April 29, 2020 by: Ben Heimsath

Not long ago, I gave a kick-off presentation at the Texas A&M University School of Architecture. Professor Anat Geva’s students, working in teams of three, were to design an all-faith worship space in a sacred landscape of their choosing. I blogged about the studio in March and planned to return for the final evaluations sometime in April.

Needless to say, Covid-19 upended all our plans. From Spring Break on Professor Geva and the students had been forced to connect exclusively using the internet. Instead of returning to campus, I participated last week in a virtual review.

Virtual Review Prof Geva IntroA typical final review will consist of professors and professionals like myself gathered in a room, acting as jurors, critically evaluating final presentations. Students organize their siteplans, floorplans, and 3-D images to convey design ideas and answer questions from the jurors. This is a challenge during normal times when students present in person.  So I had my doubts about a virtual studio review.  I signed into the Zoom meeting last Friday with a healthy skepticism.

Frankly, I was surprised and impressed. The student five teams were well-organized and showed some fine work. Two teams chose mountain sites. The others selected a desert site, a coastal beach, and a forest. Each team was asked to find a picture of their selected region to use as a Zoom background while they presented.

Each team addressed a sense of spirituality with a connection to nature, most developing dramatic views and often direct access to the outdoors. They discussed the act of arrival to their places of worship, developing a path that culminated with entry into the sacred space. Though these students were only undergraduates, with limited prior studio experiences, they presented 3-D images and in some cases floor plans with a high-level of development.

From this unique experience, I have two lingering thoughts: These students overcame social isolation and physical separation to advance their team projects. The amount of focus needed to stay connected undoubtedly contributed to the high-quality of their work. Also, these students are graduating in time of great uncertainty. I hope this group can use the same focus to stay connected to the design profession, knowing there may be more tough times ahead.

Design Process/ Chapels/ Presentations