November 01, 2013

Boston as a Lab

First-year students in Studio 1 sketch a portion of Downtown Crossing

It’s Wednesday afternoon and a group of first-year architecture students are not in the classroom. That is to say, they’re not in a traditional classroom. They stand in the middle of Summer Street in Downtown Crossing, pencils and paper in hand, sketching their surroundings while trying to find the horizon line in the distance.

The scene attracts curious onlookers shopping at neighboring department stores and those picking out apples at a produce stand a few yards away. As the students work, Robert Trumbour, assistant professor, College of Architecture, Design, and Construction Management, offers suggestions on how to properly view the space they occupy, while also offering insight into the architectural features of the historic area.

Wentworth students have long known the close proximity of famous Boston sites to campus, but thanks to a focus on hands-on, project-based learning at the school, they are able to use the city for real-world learning.

“There is really a focus on locations and we’re looking more at experiential learning, as opposed to abstraction,” Trumbour explained. “We think by showing actual examples up close, we’re providing a more well-rounded learning experience.”

The aforementioned class, Studio 1, currently enlists 195 first-year students split into 13 different sections. Around a dozen students per group travel with their respective professors to various Boston sites via the Orange and Green MBTA lines, including Copley Square and the North End. Once a week, students and faculty meet in Blount Auditorium to share their findings from the field.

“The site visits have really helped me understand certain concepts better,” said Allison Reynolds, ’18. “Having real world examples really connects you to what you’re studying.”

Added Patrick Meyers, ’18. “It’s been nice to apply what we’re learning in class to buildings and spaces we interact with every day.”

Similar classes in the past have started with the basic building blocks of architecture before moving onto completed projects later. But things were reversed this semester as students were dropped into the finished products first before discussing the basics of how they were all created, a process that Trumbour said is both more interesting for students and insightful for professors.

Because most of the students have already visited various cities in their lives and seen similar buildings, Trumbour believes that they walk into the program already curious about and acquainted with the concepts they will be immediately shown. “They’re familiar with these spaces and are already curious about them,” said Trumbour. “And it’s fun for the faculty to see right away where the students are at with their thinking.”

Such a luxury affords faculty, Trumbour said, the chance to identify areas where students need improvement or other areas where they are already proficient. Knowing such things at the beginning of the semester allows for more tailored teaching.

“It’s fun to grow up in Boston and then go to a class that uses the city instead of a regular classroom,” said Cooper McGonigal, ’18. “It’s interesting to learn things in a different way.”

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