Schools of Art, Architecture should work together

Credit: Hannah Gordon/Art Staff Credit: Hannah Gordon/Art Staff
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Sometimes, I take things to their extremes.

I don’t just stay up late; I pull two all-nighters in a row. I don’t cheer patiently at the finish line on race day for Buggy; I scream louder than anyone else standing along the side of the course on Frew Street. And I don’t just self-define a major; I take on a disparate secondary major and an involved minor as well.

Good or bad, many Carnegie Mellon students are like me in this way. We balance rigorous course loads with seven extracurricular activities and community service on the weekends. We do graduate-level research as undergraduates while combining three majors between H&SS, MCS, and Tepper and found three service-oriented student organizations. It’s always challenging, and it’s always over the top.

But one combination that is not so over the top — and yet is so uncommon on this campus — is studying both art and architecture. These fields are implicitly related: Stronger architects have an understanding of and preferably a background in fine arts; better artists have a constantly evolving understanding of the constructed world. It seems obvious to me that art and architecture are interrelated, but if this is true, why are the curricula of each so divergent? In this vein, why is it so rare for students of each school to dabble in the courses of the other?

Now, I’ve written about the importance of respecting and promoting interdisciplinary study before (please forgive my shameless plug for an article I wrote with Contributing Editor Claire Morgenstern last February, “Interdisciplinary Students Ignored,” which is available at What we argued then, I will reiterate now: Students with several distinct academic interests should be encouraged and aided by advisors, professors, and academic departments to combine those fields of study, so long as the fields of study can be at least remotely related to one another. Uniting two fields of study can make a singular academic career infinitely more dynamic and productive.

But for the Schools of Architecture and Art, this benefit of interdisciplinary study should be obvious, and implemented with much more frequency between the two schools than it is in reality.

Like a significant number of students in the School of Architecture, I have a background in fine arts. Throughout high school, I took several painting, drawing, photography, and digital media courses. While my interests have grown toward the direction of urban design and development, rather than the mixed media paintings I used to create, I still want art to continue to be a part of my academic life. Yes, architecture is art, and perhaps the inverse argument could even be made as well. But, strictly speaking, I wish my architecture courses had been supplemented by at least a painting or a drawing class in the School of Art, along with a mix of students from all schools in the College of Fine Arts.

My suggestion of this combination — either supplementing a degree in architecture with a painting or drawing class or supplementing a major in art with a class in architectural theory or urban design — is not meant simply for those of us with self-diagnosed academic attention deficit disorder. The curricula for both majors, as they stand, are created to be as multi-disciplinary as possible and, for the most part, succeed in this endeavor.

While I cannot make this argument from the perspective of an art major, as a student in the School of Architecture, I believe that the lack of inter-school coursework between the Schools of Art and Architecture depends on coordination from both parties. That is, the School of Architecture should provide incentives for its students to take a painting course, but for this to happen, the School of Art should create media-based courses for non-art majors within CFA or other creativity-based majors. More media-based studios — an acrylic and oil painting course that explores a variety of themes, particularly those relevant to architecture or other majors in CFA, for example — should be created and easily accessible to those of us whose art, whose canvas, is the physical environment around us.

This is also not to say that partnerships between the two schools are completely unheard of. On Jan. 22, Peter Fend, the founder of the Ocean Earth Development Corporation, lectured to both the Schools of Architecture and Art on campus. While Fend was a special breed of over-the-top (I don’t want to accuse anyone of being crazy, but… all right), he did bring together faculty and students of both schools in a discussion about the environment, explaining his perception of how each field should influence the other. More lectures of this sort (or, at least, lectures with this emphasis but with more lucid presentations) should become the norm. An art-architecture collaboration should be seen and felt more frequently on campus.