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Architecture students here to build ideas, have some fun

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Our drinking program has an architecture problem," the T-shirt read, and Kevin Hensley was buying.

"I think it captures the culture and the community that architecture students create," said a smiling Hensley, a University of Oklahoma student who bought the shirt Monday afternoon from a North Dakota State University student.

Hensley is one of about 650 architecture students from around the country who are meeting in Pittsburgh this week for the 45th annual conference of the American Institute of Architecture Students at the Westin Convention Center hotel.

While meeting rooms buzzed with discussions of digital design, sustainability and preserving an older building's sense of place, there also was room for humor, and that room was on the Westin's third floor, where students exchanged their unofficial department T-shirts at the T-shirt fair.

"Studio work here is like sex," reads the front of a Carnegie Mellon University shirt. On the back: "When it's finished all you want to do is sleep."


A few ventured beyond the sex and drinking binge jokes, like the University of Nebraska's College of Evil Architecture shirt with a photograph of "Mini-Mies" -- architect Mies van der Rohe's head on "Austin Powers' " villain Mini-Me's body. A critique of modernism, perhaps, or just a little pun fun?

"Probably just having fun," said the young woman behind the table.

Such lighter moments are the comic relief in an intensive five-day forum designed to help future architects make the transition from student to professional. In addition to sessions on resume writing, interviewing skills and time management, the forum also features presentations on women and minorities in architecture, brownfield redevelopment, adapting historic buildings for new uses and other design and issue-oriented topics.

Among this year's keynote speakers are architects Eric Owen Moss, James Wines and Will Bruder, but about 45 other architects, including more than a dozen from Western Pennsylvania, also are participating.

"You'll get better lectures here in four days than you'd get in a whole year" at school, said University of Nebraska student Wayne Mortenson, who called the 18-hour drive from Nebraska to Pittsburgh in a van "the ultimate road trip."

"We drive so we can see things along the way," said his buddy, Jason Schmitz, a fellow Nebraska student attending his fourth conference. "It's an opportunity to see other cities and buildings," and to meet other students and learn the differences and similarities among architecture programs.

"We're kind of secluded in the Midwest," Mortenson said. "To come to a major U.S. city, we feel part of the greater picture."

The theme of this year's conference, "Going Beyond Green," recognizes CMU's and Pittsburgh's push for sustainable development and "green," energy-conscious buildings.

"We felt this was a good location to host a conference on environmental design," said Chris Reynolds, the CMU student who is this year's conference chair. "A lot of students are wanting to find out what it means to be green" because many schools don't offer or emphasize it in the curriculum.

Based in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit AIAS has 5,500 members in 120 chapters. In recent years, it has had an impact on the way architecture firms relate to student interns. Traditionally, interns were persuaded to work without pay in exchange for the knowledge they gained.

"Five or six years ago, one of our big issues was that the exploitation of interns was unacceptable," said AIAS president Matthew Herb. One of the group's strategies was not to accept conference speakers who do not pay their interns. Today, Herb said, most firms pay their interns.

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