University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
A sunny summer day on the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus finds a group of 65 high school students ensconced in the top-floor studio of the Ralph Johnson–designed architecture school. Usually, it’s home to the school’s elite, the graduate thesis students. But for two weeks in July (there’s another session in June, too), these juniors and seniors come from across Illinois—and this particular term, from 14 other states and four countries—to experience what architecture school is all about.
Lawrence Hamlin and Matthew Niermann, instructors at UIUC, are the day-to-day presence in the studio—and the days are long. Because of the students’ young age, every waking minute of their time needs to be carefully structured for the full two weeks. “You give trust, and they step up,” notes Hamlin, although teaching assistants help out during the day and residential advisers deal with the students during the evening hours. Meals are provided, just as in college, and most of the “grownups” attend these as well, to help cement bonds with the students.
The central focus of the program is the design studio; the final project incorporates drawing and model-making skills into a pavilion-type design problem. But instruction in sketching, drafting, CAD, lectures, movies, and a field trip to Columbus, Ind., make for a rich experience that introduces the students to almost every aspect of the profession.
John Henderson is from Chicago’s West Side, where he attends North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School. “I like creating things,” he says. The rising senior came to Discover Architecture after designing a house in school that impressed his counselor. Both his high school and the university provided scholarship money so that Henderson could attend.
Monica Scinto is a rising senior at York Community High School in Elmhurst, Ill. Her interest in architecture is broad—“How does this work, what’s the physics of it?” she asks. Although the campus is relatively quiet in July, she has definitely gotten a taste of college life. “The dorms are small,” Scinto says, noting that it takes some coordination of sleeping schedules to get along with her roommate.
Chicago native Gabriel Vidal-Hallett attends Walter Payton College Prep and knows a bit about the profession from his mother, who’s an architect. That may seem to give him a step up on the others, but, he says, “I’ve always seen the finished project. I’ve seen the process here.” And the two-week session is about a lot more than just design. “I didn’t know about exams, internship, 4+2,” he says. “I’m so much more informed.”
The next few months will see many participants applying to colleges. Scinto is looking at up to eight, including Illinois and Pennsylvania State University. Vidal-Hallett is trying to choose between the University of Michigan and Illinois. Henderson seems most intent on coming back to Urbana-Champaign for the full four years. “We want to help them, wherever they want to go,” says Lee W. Waldrep, who directs the program. “But we want them here at Illinois,” adds Hamlin, with a smile. —Edward Keegan
Length: two weeks
Fees: $1,300 (2010), including room and board
Housing: students live and eat in a supervised residence hall