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Sunday, 06 July 2014 22:00

Kendall to launch graduate degree in architecture this fall

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As Kendall College of Art and Design launches its new graduate program in architecture this fall, the school realizes that it will need to differentiate itself from an already crowded field of educational offerings.

But the selling point for the Grand Rapids-based program comes down to many of the community’s strengths, said director Brian Craig.

“We aim to be the ‘West Michigan architecture program,’” Craig told MiBiz. “We think Grand Rapids is a great learning lab for where cities are going.”

Kendall College’s program will start small with approximately 10 students in the first cohort, Craig said. The plan is to ramp up over the next four to five years, eventually enrolling about 60 to 80 students per semester.

The school wants to engage with the broader West Michigan community, Craig said. For instance, students will be involved with other city organizations to solve problems and assist in the development of downtown Grand Rapids’ master plan.

Part of the draw for the program will be the city itself, with its low cost of living and high concentration of LEED-certified buildings, he added.

“The big difference (between Grand Rapids and other communities with architecture programs) comes back to place,” Craig said.

Kendall College — a part of Ferris State University — will be competing for graduate students in architecture with established programs at the University of Michigan, Lawrence Technological University, University of Detroit Mercy and Andrews University in Berrien Springs.

The college worked closely with a board of formation — a group of approximately 20 people that consisted of staff and industry professionals — to plan a curriculum that will prepare students to work in a number of different disciplines in the architectural field. The board looked into how existing graduate programs operate as it worked early on to differentiate itself from the pack, Craig said.

For the Kendall College program, that meant a focus on hands-on learning and quickly applying classroom concepts in the field, said Mike Corby, executive vice president and design principal at Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture Corp. who served as chair of the board of formation for the new degree program.

“The way we are setting up the program, (students) move from learning things to applying them in the same (semester),” Corby said.

Essentially, students will begin the first six weeks of every semester with a more traditional classroom environment before working on those concepts in the field, he said. Administrators say this approach takes students from practical areas such as the history of architecture and engineering and allows them to apply their learning in a hands-on studio environment later in the semester.

The bulk of the hands-on work, or studio time, will be overseen by faculty — mostly the current adjunct professors at Kendall College — and practitioners from the local architecture and design fields. One new addition to the school’s faculty to support the new program comes from the University of Oregon, Craig said.

The school also has a number of relationships in place with architecture and design firms in the region to be able to provide internship opportunities, he said.

In particular, the program is being designed to stress the notion of teamwork and collaboration, which has become a vital part of the profession, Craig said.

“The (formation period) has been about where we need to go in architecture,” he said. “We rarely have projects that are done in the traditional way. As an architect, you have to work in a team environment. There are a lot more people having input (in projects).”

Currently, architecture programs across the country are differentiating themselves by focusing on either research theory, professional-track coursework, art-oriented programs or niche offerings like historical architecture, said Glen LeRoy, dean of the College of Architecture and Design at Lawrence Tech in Southfield.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a traditional architecture program anymore,” LeRoy said. “A school has to theme itself into some sort of category.”

LeRoy said he has little doubt that the addition of another architecture program will impact the other schools in the state.

“Michigan is not a huge state. The big question is whether the market is big enough,” he said. “The only way it is is that we differentiate our themes.”

Inasmuch as each program carves a different niche, there should be room for the schools to compete in the market, LeRoy said.

“More power to them,” LeRoy said of Kendall College’s program. “It’s a competitive world and we all have to live with it.”

Organizers of the Kendall College program say they realize they have a tall order to create a curriculum that will both stand out to students and offer a high level of professional development for the next generation of architects.

“There’s a lot of people watching, and we have to do what we say we are going to do,” Craig said. “We are looking to do work that has an impact on the community.” 


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