Kunihiko Matsui Architects

Designing extraordinary residential and commercial architecture since 1999


The Crit - a path to learning

Posted by Kunihiko Matsui on July 19, 2016 at 3:50 PM

Thirty-something years ago, I was a second-year architectural student at Ball State University.


As soon as I walked in the doors of the Marywood University School of Architecture building on April 30, 2016 and I saw the students preparing and pinning their presentations, I felt I was back in school again as a presenter. I wanted to tell the students I was there to critique “Don’t be nervous,” but I knew they would also need to find their way as I did in 1982.


Seeing the aspiring architects certainly brought back memories of how I was as a second year architectural student not knowing certain aspects of presentations, drawings, theories of architecture, functionality, and practicality. Looking back, I remember a project I designed in my second year that had a door that could not be opened. As students, we learn the thought process through research and of course, trial and error. Functionality is something they might not consider, but it is all part of the learning process and a time in their lives when they must begin to think about the technicalities that will transform their designs from schematic to buildable.


I was inspired by the students and honored to be invited to critique the semester long projects they submitted for final review. Carl Handman, AIA and Maggie McManus, AIA arranged the crit for 17 second-year students enrolled in a design studio class at Marywood University.


The students were directed to create a fishing retreat at the site of the former Rocky Glen Amusement Park in Moosic, PA, with space for groups of up to 25 people. They had an opportunity to visit the location at the beginning of the semester to evaluate and analyze the site that had an existing man-made pond and come up with their interpretation of the project. One of the questions they were told to address was “What is a fishing retreat?”


There were a variety of interpretations as unique as each of the students, starting from a single hut or cottage to a more communal gathering place that ranged from a music or rock concert hall to a place of meditation. The students skillfully determined, “what is a fishing retreat? They incorporated their research into their schemes using a variety of platforms. Some of the questions they researched were how the fish will migrate from winter to summer and what is the span of time, how will they behave, where will the building be situated and how does it relate to nature?


In the 15 minutes they were given to develop their presentations, they had an opportunity to practice three essential skills a licensed architect will need to communicate effectively with his/her clients: presentation, graphics, and communication skills. Our goal as jurors was to critique their concepts, organizational skills, creativity, and graphics. Some of their projects were graphically strong but the architectural functionality wasn’t there, other ideas were forced. This is typical of architectural students.


We started the crit at 9 a.m. and each student had approximately 15 minutes to present and crit. Some lasted longer. During the morning session, we reviewed three rounds of four projects and then five more plans in the afternoon after a lunch break.


I really appreciated the creativity in each and every one of their presentations and I told the students I remember feeling nervous when I was in their shoes. I told them communication is the key to a successful architectural project because architects need to understand what their clients want and have the skills to communicate their ideas.





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