Frequent Dwell contributor and all-around sharp design writer Mark Lamster has a bang-up story in The Architect right now about the rise of Woodbury University, a young architecture school in Los Angeles. I toured the San Diego campus of Woodbury (those two make up the SoCal schools) a couple years ago with architect and teacher Aaron Anderson. I was immediately impressed with the school's hands-on brand of education and the fact that the space seemed to be more encouraging of strapping on the mask for a bit of metalwork than abstract philosophizing. Lamster's story however does more than describe the scrappy school, he suggests that Woodbury might just be training a new generation of Latino architects.
The story suggests a kind of divide between a working class school like Woodbury and "elite" design schools.
"The typical student at an 'elite' institution," Lamster writes, "is the child of professionals who has come to architecture through some combination of exposure via parents, school, travel, and native artistic inclination. Woodbury’s working-class students often come to the field after watching their family build a home, or through parents who work in the construction industry."
He goes on to note that "about 70 percent of Woodbury students are the first in their families to attend college," before offering a small profile of a couple of Latino students who hail from the area.
To me, one of the massive benefits that a school like Woodbury offers is a connection to a place and a population. And training a group of new placemakers with a strong sense of place in mind only makes sense. Just as regionalism is so critical to architecture (fie on the placeless box!), so to should it inform the way architects are educated.
"According to the AIA’s most recent survey of firms," Lamster reports, "19 percent of architecture-firm staff are minorities. By contrast, at Woodbury, roughly 70 percent of the 600-odd architecture students are members of a minority group: 37 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are Armenian, 17 percent are Asian, and 32 percent are listed as “other.” Woodbury may be the only architecture school in the United States where “other” means white."
To close the story, Lamster talks to Woodbury professor Louis Molina, whose home we covered in the May 2010 issue of Dwell, who suggests that an increase in Latin students ought to entail an increase in Latin teachers. He prize his position as mentor and role model though. And as Woodbury continues its mission to educate the next generation of Southern Californian architects, he'll soon have more company.