Continued from page 1
“I want our students to be sensitive to other cultures and ways houses have been designed and built over time,” Wachtel said. “We are not recreating but blending the best of what they remember with the realities of living in an urban environment.”
Students in the USF program are required to work on at least one local and one international community design outreach project. In many cases students also participate in the construction of their designs. Such projects have transformed spaces around the world, from Zambia to San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood.
Last year in Zambia, Wachtel and students helped design and build a library in the capital to help AIDS-orphaned children improve literacy and language skills. Now, students are designing a preschool for children of farmers and a health clinic in a rural Zambian village. Wachtel actively seeks funding for the projects, which are relatively inexpensive—the preschool and health clinic in Zambia, for example, could be built for about $50,000 each.
Julie Ehrlich ’07, a member of the program’s first graduating class, said the experience of designing and building the library in Zambia was transformational.
“Architects have the power and potential to change the world and change lives in what they design and build, whether it is a home that keeps a family alive or a library that brings the community together,” said Ehrlich, who is now working at two small Bay Area architecture firms. She said she chose the smaller firms because “after having the experience of working personally with clients as a student I wanted to be able to meet my clients and not just be one of a million drafters.”
She has already designed a low-income housing development and several home remodels.
“At one firm last week my boss asked me to mark up a set of construction plans. When she reviewed my work, she asked, ‘Did you learn this in school? How do you know how to do everything I asked you?’” Ehrlich said. “A lot of schools don’t do client-based projects and construction sets—they do mostly theory. We are building for people who need it.”
Ehrlich’s experience in Zambia was so profound that she decided to join the Peace Corps. In December she will return to Africa for two years as part of the Peace Corps’ agricultural program. After her service, she plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in architecture.
Other graduates have landed at San Francisco’s top architecture firms, and one is in graduate school at UC Berkeley.
The program’s focus on socially responsible community building is felt closer to home as well. One project last year took students to the Bayview Hunter’s Point district where they designed a streetscape intended to clean up a crime-ridden area. They also designed and built an entrance to Adventure Playground in Berkeley and a children’s performance stage for Koshland Park in San Francisco. In Bayview, students have designed and will soon build Bridgeview Learning Garden, a place where neighbors and children will learn to grow fruit and vegetables.
The architecture major was launched in 2003 when USF discontinued its 5-year-old joint degree program with California College of the Arts. Bringing the architecture program in-house was designed to meet a growing demand and allow the university to offer a more mission-driven approach to the discipline.
“It is vital for young people at a university to experience this so they have an idea of how the world lives,” Wachtel said of the community outreach approach the program takes. “At USF students are more open to non-traditional ways of working in the world and are desiring something more than just a fast-track to money.”
back: Blueprint for Change 1 2