Re-Visioning through Construction: Smithies in Design

Jackie Leahy ’14
Arts Editor

This past Thursday the Smith Architecture Program celebrated the work of senior architecture majors by displaying their work in the Janotta Gallery in Hillyer.

“Hopefully the show will provoke thinking about how we as people inhabit space,” said Professor James Middlebrook, who directs and instructs Smith’s architectural studios. “Everybody and everything exists in some kind of space, physical or otherwise. The built environment plays an important role in the context of our lives.”

Initially drawn to architecture “because it engages both art and science in creative ways,” Middlebrook described the interdisciplinary qualities of his field as one that “can be viewed from many different perspectives: history, art, engineering, sociology, psychology and many other disciplines taught at Smith College.” According to Middlebrook, all these various disciplines “provide insight into what buildings are and what they can mean. The combined work of architects, planners, landscape architects and engineers can have an enormous effect on quality of life and use of available resources.”

Middlebrook also explained that the size and the context of Smith’s architecture program as part of a liberal arts education means that students can “explore their design interests” in greatly varying ways.

“Other Smith students viewing the show might be surprised to see how their own disciplines can be investigated through the lens of architectural thinking,” he said, describing the collaboration between architecture students and faculty and students from other departments.

Senior and Hillyer Gallery intern Seneca Gray’s passion for architecture began in an eighth grade technology class with the “unit on drawing three dimensional squares.” Her interest in architecture led her to Courtney Coyne Jensen, the instructor of her Visual Journal class in Copenhagen.

“She [Jensen] taught each individual with passion and excitement every minute of every day. She herself was interesting, but more importantly made me and my peers feel interesting. She taught us what she knew but was eager to learn from us in return – emphasizing no two people see and experience the world the same way, and we all benefit from collaboration,” said Gray. Selected work from her time in Copenhagen is included in the exhibit.

Gray’s idea that studying architecture is enlightening and engaging because “you literally see the world from a different perspective” explains the range of scales, influences and disciplines that Middlebrook comments upon.

“Each student’s work looks quite different because each has navigated her own path; their projects reflect their respective interests and experiences,” said Middlebrook.

The smallness of the Smith architecture department, which may explain the personalized approach, does have one major downside. As Gray explained, “I’ve encountered many Smithies who say I am the first architecture major they have met (some who are seniors!) or that they didn’t even know we had a program. Our major is small so few people understand how involved with and vital architecture is to society.”

Gray sees the show as one way to amend this. “Those who came I hope are impressed with how we approach the world,” she said.

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