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Last minute panic: WashU vs RISD

architecture?

As the title suggests I'm struggling with this decision and it is getting down to the wire.

It seems like both these schools have a similar reputation (correct me if I am wrong please) and also seem to be set up in similar ways: Strong arch program situated within an art and design school with access to larger research institutions. 

I am still struggling to fully understand their curriculums: WashU seems a bit more grounded than some programs while RISD has changed a lot in recent years and I am not sure exactly where that leaves them... possibly more conceptual than WashU? How much does curriculum matter in the job search?

I am very impressed with WashU's new facilities and campus but as an East Coast person I worry that I will feel isolated and struggle for jobs in this area post grad. RISD on the other hand is an a much more central location to where I want to live long term but their studio spaces and facilities seem nearly depressing.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

 
Apr 14, 21 6:07 pm
( o Y o )

you’re kidding, right?

Apr 14, 21 7:09 pm  · 
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architecture?

feel free to elaborate...

Apr 14, 21 7:20 pm  · 
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xxy888

I'm afraid I can't speak to RISD at all, having never probed into their programs. However, in the spirit of helping a fellow decision-maker out, I will share my experience of WUSTL as an undergrad who went from Architecture to Fine Art, and has really seen the best and worst of Sam Fox School of Art & Design.

I am going to assume you mean the M-Arch. I know that WashU has a great MLA faculty, and the school is all about cross-pollination. Sam Fox is a place that will bend rules for you--if you persist--because it is trying hard to reach that tier of prestige that perhaps RISD already has.. You can DM me for specifics, but suffice to say most of my peers came out with more degrees/majors than we should have been "allowed." So that's really in the nature of the school—interdisciplinary, fairly flexible.

I don't think WashU is similar to RISD at all in vibe, if you look at the portfolios of their students you will notice that WashU graduates often have a similar representational & portfolio style. It's a bit "systems"/tectonic thinking, though often "ecologically"-grounded. Clean, full (maybe too full) layouts that do really well in future applications to the GSD (ha..) RISD I imagine is more artistically inclined? Probably more stylistically diverse/interesting, though I am not sure how much that matters to you.

May definitely be wrong about this, but I believe WashU in past ten years has been higher in rankings—particularly in its M-Arch program than RISD, because as you say it is very firmly grounded in, well, "architecture." Like coming in just after GSD and Those Guys. As for the peers, I will say that it's mostly Asian/white, then other POC (could be bit off about this too). The dean is really amazing, I think she's got her head on screwed better than most of these Ivy League deans. Remember when you're going to WashU that you're agreeing to a complicated relationship with St. Louis, with Ferguson, with Black Lives Matter / racial justice, and institutional / corporate gentrification with a midwestern twist. It's both an opportunity and a challenge—I personally think it's hugely valuable to learn from the city's history and very rich from an activism point of view. St. Louis is really a beautiful place, you can learn a lot about urban issues as the fight against gentrification is very much Not Over.

WashU has fantastic facilities—I left before the new buildings but even with the older facilities, they aren't used to full capacity. I used to work in the laser lab (as an arts student...) and spend hours with the machines by myself. Wood and metal shop was nearly always empty. However it will be harder to find 24/hr printing services etc., but everything will be cheaper. So much cheaper!!!! You could find great apartments for 350-500 a month.

Personally I wouldn't worry about job search because you will have an M-Arch, which is a big step up from B-Arch, as well as summer internships etc. I think WashU grads do fairly well with placement, and I think cause the strength and reputation of program you can definitely find opportunities out East and also West (California). If memory serves, I remember the undergraduate career fairs mostly featured midwestern firms, but there were some from Boston/Chicago, and South as well.

I'm sure my review is quite skewed, but I hope it's been helpful. The midwest is very laid-back, and strangers are for the most part friendly and willing to give you their time. I don't know what it would be like at RISD, but WashU professors (again, we out here in the Missouri with what else to do?) are super generous with their time and energy. Collaborative too, and less focused on "their careers," than helping you learn and achieve what you want. 

Apr 14, 21 7:11 pm  · 
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architecture?

Thanks so much this is super helpful! Interesting to hear that sam fox is working to raise their game even further and yes in general they have been ranked above RISD although most recently RISD jumped from 19 to 8... I think both schools are strong but both have aspirations for competing with the top tier programs so it is good to hear that WashU has good foundations for that. 

I guess I am wondering how much the interdisciplinary nature of the school manifests itself in the studio sequence. I am definitely looking for a bit of exploration and avant-garde conceptual thinking while still being spacial/architectural (qualities that some RISD work almost seems to lack)

Apr 14, 21 7:29 pm  · 
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xxy888

I'm not sure if it "manifests" in the core sequence as this is a professional program, and they're not really going to start off saying "let's not do architecture."

Apr 14, 21 7:30 pm  · 
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xxy888

But if it's something you want to pursue, you will be encouraged and not punished, which is about the most I think can be hoped for! You can also audit to your heart's delight at WashU

Apr 14, 21 7:31 pm  · 
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xxy888

When I was last there, the undergrad studios curriculum was very much determined by Sung Ho and his studio work. Maybe take a look? I think the M-Arch is less dominated by particular individuals, and again—really great MLA faculty who will be part of your education and reviews. Maybe instead of looking at what's provided, ask: what would you like or need for the work that you want to pursue? If it's about artistic freedom, then perhaps RISD (from your description)? But if it's more about learning how to "build," I would be inclined to suggest WashU in providing more "grounding," though of course it's still extreeeeemely open-ended where you take your projects!

Apr 14, 21 7:34 pm  · 
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xxy888

C ontext: Heather Woofter (dean and director of graduate program) is married to Sung Ho so they're kind of a power couple in terms of running the school.

Apr 14, 21 7:35 pm  · 
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architecture?

Thanks, I was referring more to the option studios as of course there are boxes that all these programs need to check off in their core curriculum. I have heard some people think of WashU as heavily focused on housing but that seems to mostly be down to that one studio (which most schools have some variation of). Obviously I don't want to be pigeon holed into the housing trajectory as I am much more interested in public space and the social implications of the visibility it does (or doesn't) provide.

Apr 14, 21 7:39 pm  · 
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xxy888

While I am not familiar with the studios to be an authority on this, given my knowledge of the particular way Sam Fox has been running I will guess that For those kinds of issues WashU is a great choice. The school has increasingly focused on its own presence in the city, and while much of the institutional investment/relationship with the city is extremely problematic, there is a critical eye paid to public/urban issues. It’s inextricable, given the history of St Louis back in the day and very much now (Ferguson is only 30 min drive away, if that). You will find studios and faculty really committed to it, though I suspect they are more landscape studios. One of the former professors used to lead walking tours beyond the “WashU bubble” to really look at the urban landscape, for example to former site of Pruitt Igoe.

Apr 14, 21 10:37 pm  · 
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xxy888

I think in terms of options studios WashU focuses more on ecology, urbanism, and landscape. As opposed to digital frontiers (though it’s quite a parametric school), new materials, and “form”/aesthetics. The m-arch to me is much closer to landscape architecture in vibes or at least representational style than many of the other schools, I feel. The pin ups somewhat trend towards these lot-scale drawings, you won’t find diagrams that depict singular “buildings” so much at
WashU. It’s always contextualizrd and more site specific (or attempting / pretending to be) than aesthetic exercises, though geometry is of course strong.

Apr 14, 21 10:43 pm  · 
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architecture?

Great to hear, thanks so much! I guess my last question would be how your experiences have been with the sam fox alumni network?

Apr 15, 21 12:12 am  · 
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xxy888

Sam Fox the institution is really good to it’s alumni, and it’s pretty active about events and providing contact. The alumni and careers office won’t abandon you even if you went there a while back (Martin). I’ve gotten job opportunities in China despite not having a b arch partially because of it, though I’m not sure how much the actual alumni interchange on a regular basis by themselves. You will form tight friendships because of the smaller size and relative isolation in Midwest. You will get to keep your email and unlimited Box storage forever (which is actually a big and generous thing to provide, considering all these Ivies delete you after a year). You’ll be covered globally, because it has a very international intake and the sense of kinship fostered again due to size and isolation—curriculum is also not at ALL cut throat or competitive. You may not get along philosophically or design wise but I have never had the sense it was ever about doing better than the others. The alumni are usually excited to hear and meet another WUSTL graduate, even more Sam Fox. People fall in love with St Louis, Forest Park (do not underestimate how important this is for mental sanity given arch school trials, the art and arch school is also closest corner on campus just across street to this 7 mile circumference, relic of 1904 worlds fair with all its beaux arts pavilions and zoos and encyclopedic museums), and the laid back ness of Midwest so most people come out satisfied with experience and happy to dialogue with other alumni. I hope I haven’t misrepresented if any other grads or alumn want tos peak up! This is just my personal experience as a somewhat eccentric
undeegradtaue art student!

Apr 15, 21 6:45 am  · 
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xxy888

Not “competitive” in that toxic sense, but people work really hard. That’s the other thing WashU undergrads are really very dedicated workers, also because of that chip on the shoulder in comparison to Ivies/elitism effect, esp in Medschool and artsci generally.

Apr 15, 21 6:47 am  · 
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xxy888

But key point: if you ask for it WashU will give. If the institution not, the faculty will if you show up and show your passion or commitment. They are open and responsive to anyone who really show Care

Apr 15, 21 6:49 am  · 
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autofireunit

As a former WashU student, I think you represented our school and program very well! Thank you.

Apr 15, 21 10:02 am  · 
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Non Sequitur

take the Cheapest option. 

Apr 14, 21 7:20 pm  · 
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randomised

Take the one with the better instagram feed...

Apr 14, 21 7:38 pm  · 
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square.

if you're wowed by the slick new technology and an overpriced paint jobs you find at some programs, then you might find risd's facilities "depressing."

on the other hand, if you enjoy being in an environment that caters towards artists and creative freedom, you might think differently.

personally, i'd be more concerned about ending up in missouri. but that's me.

Apr 15, 21 9:48 am  · 
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ae_0

Just some points about WashU grad program:

In terms of the 'curriculum', architecture school indeed is what one makes of it in the end, but nonetheless, going through the M.Arch track there will be ongoing interactions with Landscape and Urbanism professors/students. Classes offered and critics will encourage M.Arch students to connect and become somewhat well-versed in these neighboring disciplines and build intellectual relationships. I would say this is quite unique to WashU.

There's usually a good rotation of international visiting faculty, but similar to most other schools I assume. Study abroad options also used to include Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Helsinki, Berlin, not sure what's still offered these days.

Maybe something people applying don't know/realize until they start the program is that there will be an ongoing emphasis on St.Louis. Whether through core or elective studios, or other offered classes, St.Louis will always be present in the background. It is a highly peculiar, historied (albeit infamous sometimes), "post-industrial" (this term is abused though) American city. Social injustice issues and their relationship with built environment will be an important part of discourse. Reason I feel this is worth mentioning is because context where one spends younger years philosophizing about architecture ultimately has some sort of a foundational effect on their approach towards design. St.Louis might not be the nicest place to settle (for some I guess), but it's a tremendous laboratory for architecture, especially at the thresholds of where it starts overlapping with greater urban issues.

Graduates typically find jobs out of St.Louis, in fact I would say majority doesn't stay. Common for people to go to both coasts, or places such as Seattle, Kansas City, Denver...




Apr 15, 21 11:22 pm  · 
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