Posted in:

The Future of Architecture Education is Now

A Q&A with Paula Wallace of SCAD

Paula Wallace, founder and president of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), helped create the university’s very first building arts degree programs, including B.F.A. degrees in architecture, interior design, and historic preservation, now called preservation design. Today, the university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the building arts, including the Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Design, and has earned #1 rankings in Design Intelligence and accreditation by the National Architectural Accreditation Board and the Council for Interior Design Education.

Wallace is an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council, and in 2019, Paula Wallace SCAD was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. She is a recipient of the ASID Nancy Vincent McClelland Merit Award, the Arthur Ross Award for Stewardship, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award, and a Roger Milliken Honorary AIA Legacy Award. She has served as the president of SCAD since 2000 and has led the university through expansive growth to nearly 15,000 students and multiple locations in the U.S. and Europe. Worldwide, Wallace has directed the university’s rehabilitation of more than 100 historic structures, garnering critical acclaim and numerous awards from UNESCO, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and others.

Question: How has SCAD adapted architecture education during COVID-19?

Answer: Architecture is generally a conservative discipline, but the pandemic (and the creative limitations imposed by it) has created a breathtaking sense of urgency among educators and designers alike. Work from home is here to stay! At SCAD, we’ve offered virtual education since 2004 through SCAD eLearning and nearly a third of our current students had already taken an online class when the pandemic began impacting operations in March 2020. We were well prepared to adapt.

Q: And how did SCAD adapt?

A: I’ve written about this recently in an essay titled “Learning in the Time of Coronavirus—and After,” where I detail precisely how we responded to offer students a preeminent virtual education from anywhere in the world. We devoted significant resources to preparing faculty for success, ensured students had the software they needed for their course assignments, and created a positive and vibrant series of virtual master classes and engagement events to keep our SCAD family connected. Also, we worked 24/7 for about ten weeks straight!

Q: Talk to us about architecture. How has SCAD adapted to changes in the profession, before and during the pandemic?

A: The profession has been moving deeper into AR/VR territory for several years (augmented reality and virtual reality). Designers employ AR/VR headsets and host clients on virtual walkthroughs of buildings. We make sure our students are familiar and facile with the tech before they graduate.

Q: Can you give us an example?

A: Take a recent SCAD architecture grad, Nicolas Barrera (Class of 2018), now at Sasaki in Boston. They’re currently using VR to create a collaborative workspace for clients and designers, a place where they can draw and model and share, and Barrera, despite being so new, is helping with that work already. His senior project at SCAD involved blending virtual architecture walkthroughs with the game design software Unreal Engine 4, and he experimented with drones at SCAD, too. (He’s currently using the vehicles to capture site images for an ongoing project in Lima, Peru.)

Q: Do SCAD architecture faculty teach students how to do virtual walkthroughs?

A: Absolutely. SCAD professor Mike Hill, in a studio course focused on spatial relationships and human design, helps students walk into their own digital designs to look for opportunities for plan and infrastructure improvements and assess the financial and time cost of inconsistencies. Students learn to identify anomalies and issues in their own work, virtually.

Q: What about collaboration with other designers? So many working designers have to work virtually across oceans. How do SCAD architecture students learn this essential skill?

A: For Professor Brent White’s Studio IV class, he invited 20 professionals to offer virtual critiques of student work—pros from CannonDesign and West Workshop Architects and elsewhere. Just learning the protocol of Zoom engagement with actual employers, this is priceless for students. These are real-world skills needed on day one, and our SCAD students have them.

Q: Tell us about SCADpro. We’ve heard a lot about it.

A: SCADpro is our in-house design and research consultancy where the world’s top companies (BMW, Volvo, Gulfstream, Disney, Microsoft) partner with SCAD students on real-world design assignments that impact the bottom line. Our architecture and interior design students have designed new theme park guest experiences, automotive interiors, even prototype spaces for Uber’s very real future flying cars. I mentioned Nicolas Barrera earlier. When he was a student, he teamed up with other students at SCADpro to create SCADpad, a sustainable housing solution using shipping containers and parking garages in urban environments.

Q: Now that the pandemic has pushed everything online and digital, do SCAD architecture students work in purely digital formats?

A: Classical fine arts instruction is a cornerstone at SCAD, no matter how advanced the technical side of coursework gets. Every SCAD student takes courses in the SCAD School of Foundations: drawing, sketching, thumbnailing. Students master color theory and 2D and 3D rendering. SCAD architecture students take many classes in the SCAD School of Liberal Arts, too, including a class called Speaking of Ideas, which teaches students how to research and make meaningful pitches, and this pays off. For the past three years, 99.52% of SCAD architecture graduates were employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months of graduation! SCAD is also a pilot member of the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure offered through NCARB.

Decades after graduation, SCAD alumni remain leaders in the field. Geoffrey Mouen, formerly with Robert A. M. Stern in New York, has been town architect for the Legacy Project in Celebration, Florida, since 1999, and today leads his eponymously named firm in Florida. Last year, alumnus Craig Clements was recognized with the 2019 AIA Young Architect Award by the national chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and Professor Cissell—also a SCAD alumnus—received the 2019 AIA Georgia Emerging Professional Honor. Our alumni embody SCAD’s mission, just as they remain lifelong learners who embrace change.