Friday, February 22, 2019

Q&A: Darryl Ohlenbusch, UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning

Q&A: Darryl Ohlenbusch, UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning

Ohlenbusch's studio projects include community involvement and an emphasis on sustainability and integrated practice.

(June 27, 2018) -- Darryl Ohlenbusch is a registered architect in the State of Texas and a lecturer in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning. He received a Bachelor of Environmental Design degree from Texas A&M University and a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University in New York.

At UTSA, Ohlenbusch teaches courses in visual communications, architectural design, and architectural history, with a primary emphasis on upper-division design studio courses. His studio projects typically include community involvement and an emphasis on sustainability and integrated practice. He frequently collaborates on project reviews with interior architects, engineers and building contractors.

We sat down to talk to Professor Ohlenbusch about his work in the UTSA architecture design studios.

Let’s chat about your most recent projects.

As part of a Design/Fabricate program that I have developed at UTSA over the past nine years, the spring 2018 studio designed, fabricated and erected a trailhead structure at Government Canyon State Natural Area in NW Bexar County. The Design/Fabricate program gives our students the opportunity to interact with stakeholders in the community and design a small structure that they can fabricate and erect within a single semester.

To date, we’ve worked entirely with community organizations, and the projects have always been located in a public setting. The structures we design are small, with uncomplicated programmatic requirements. Typically they involve providing shaded seating, perhaps rain catchment or small tool storage. The challenge, then, is to create a compelling structure that establishes a focal point in the community, in a way that is elegant and satisfying as an architectural design.

What is your favorite topic to teach?

The Design/Fabricate studios are my favorite class. The learning curve is severe. How do you conceptualize the design of a structure within parameters that ensure its feasibility to be constructed? Up to this point in the curriculum, our students have largely designed structures and buildings that don’t progress beyond paper (or from a 3D model in a computer database), so in my studio they are for the first time immersed in a different way of thinking about their projects. Not only do they have to meet the needs of our community partners and create a compelling design statement, but all of that must happen within a given budget and very compressed time frame. Being with the students and providing them guidance as they make this leap from concept to reality is a very rewarding experience.

What is the biggest challenge professors in your field are facing?

For instructors in my field as a group, I think the biggest challenge is resources at the department and college level. I know that many of my colleagues are interested in hands-on instruction. We have instructors that teach furniture design, for example, and our first-year design studio curriculum involves a sequence of design projects that emphasize the nature of materials, and how you can learn about materials by handling and using them. Many of my colleagues would like to pursue these, and also more advanced, studio courses involving advanced material fabrication techniques. Some universities are making significant investments in facilities for these types of courses, and I’d like to see UTSA be at the forefront of this type of exploration.

What makes your UTSA department unique?

Like virtually all architecture programs in the United States and Europe, the core of our undergraduate curriculum is the design studio sequence. I think instructors in other fields, whose contact with undergraduate students is mainly in large lecture classes, would be astounded by the small size of our design studio classes—typically 12-15 students, and also the amount of time we are in class with them—12 hours a week in their third and fourth years. As a result of this curriculum structure, we really learn to know our students very well, and that interaction is key to their personal and professional development.

Having been through a program like this as an undergraduate, I can attest personally to the formative influence of my design studio instructors over the years. Those interactions were some of the strongest experiences of my life.

What would be your advice to incoming students?

To the aspiring architecture student, I would say to enter the university with as broad a set of interests as possible—don’t just hole up in the architecture building. I know it may be financially challenging but taking courses in other fields can only strengthen your development as an architect.

We are among the last ‘generalists’ in academia as well as in professional life—we involve ourselves in so many different subject areas, from the physical nature of materials to the most abstract notions of our society and how architecture can express our highest values as humans. To be able to perform all along that spectrum is essential and learning as much as you can about as many things as you can, especially in the university, can get you started on a lifetime of learning. You will be a better architect for it.

- Ingrid Wright

Learn more about Darryl Ohlenbusch.

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