22 April

Alternative Paths for Architecture Training

Architects and professors Juan Román and Rusty Smith took part […]

Architects and professors Juan Román and Rusty Smith took part in the
discussion exploring Singularity and Globality at UIA2021RIO, recounting the
practical experiences of students in rural areas of Chile and the United States

In early March 2021, ArchDaily – a global architecture communication platform – released the results of a selection of the best projects designed by students at Latin American and Spanish universities. Out of a total of 305 entries, twenty papers were highlighted, including a project providing shelter for cattle herders in the Maule region of Chile, at an altitude of 1,340 meters. Built for stones and the remains of signs, this shelter serves cattlemen guiding their herds through the steep slopes of the cordillera, seeking green pastures. “It is very rare and even odd to see this design honoured in a contest where everything is elegant and exquisite,” commented Juan Román at the start of his presentation in the discussion exploring Singularity and Globality at the 27th World Congress of Architects – UIA2021RIO. The architect who conceptualised and now directs the School of Architecture at the University of Talca, Chile,

Professor Juan Román spoke with pride: the project was designed by Talca student Bernardita Marchant. ”There is a transgression – either explicit or implicit. It is not the extraordinary, but the singular, the strange”, he added, subtly indicating the principles underpinning Talca School, and what has brought it international acknowledgement as an innovative educational institution.

Shelter for cattle herders, by Bernardita Marchant / Escuela de Talca

Talca is a mid-sized town in Chile’s Central Valley, with a strong farming tradition. In order to graduate from this Architecture course, each student presents a Degree Project: a small-scale architectural project designed to respond to local demands. In search of funding, the students present their designs to the Town Council or entrepreneurs. These projects are even built by the students as well.

Juan Román continued by presenting pictures of other projects: a structure for raspberry pickers, a fishermen’s shelter, a temporary canteen for vineyard workers; a lookout point on the banks of the Maule River and another deep in the hills of the cordillera. ”In general, the works produced at Talca are fascinating,” he said.

Lookout Restos Frente al Horizonte, by Felipe Muñoz / Escuela de Talca

These unique projects and their designers gain global projection: Juan Román recalled the work of young Rodrigo Sheward – the Pinohuacho lookout point – that was featured in more than twenty international publications, and made the covers of magazines such as Portugal’s +Architecture and Korea’s C3, as well as the book entitled Wood Architecture Now, brought out by Taschen, Germany’s famous publishing house.

According to Román, the Talca School assigns high value to the origins of its students, often the offspring of fishermen and peasants, who design projects related to their realities, almost always low-cost, using recycled materials and little technology, fully focused on sustainability.

From the reality of Chile’s Central Valley, UIA2021RIO led the audience onto a discussion of another experience of teaching and practising architecture in rural areas: this time in Alabama, where Rusty Smith directs the Rural Studio Design Construction Programme at Auburn University. On a map of the USA, he drew attention to the Black Belt: a cluster of poor rural counties with a history of extracting resources that “never returned to the site.” In this region, the students in this Programme focus on building homes for local communities. ”Our students work with real clients, hoping to produce real projects, with real budgets and real schedules,” he said.

In addition to housing – which is the focus of this Programme – students work on community equipment projects, such as a Fire Department building.

Neubern Firehouse, Alabama / Rural Studio

The discussion mediator, architect Kristine Stiphany, who lectures at the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University, commented on her experiences in the slums of São Paulo, paving the way for Rusty to talk about the differences between working in ramshackle urban and rural settings. For example, he pointed out that countless students in Alabama students have personal experience of community conditions – this is not a remote context, as often occurs when architects work in poverty-stricken urban areas.

She also asked the discussants about the scales and impacts of their actions. Juan emphasized that “the local scale is very interesting” and Rusty recalled that – as educators – both he and Juan “impact new generations that move into the world to design.”

On educational aspects, Juan said that critique is widely used in the Talca School, and the school itself is subject to assessments and questions from professionals in Europe and South America, who are invited to visit the projects and talk about them. ”These conversations allow us to absorb other visions and move forward steadily. Other than that, there is a constant stream of criticisms and assessments from the community, because the projects stay there – withstanding or not, depending on use.”

Juan stressed that the works are related to the times when they are produced, and also reflect the personal characteristics and development of each student. ”There is respect for what the student is and what they can be. The outcomes are varied and must be so. This is supported because the area is always changing and demanding new answers.”

On this point, Rusty added that teachers are sometimes challenged in situations with which they are unfamiliar, when students contribute by finding solutions to which their “teachers are blinded by experience.”

To follow this discussion in full, access:



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