Blacksburg tends to return to a quiet, sleepy small town during summertime. However, this summer, the exciting chatter and enthusiasm of 51 design transfer students filled Surge Space Building. Word trickled back to Cowgill Hall of the lively and creative atmosphere in the summer studios. 

Students who plan to transfer into one of the four design programs, Architecture, Interior Design, Industrial Design, or Landscape Architecture, participate in the summer session of Foundation Studio. In the regular academic year, first-year students take two semesters, or 30 weeks, of the course. The transfer students’ Foundation experience is condensed into 12 weeks and split into two sessions of 6 weeks each. During the first session of the summer studio, the students are introduced to the “foundations” of design. 

Most of the students did not come from design backgrounds, so architecture faculty members Shawn Wang and Scott Gartner pushed them outside their comfort zone.  They provided current and historic examples of design as inspiration for student design projects. Using examples of form, structure, space--either from nature or examples of design--students merged their project ideas with newly developed fundamental skills in drawing, the concept of scale, and transferring two-dimensional design into three-dimensional objects. The students also found inspiration in each other’s work as they discussed and critiqued work in a group setting. 

This group of transfer students came to the studio with an eagerness to immerse themselves in the design major they want to pursue. They met each day from 8:00 am to 12 noon. Their intensity, and the faculty’s innovative efforts to deliver the fundamentals they needed, led to a very successful summer session. 

Wang noted that as students rapidly acclimated to design, they relearned “how to think and how to adapt to their new environment.” With their groundwork in harnessing their imaginations and translating their ideas into drawing or models, the students are primed to create a design, not just from existing examples, but from emotional experiences.

Taking over the second half of the studio, Mintai Kim, a faculty member in landscape architecture, and Ron Daniel, from architecture, put an emphasis on developing what Kim referred to as the “seeing” eye. Students drew aspects of trees that are not immediately apparent and they studied designers such as Kandinsky and Klee. They also traveled to Roanoke to observe socio-economic elements of the city that are not obvious to a casual observer. Noting it as one of the biggest takeaways of the studio session, Kim explained, “I want to teach students to make observations that are not necessarily apparent on the surface.”

Kim noted the importance of expanding students’ horizons and observing the world on a deeper level. He wanted the students to explore how the language of architecture and design intersects with the way other disciplines communicate or share the results of their efforts.

Kim explains, “As an amateur cellist, classical music has always been a part of my life and there are so many similarities in classical music and design.”

Kim sought out world-class local musicians David Ehrlich, Teresa Ehrlich and Benjamin Wyatt to stage a performance at the Moss Arts Center. The goal was to explore similarities between the languages of music, architecture and design.

The musicians played a variety of pieces while the students sketched. In between the pieces, the students, faculty and musicians explored questions about how their disciplines intersect. “In their discussions, the musicians talked about forms, shape and structure, and that’s what we talk about in design,” said Kim. For a closer look at their conversations, view a video about the experience here.

One of the architecture students observed that both music and design, like the Moss Arts Center, evoke a response. “Both things make you feel.” Adding to that sentiment, David Ehrlich said, “I believe that all arts are better when they influence each other and more people are involved.”

Reflecting on the experience, Kim said, “the creative process is not creating form out of nothing. We get inspired by forms in nature and forms that are created by other people. Music is another form of art to be inspired by. If students came away with this in mind, I would be really happy.”

The transfer students joined their other classmates in entering the second-year of their respective design programs, their skills forged by an intensive summer. The exciting chatter that could be heard in Surge studios during the summer exploded in Cowgill, Burchard, and Burruss Hall as students returned to in-person courses this fall. Drawings, prints, and models cover the walls of studios where groups of students can be found in front of the works gathering inspiration.