The collaborative boon of architecture programs with local practice and industry.

The collaborative boon of architecture programs with local practice and industry

Developing Real Partnerships

Good, working relationships between practice and academia benefit everyone, but are not always easy to achieve. Traditionally, the hiring of graduating students and occasional employment of area architects as adjunct faculty represents the extent of interaction normally associated with an urban school, although a number of programs have experimented with much richer engagements through the concept of the named studio – a design experience for the students structured and run by a local practice.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is attempting to expand this concept to a new level of partnership that not only brings a major practice into the studio but contemporaneously takes the faculty directly into practice.

The Milwaukee practice of Plunkett Raysich Architects has long had a rich relationship with the school. James Plunkett established one of the first scholarships in the school twenty years ago, and the practice has hired almost exclusively from the program; the number of alumni currently numbers over 68.

In an attempt to create an even stronger, structural relationship to the benefit of both parties, the current President David Raysich (UWM class of 1972) has established The Plunkett Raysich Professorship, a $50,000 per year innovation in the school.

Essentially, the leadership of the practice, working with the Dean, selects a faculty member to work as a design consultant in the firm for one semester. The professor is optioned out of his or her teaching responsibilities to work directly with the architects on current projects.

In the second semester, the faculty returns to run the Plunkett Raysich Studio, focusing on topics mutually created with the architectural practice, the members of which are regular participants in the program.

The innovative studio model, which structurally alters the role of faculty and practitioner alike by inserting them formally in each other’s field of operation, creates an important new opportunity to blur the barriers between practice and academia to the benefit of all.

The Nemschoff Chairs Experiment

Schools of architecture represent powerhouses of innovative new ideas and energy that can enrich the existing pool of ideas with exciting new alternatives.

While the role of the architectural studio in exploring new ideas is well documented elsewhere, the skill of talented students can equally well be applied to other design fields which can benefit the learning experience of the students and the design product alike.

In this case, a state furniture manufacturer was tentatively looking to establish a relationship with the School of Architecture and Urban Planning which, although it admired the reputation of the program, was unsure if a mutually beneficial partnership was feasible. Fortunately, the Nemschoff family visited the school on the day in which 450 freshman presented the fruits of their first-ever design – a chair.

The company was so enamored with the project, that they established financial prizes/scholarships for the best designers and utilized their Research and Development office to build the winning designs of the past five years to full scale. They have been involved in displaying the exhibition of work to local and national audiences (including NEOCON, the world’s largest design show), contributing a total of $56,500. Should any of the designs be considered for commercial production, a royalty sharing agreement between Nemschoff, the school, and the student will be created.

While other studios focus more directly on development or building issues, the Architecture 100 Chair Design project – one of four required submissions in the freshman 3-credit class – has energized the students, led to a noticeable improvement in design work, and created a productive new relationship with one of Wisconsin’s leading furniture manufacturers.