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Architecture students voice their concerns

By Andrea Lamberti

In the latest of three meetings called by students in the architecture department, over 100 students met last Friday with about 20 members of the architecture faculty and the department head to discuss problems faced by the Department of Architecture.

At stake are the issues of the physical separation of the department, communication among students, faculty and the administration, student representation and faculty cohesiveness.

The meetings were organized "to provide a forum so that students could express their concerns," according to Kathy Chia G. The "series of student meetings reflects the extreme urgency that students feel about these issues," Chia added.

The organizers of the meetings, in a letter to department head Bill Porter and Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning John de Monchaux, outlined these issues and hope to get a written response by Dec. 19.

The letter, written by Chris Falliers G, Chia, Kairos Shen G, and Mark Daley G, was intended to reflect "a consensus of student opinion that came out of the meetings," according to Falliers.

"We believed that [the issues weren't] the concerns of an isolated few" students, Shen said.

The letter states "the student initiative this fall is based on a sincere desire for the improvement of the educational environment in the Department."

Minutes were compiled and distributed throughout the department after the first two meetings. This was to "make the minutes available to everyone," according to Shen, in order to encourage student feedback.

"One department -- one roof"

Until this fall, all of the design studios were located in the main Institute buildings. But because the "absolute number of students had grown beyond the capacity" of those studios, the department was forced to move a "critical mass of students" to available space in Building N52, which also houses the MIT Museum, de Monchaux said.

One of the students' requests is to house all of the design studios in the same location again by September of 1990. The slogan "one department -- one roof," coined by undergraduates, was a reaction to the need to have all the studios together.

"We can only be a real department after we're under one roof," said Associate Professor Jan Wampler at Friday's meeting.

The close proximity of all levels of the design program permitted a large "amount of TA-student interaction" in the past, according to Lambert DeVoe '91, because teaching assistants worked in the same area as their students.

The closeness of the studios also allowed undergraduates to "be exposed to conversation that goes on [among graduate students] about philosophical architectural issues," DeVoe said.

Issue of communication

The Master of Architecture admissions committee, because it consists of students working with faculty and one administrator, is one means of communication between students and the department.

The issue of student representation and communication in the department was magnified by the removal of three student positions on the MArch admissions committee. Until this year there were six students, two faculty and the department executive officer on the committee to admit students for the Masters of Architecture degree, a professional design degree.

The decision to reduce the number of students to three and add two faculty members was made "with no public reasoning behind" it, according to committee member Denise Ferris G. "I know no students were asked" or informed about the decision before it was made, Ferris added.

Students now want to know, Shen said, "how . . . the department sees the design program" if the previous means of communication are diminishing and policy changes are being made without input from students or explanation afterward.

The Department of Architecture "has traditionally been very personal" in student relations, Shen said. "We know that [sitting on an admissions committee and the existence of another joint faculty-student committee] are privileges; there is a uniqueness in the Department of Architecture compared to other [larger] schools," he added.

The final specific request is that "written and concrete proposals to our present requests from both Professor Porter and Dean de Monchaux at a public forum on the 19th of December."

Porter has requested to meet again with students this Friday -- "I want to know as well as I can what's on their minds," he said. Regarding the separation issue, Porter said that this year's decision to relocate studios was one that "we thought made the most sense, [but] it's not necessarily the long-term solution."

The department has relatively limited options for housing all the studios at the same location, Porter said.

"On the communications front," Porter said, "I'm interested in a far better means of communication. What I'd like to see is a closer working relationship with students" to define problems worth examining.

In order to address the issues presented by the students, Porter intends to continue "listening and working together with students and faculty." "I need a great deal of faculty participation and support in order to make any solution work," he added.

N52 space committee

A committee to improve the space and condition of the N52 studios has been meeting to "establish a [long-term] plan" for the third-floor studios, according to Al Vallecillo G, a member of the committee. "Part of this plan is to do some immediate improvement and to find out what money is available" to implement the plan this winter, beginning in January, he added.

The faculty-initiated committee, which consists of 10 student representatives and five faculty, invited students to make up a master plan for the studios. "From the long-range plan we picked what we thought were immediate goals," Vallecillo said. These goals "center around communal space," he added.

This short-term plan was recently submitted to the Department of Architecture executive Officer Leon B. Groisser '48. It includes the addition of a darkroom, lounge, and opening up of studio spaces in the building.