Organizers say the experience broadens their horizons with worldwide perspective.
Each year, the Texas Tech University College of Architecture takes dozens of students to Verona, Italy; Paris, France; Seville, Spain; or Seoul, South Korea, to expand their horizons and give them a different understanding of design.
“It changes your life if you can see the building you're studying in a book,” said Maria Perbellini, who is with the group in Verona. “You experience it visually and physically. To experience the space is enriching for a designer. Walking through European cities, you get an experience you miss in the United States.”
That's why 95 percent of architecture students choose to study abroad.
“The biggest benefit is students experience life in a different culture and can compare it to their experiences in the United States,” said Clifton Ellis, associate dean of academics and director of study abroad for the College of Architecture, in an email from Paris. “This experience broadens their perspective not only on architecture, but on the ways other cultures have built and maintained a vibrant public life in the city.”
That's the goal of the program – to give architecture students the knowledge and tools they will need in their future careers.
“I've learned to understand the big picture on a scale I could never have imagined,” Christopher Verette, a senior architecture major from San Antonio, emailed from Paris. “I've experienced new ways of thought and practice that pertain to architecture, but also an emotional understanding of the daily lifestyle differences of Europe in general. This has benefited me tremendously in being open to simply thinking differently. In architecture, this is key to an ever-developing world. There's really no better way to know about how a different society functions until you too have functioned in its culture. This in turn will help me become a better architect in knowing how a society works and how that relates to an architectural level.”
The culture of Europe, especially in the public spaces, is dramatically different from the United States, Ellis said. Experiencing those differences will help students as they work to improve this country.
“As we know, American cities are now seeking to rebuild their downtowns, to provide mixed-use amenities, increase density, provide alternative transportation, and basically recapture that public sphere that was lost during the great urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s, all of which failed,” Ellis said.
The course for which most students study abroad is Design in the Urban Context, an intensive six-week design studio required for College of Architecture graduates. Each city has a specific site where students are required to design a public place: a piazza in Italy, a plaza in Spain, etc.
“Students live in the city for six weeks and are given assignments that require them to explore the city and discover its unique urban environment and public life,” Ellis said. “The students have assignments that require them to study the city at the micro and macro level, and these assignments are then references from which the students draw inspiration in their own designs for public space.”
The students also take day trips to major architectural works outside the host cities. For the students in Paris, that means visits to Versailles, the Place des Victoires-Nationaux (National Victories Square) and La Grande Arche de la Défense, among others.
“Although these design studios are intense in their academic requirements and students are closely supervised, student evaluations indicate the experience is transformative for them as architects and as citizens of the world,” Ellis said.
Students going abroad rank their desired destinations and then a lottery matches students with the location they will study. Ellis is proud to say all students have received either their first or second choice.
Because the course is required, the college has options in Guanajuato, Mexico, or Denver, Colorado, for the 5 percent of students who don't go abroad.
“We offer the same studio in the fall of each year for those students who cannot afford or who choose not to participate in study abroad,” Ellis said. “The Mexico studio will have a similar impact. The U.S. studio has the same academic requirements, but obviously lacks the cultural experience of study abroad. Nevertheless, the students spend 10 days in a U.S. city that is known for its success in revitalizing its public spaces, so the major goal of the studio — learning how to design a public space that helps make public life more vigorous — is accomplished.”
Past study abroad students have experienced Montreal, Berlin, Chile, Nicaragua and Prague.
“Every year it depends on the faculty and the interest in new places,” Perbellini said.
Verette's experiences in Europe have permanently changed him.
“There really is no turning back at this point,” he said. “The experiences I've gained through studying abroad have been immeasurable. It is reflected in the care of my studio work, the care of other people and why I even want to be an architect in the first place. I believe these experiences abroad are what have pushed me further in my goals to help the world.
“I've realized that architecture is far more than making a place for people to eat, sleep or shop, but a way to enhance the way a society lives and feels in that place down to its economic and cultural functions. In my opinion architecture really isn't a career. If done correctly, it's a life choice that is done solely for the people to function beautifully and live in happiness.”