The inside Architecture + Design summer program on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus this week has attracted 108 students from 17 states.

An initiative of the Center for Design Research in the School of Architecture + Design, the program provides students entering grades 9-12 the opportunity to learn from leading scholars and researchers through a variety of activities, presentations, and exercises. Over 18 years, it has grown from four students in its first year to more than 100 in recent years with a long waiting list. Close to 1,000 students have participated in the program with many going on to study and practice architecture or design.

This year students are from Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Tennessee, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and South Carolina.  

The students experience college life firsthand during the week — staying in residence halls, enjoying Virginia Tech’s top-ranked dining facilities, walking across campus to the studio, and sharing the workspace of actively enrolled college students. The program is designed to simulate a full university experience and is derived from the curriculum of Virginia Tech’s architecture program, which is ranked in the top five nationally.

A set of assignments and discussions allow the students to discover things about themselves and about the world, fostering a maturation of values that understand design in the larger context. In early exposure to design education, the criticality of professional discipline content yields to a focus on order, hierarchy, and an awareness of complexity.

“There is no clear roadmap for research in the design fields. The most significant learning moments occur in the unexpected, and are the result of flow of thought and interchange. The problem/answer, start and stop, mode of investigation is too cumbersome for design education to be effective,” said Professor Robert Dunay, one of the founders of the program. “The ability to navigate this territory lies in youth, and is best facilitated through open studios that coalesce differing viewpoints. Thus, the iA+D experience navigates between the perceived certainty of calculation, and the artistic, intuitive processes that designers bring to situations of uncertainty, instability, and uniqueness.”

Classes begin today, June 22, in the design studios of the School of Architecture + Design. An intense week follows with two studio sessions each day. The daytime studio immerses students into ways designers think and work. The evening studio is dedicated to teamwork and the specificity of a problem-based assignment with a demonstrable outcome. The change from the daytime studio to the evening studio, from an intuitive searching to a rational analysis and from individual work to teamwork, is designed to simulate conditions of actual design practice.

The physical move to another studio location in the evening mirrors an intellectual shift and a different mode of working. Ultimately, designers must reconcile both — the intuitive potential of searching through alternatives, and the rational, calculative approach. The exercises challenge the students to be the master of facts and the protagonist of ideals.

The week ends on Friday, June 26, with an exhibition filling Cowgill lobby with work from all participants. Parents and students will then gather in Hancock Auditorium for a final review and discussion.

The lead professors and founders, Robert and Donna Dunay, together comprise more than 80 years of teaching experience. Donna Dunay, FAIA, is Chair of the International Archive of Women in Architecture, and Robert Dunay, FAIA is Director of the Center for Design Research. Both hold endowed professorships and are Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Distinguished Professors. Only two percent of architects are recognized as Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, and only five individuals are chosen for ACSADP each year from the national pool of educators and administrators. In addition, Robert Dunay is the only faculty in the country to be recognized with four Most Admired Educators awards by DesignIntelligence. This combined experience provides the students a valuable comprehensive exposure to issues in architecture and design.