Studio Culture


(8.19.2015 / Revision)


Studio-based learning is the center of architectural education at Rensselaer. It is where a broad range of insight concerning the synthesis of history/theory, design, technology and best building practices specific to the education of the architect, is acquired and rigorously tested from one semester to the next. Studios are also where the primary guiding principles concerning collaborative teamwork, and ethical conduct essential to the profession, are honed and practiced.

At Rensselaer, project-based design studios form the core of a majority of our undergraduate and graduate programs, providing a place of synthesis, where knowledge and skill sets from a constellation of required and elective 2-4 credit courses provide context for the creative enterprise of the studio. Research, analysis, interpretation and criticism represent the developmental phases that bring together as a holistic project, a larger commitment to the integration of cultural, design, and professional considerations.

Faculty/student ratios (typically 1:12) throughout the design studios are mindful of the significant importance of providing as much contact time as possible between the instructor and the students. This favorable ratio in support of the program’s teaching / learning, results in a large numbers of one-on-one critiques, group discussions and public juries essential to a successful and meaningful studio setting.

Beyond the invaluable pedagogical contribution provided by the primary instructor associated with the studio, a community of internal and external educators and practitioners are invited on a continuous basis into the classroom as critics to provide a broad range of diverse perspectives essential to the ongoing development of the student projects. Strong communication skills are also promoted through the assessment of drawings, models, written text and public presentations as an invaluable attribute for the future success of any professional architect.

Studios provide the opportunity to capitalize on a variety of diverse learning modalities spanning: informal conversations, formal presentations, individual critiques, short- and long-term design exercises, and individual and collaborative research and design projects. Through a commitment to research as a critical inquiry, the ‘craft of making’ as an essential mode of discovery, a range of analog and digital techniques as a vital participatory platform, and iterative experimentation as an important strategy to expand the full range of design options available to a designer, the studios at Rensselaer are structured to promote critical thinkers, life-long learners and future leaders in the profession.

  • STUDIO SETTING – Studios are furnished and equipped to promote teaching and learning between students and faculty at the scale of one-on-one critiques as well as group discussions. Sufficient space is allocated throughout the school for individual design research as well as specialized collaborative projects. The studio setting is interpreted as a broad and diverse nurturing community in support of open dialog, courteous manners, self-expression and peer-to-peer learning.
  • SAFETY – The health and safety of the student body represents a major priority for the faculty and administrative leadership in the School of Architecture. Only sanctioned materials that do not represent a health risk to the students are allowed to be used within the studio and/or school shop setting. There are also clear Safety Training policies and procedures associated with the use of materials and equipment in the school that are disseminated every year by the shop to the entire student body.
    NOTE: Failure to comply with the school’s strict safety codes may result in an administrative action.
    The school has a small spray booth on the basement level of the Greene building to accommodate for the increase of models that require painting from one semester to the next. For access to larger spray booth facilities, students are encouraged to take their models to The Jonsson Engineering Center (JEC) in the School of Engineering. In addition, the Institute has provided a new outdoor space near the Greene Building where spraypainting may be done safely and without marring the buildings or grounds.
  • DISRUPTIVE CONDUCT – Excessive noise (due to the use of power tools, music and/or loud speaking) or conduct that results in unreasonable annoyance is inappropriate and should be avoided at all times. The studio should be upheld as a productive, supportive and respectful communal environment.
  • STUDIO ACCESS + LATE NIGHT SAFETY PROTOCOL – The Greene Building, within which the entire School of Architecture is located, is open 24 hours a day with card access. Doors are locked to the public on weekends and between 6pm and 8am. Persons without access cards should not be permitted entry and reporting any unfamiliar persons in the building should be done by contacting Public Safety at 518-276-6656. Returning home at night should be done in groups. Students who intend to go home alone after hours and would prefer an escort, are encouraged to call Public Safety as well; a service which is available at no cost.
  • CLEANING -– In order to maintain studios as effective, safe and clean workplaces, students should throw away all trash materials, food products, in the building’s designated trash dispensers. Additionally, it is important to keep the floor unobstructed of student models and general rubbish in anticipation of nightly staff sweeping.
  • COLLABORATIVE WORK – Studio provides an ideal opportunity to learn in a collaborative setting. Faculty should provide ample opportunity for teamwork and collaborative learning. Diverse opinions, points of view and approaches are welcome and should be treated with utmost respect. A similar courtesy should be extended to every member and visitor in the studio.
  • EXPERIMENTATION AND RISK-TAKING – Studios at Rensselaer provide an ideal setting in support of experimentation and risk-taking. Faculty and students are encouraged to pursue this creative stance as a means to promote true discovery and innovation.
  • MULTIPLE MODES OF LEARNING – The culture of the school celebrates a broad range of pedagogical diversity, which in turn manifests in a multiplicity of different design techniques and material practices offered to the entire student body. Committed to the invaluable role of technology in the education of the architect, the multiple modes of learning include: analog techniques (i.e., manual drawing and model making), digital and fabrication technologies, and computation.
  • TIME MANAGEMENT – The importance of assuming control over time management cannot be underestimated for students in the architecture program. The extraordinary amount of course work that requires continuous attention from one semester to the next, requires a high degree of curation on the part of every student in order to satisfy academic requirements and sustain a healthy life style.
    Allocating the proper time for one’s schoolwork, sleep and extra circular activities represents an ideal pathway for academic success, good health and personal growth. Students are encouraged to learn how to manage their time well in light of the complexities and demands of student life.
    While the Dean approaches this important topic in great detail at the all-school meeting with all of the students and faculty present, as well as with his Dean’s Student Advisory Council every semester, and this issue is also addressed by student mentors and faculty advisors, ultimately it is the responsibility of each student to prepare a responsible personal schedule that yields positive results.
  • REVIEWS – Students are expected to attend and participate in their design studio pin-ups and official reviews throughout the course of the semester. Interpreted as an invaluable teaching and learning opportunity, these public events represent an essential component of the education of an architect. Structured as supportive and insightful forums of intellectual and creative exchange, students are encouraged to visit studios throughout the program in favor of broadening their perspective of the discipline.
  • ASSESSMENT – Studio performance assessment is achieved through table critiques, group discussions and official mid-term and final juries. Grade evaluations are confidential and should be provided at both the mid-point and conclusion of the semester. Although there are official time milestones where evaluations are communicated to each member of the student body, students may request on an individual basis an evaluation of their progress at any time.
  • ARCHIVES – Student work produced in the School of Architecture at Rensselaer is considered the property of the Institute. This material may be uploaded on the school’s website as well as exhibited and published for promotional purposes.
    Students selected by their instructors every semester for potential inclusion in the all-school book, INFLUX, are responsible for arranging to have their models photographed by the Publications Staff as well as uploading their digital files as per the submission requirements. Select models can be retained by the school without permission of the students, although arrangements under special circumstances can be made to return the models to the student author.
    All students throughout the entire school are responsible for documenting their physical models for their portfolio as well as assuring that their digital files are properly backed up for future use. Establishing a comprehensive and high-quality archive of one’s design work should be a priority of every student.

Studio Policy:

In support of a vibrant studio culture:

  • STUDIO WORKPLACE – Each student registered for studio will be assigned an accessible studio workplace with a complement of studio furniture and access to the Institute network, computing infrastructure, peripheral devices and the internet.
  • STATUS OF FURNITURE – The School will insure that studio spaces and furnishings are comfortable, safe, clean, convenient, and well equipped.
  • FACULTY SUPPORT – Studio faculty will offer guidance to their respective students on how to properly arrange the furniture with respect to educational priorities, general communication, easy-access, and life-safety issues. Students are also encouraged, to use the studio outside of scheduled class hours.
  • STUDIO SYLLABI + COURSE EXPECTATIONS – All studio syllabi and project descriptions will contain specific information regarding project requirements and due dates. Faculty should: a) establish reasonable time frames and expectations for the completion of design projects, b) carefully monitor progress and be willing to modify requirements and due dates in light of extenuating circumstances, and c) be conscious and respectful of demands on student time in relation to other courses and extra-circular activities.
  • FACULTY ADVISEMENT – Studio faculty and students are expected to be in studio during scheduled contact hours and should use the studio for work during non-studio hours. Faculty must include contact information on all studio handouts and have a clearly stated policy regarding availability to meet with students outside of studio time either by having posted office hours, or by appointment.
  • STUDIO GRADING – All studio syllabi must specifically state how student work will be assessed, i.e., by indicating both the criteria and the percentage value for each assigned component. At or near mid-semester, faculty should provide students with an evaluation of their performance and progress to date. At that time, students in danger of receiving a grade of D or below (C or below for graduate students) should receive a warning letter, a copy of which is forwarded to the student’s academic advisor. These grades should also be reported to the Institute’s Early Warning System (EWS).
  • CORE STUDIO COORDINATION – Each semester, architecture faculty teaching the same student cohort will review and coordinate studio and non-studio course content and due dates. The 1st and 2nd years are most amenable to such coordination.
  • GRADE APPEAL – The School of Architecture has a formal process for appealing grades that is applicable to every course and design studio. The details of this process are available to every student through the Student Services Administrator, Lecia O’Dell.

In establishing our policies on design studio culture, we fully support and endorse the AIAS values of optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation.


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Evan Douglis, Professor


School of Architecture
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street - Greene Bldg.
Troy, NY 12180 - USA

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