, 08 7:26 pm

      that's an excellent point, jump!

      early on in the semester a visiting prof from Germany teaching intro-studio was amazed that my boyfriend was going to "teach" Rhino to the first-years in only one hour, because in Germany they would have a class for an entire year to learn Rhino...

      His answer was that it is more important for them to learn how to learn a program than to be taught step by step b/c software changes so rapidly, and every office will use a different set of programs, etc.

      The Rhino tutorial was part of the Design Media course... which brings me to your second point... the pedagogy of the course in recent years has been firmly about establishing a critical perspective on representation, and every year, the course seems to elicit criticism that it should teach drawing conventions and software more explicitly... but I say, that is what technical schools are for, not M.Arch programs.

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