As UCLA student Stephen Nieto points out, architecture studios start to look the same after a while: Bide your time for several weeks, then pull some all-nighters near the end to finish a solitary project. But the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design's new one-year graduate program, Suprastudio, is very different. Students work together to take on a single project over the entire year (which includes four quarters), creating new urban centers—as well as specific architecture—interconnected with the vast Southern California megalopolis. "This is definitely not a normal studio," says Nieto, who loves the course's collaborative format and its wide-reaching scale.
The M.Arch. II program, dreamed up by new UCLA department chair Hitoshi Abe, is taught by Los Angeles architect Neil Denari and studio assistant Stephen Deters. Students, divided into five teams of three, develop plans for large, potentially developable sites throughout the L.A. area, including the former El Toro Marine Corps air station near Irvine and underused sites near Chino, Irwindale, and Palm Springs. Teams start with broad plans and get more specific as the year progresses. Along the way, they get technical lessons and seminars from engineering firm Buro Happold and planning and architecture firm EDAW, as well as input from designers, marketers, and strategic leaders at Toyota, which pitched in $100,000 for the course.
Nothing in the curriculum is set in stone, says Denari, and most learning comes when questions pop up along the way. "Essentially, it's a giant experiment. You don't know what a problem is until you start chipping away at it," he says. And that approach is paying off already, only a few months in. "It makes it easier to tackle a small building when you understand the context," says Raul Aguilera, a member of the team working on the site near Palm Springs. "A good architect is unselfish and can always think of things in terms of the greater good and the larger scale," adds his teammate Megan DuBois.