Pre-COVID-19, architecture students spent hours producing drafts, drawings and models in their design studio classes. Online schooling presents an unexpected challenge to Architecture Studio Design classes, forced to alter their hands-on approach.  

According to architecture junior Tomy Stankiewicz, in-person studio class is a hub of collaboration, with students working together into the night on projects. 

In studio, professors and peers freely share insight, and progress images of classmate work cover the walls, said Stankiewicz. 

“[Since the pandemic], it is a lot less collaborative for sure,” Stankiewicz said. “There are no more abrupt questions, or conversation with our peers that allows inspiration for a new design — everyone is quiet.” 

Architecture freshman Avery Vuong said adaptability is the most important lesson she’s learned when challenged with online studio. 

“I’ve learned to maximize what I can do with what I have in front of me,” she said. 

New to the program, Vuong said she envisioned a collaborative environment for projects, and a steady exchange of feedback when she applied to Cal Poly. 

“Now, since studio is online, my classmates and I communicate with through GroupMe, sending pictures of models or drafts to each other for feedback,” Vuong said. 

Communication between professors and students now follows a script, according to Stankiewicz. 

“The sense of community has been lost, but we seem to find it again here and there,” he said. 

Access to supplies and workspace varies from student to student. With some studios requiring constant physical models and scale representation of projects using expensive materials, the students who are not living near campus or in San Luis Obispo are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to access to materials, said architecture junior Ben Simsiman. 

Vuong has all the materials she would normally have in Studio — measuring, cutting, drawing tools — but her setup is different. Vuong does not have a large desk, so she adapted.

Vuong’s neighbor abandoned a board on the curb to be trashed or taken.

“I took it home and taped a couple of rulers on it, and that acts as my drafting table,” Vuong said.

Zoom studio calls usually begin with group discussion, then dive into separate, individual critiques. Everyone then works from home on tasks at hand, according to Stankiewicz.  

“It feels like there is a lot more pressure to find our own inspiration and guidance for projects,” Stankiewicz said. “This creates long nights in order to finish quality work rather than process work.” 

Studio is reliant on face-to-face interaction, according to Simsiman. Personal feedback and exchange of ideas in a studio are some of the most valuable experiences a student can have, he said.

“I was genuinely surprised when it was announced that the architectural studio was not included in the few in-person classes on campus,” Simsiman said. 

According to Stankiewicz, online studio classes require more detail than ever. Scale — ratio of real-life dimensions to measurements on paper — is more relevant on paper than on screen. Three-dimensional work, such as models, has also decreased in value because studying form and space of an object relies heavily on physical touch. 

Some professors have shifted their workload to suit virtual channels, and provide students with numerous resources and accommodations to help them during these times, while others are also unabashed by the virtual quarter and continue to teach this quarter as if it were in-person, Simsimian said.

To Simsiman, online studio’s biggest upside is in its biggest challenge: isolation. 

It is this rare isolation from studio that he says allows for each student’s “personal vision to shine through a lot stronger and forces them to rely on their own intuition more than a typical in-person studio.” 

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