High-school students excel in dual-credit course
“Remarkable.” “Mature.” “Unique style.”
This sort of praise, in any field, is often reserved for those with a decade of experience and a thick portfolio of work to their name. But 23 students, who two weeks prior had no architecture experience, also elicited this praise from some award-winning architects.
On the last day of a dual-credit course Architectural Design Studio (ADST) 200, offered jointly by Athabasca University and Edmonton Public Schools at Centre High, students had clearly impressed their instructors with how far they had come in the two-week summer course.
“They’re really working at a university level, and they have really exceeded all expectations,” said Dr. Douglas MacLeod, one of the course instructors and the Chair of the RAIC Centre for Architecture, which is part of the Faculty of Science and Technology at Athabasca University.
Culmination of learning
The class finished with a day of students presenting their final projects, which represented the culmination of two weeks’ worth of assignments, each building on previous assignments—from sketches and two-dimensional designs to three-dimensional paper models.
Finished designs included everything from classically inspired structures with simple, elegant curves to innovative modern structures with high levels of detail and crisp, clean lines.
Emmett Moore, a student from McNally High School who took the class, said this was the first time he enjoyed his schoolwork so much that he took it home to do extra work on it.
“This has been fun,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.”
For his final project, he designed a wildlife conservancy built into a mountainside with gorillas and monkeys in mind. After the course, he said he felt comfortable talking about many of the fundamental elements of design.
“The relationships between shapes in a building can be really enticing,” Moore said. “We have to really take advantage of shadows and lights, by putting a shadow here or this space there.”
Architect Barry Johns, one of the course instructors, said he was impressed by how much the students had picked up in a relatively short amount of time.
“I’ve seen enormous growth in the students,” he said.
He also pointed out that this course has received some high-profile attention from others in the professional community—one of his Instagram posts from his @bjstudio80 was “liked” by Canadian architectural great Douglas Cardinal.
The class had the opportunity to tour buildings as part of the program, including the Edmonton Advanced Technology Centre in south Edmonton, designed by Johns, and the soon-to-be-completed Norwood-McCauley Medical Centre on 95 St. near 111 Ave., designed by Cynthia Dovell, another of AU’s architecture instructors and principal with Avid Architecture.
Students even got a tour of a working architecture firm, Manasc Isaac, led by principal Vivian Manasc who herself is no stranger to AU; she designed the new ARC building on the Athabasca campus and now serves as the Chair of the university’s Board of Governors.
She also spoke to students about her own career, and some of the philosophical changes that took place in the field of architecture over the years—from a the idea of buildings as purely functional “disposable” designs, through to more modern ideas that focus more on incorporating the building’s surroundings and community in a more ethical and sustainable way.
“A lot of our work has been around creating buildings that live lightly on the earth,” she said. “It’s important as architects that we are advocates for the kind of built environment that we want to live in.”
A proud partnership
While this was the first dual-credit offering from AU’s Architecture program, it likely won’t be the last. MacLeod said he was pleased at the success of the partnership between AU and Edmonton Public Schools.
“They have been absolutely wonderful and enthusiastic hosts,” he said. “We want to do it again, not just in Edmonton but elsewhere in the country as well.”
He emphasized the significant value students can get from working on university-level classes while they’re still in high school—essentially getting university credits for free.
“The goal is to both get them engaged in the world of design, but this is also to help them transition to university,” he said. “Dual-credit is one of the best-kept secrets of our school system.”
AU also has partnerships with eight school divisions in Alberta, offering dual-credit opportunities to tens of thousands of high-school students across the province. The Government of Alberta website provides more information about dual-credit options for high-school students.