Read the original story here in The Oregonian.
In February, after an exhaustive review process, the National Architecture Accrediting Board voted to accredit the PSU program, making it the state's only competition to University of Oregon's longtime architecture program, founded in 1914. The two programs are among the few on the West Coast.
The first class of PSU architecture master's students graduated in 2011. While the school then was on track to become accredited, it was far from final.
"Students had to put a lot of faith in their faculty to fulfill the promise of accreditation," says Clive Knights, director of the School of Architecture. "As you can imagine, we're very relieved."
Taryn Mudge, 26, knew the program wasn't accredited when she graduated with her master's last year.
"I didn't really think about it," says Mudge, who now works at the downtown architecture firm SRG Partnership. "Then graduation was close and I thought, 'Oh, gosh, I really hope it happens.'"
The National Architecture Accrediting Board's process takes four to six years, during which the school's programs are reviewed annually.
PSU's first four years of faculty and students focused intensely on meeting the board's recommendations, keeping impeccable records -- amounting to a thick, 75,000-word report -- and adjusting their teaching and learning to make the school a good candidate for accreditation.
"I really enjoyed the collaborative work," Mudge says. "We as students felt valued because we helped move toward that goal."
Joel Dickson, 40, a graduate student working at Skylab Architecture downtown, said the process "highlighted a sense of commitment to architecture from students. We're there for more than to get another degree."
Since Barbara Sestak, now dean of the College of the Arts, started the architecture department in 1995, the goal was to become accredited, says Knights, who started that year. Now he envisions growing the program with more money and more students.
"Portland was a growing urban environment, yet the main architecture education was taking place two hours south in Eugene," Knights says. "We were interested in adding another set of ideas to the teaching of architecture."
The department undergraduate for 14 years and in 2009 added a master's program.
Knights says his staff discussed whether they were competing with the UO by drawing from the same pool of students. But he says the programs are different enough they'll appeal to different sorts of students.
Demographically, most of PSU's 380 undergraduate and graduate architecture students are older, on average 25 to 29, and mostly from the Portland area, whereas UO's 700 are more traditional college students -- younger and from all over.
PSU's smaller program also has small classes that work closely with Portland's professional architects, Knights says.
Last year students worked with Thomas Hacker Architects downtown to create a crossing station for the Mexican border that would draw fumes away from idling vehicles. The project, which ended up in several published research papers, gave students real agency experience and gave the agency access to PSU's facilities, including wind tunnel testing.
Dickson chose PSU for its "more artful approach." He was drawn to the thesis project, which Knights says few architecture schools require. PSU condenses the graduate degree's technical requirements down into one year and leaves the second to exploring a thesis.
"We do it so students can develop an identity as a creative person," Knights says. "We're not here to create architects; we're here to create an engaged person in the field of architecture. Architecture is never for its own sake; there's an important ethical dimension to what we do.
"'Architecture for the sake of what?' You have to answer that question or you'll do architecture badly."
With that in mind, last year's thesis projects ranged from adult literacy through architecture to an artful approach to city infrastructure to Mudge's futuristic vision of a flooded world in which architecture adapted to riparian conditions. Dickson's project this year focuses on "kinetic architecture" in residential areas, looking at how space could be better utilized to provide both privacy and community interaction.
"We want students to do something in the world with their architecture," Knights says. "We want them to push against the boundaries of convention."
-- Sara Hottman