Immersed in the comprehensive design process as students at HWS, four recent graduates are now thriving in the renowned master’s program at the Yale School of Architecture.
In the HWS Architectural Studies Program, Isa Akerfeldt-Howard ’18, Christopher Cambio ’18, Claudia Carle ’19 and Zachary Felder ’18 learned not only the essential theory and praxis of the field, but the historical, social, cultural and ecological implications of the built environment.
“Architectural studies is by nature interdisciplinary, so you have to be able to think broadly and adapt,” says Associate Professor of Architectural Studies Stan Mathews. “We can’t know what the future of architecture looks like, so if we ‘train’ students in a certain present-day skill, it will by definition be obsolete. Instead we teach design as a way of thinking.”
Carle, now a second-year student at Yale, explains that “the architecture program at HWS emphasized research, iteration, an interdisciplinary approach to design, and manual skills such as hand-drawing, model making by hand and woodworking. Probably most importantly, the program helped me to understand the ways in which the built environment reflects, reinforces and perpetuates political, social and economic structures, and the role of design within this framework.”
Felder, who worked as a community planner in the Finger Lakes region before enrolling at Yale in 2020, says the Colleges “prepared me really well for the thinking side of architecture, because every project at HWS — whether writing, history or design — had to have a thesis statement, a reason why the project supports its main argument.”
After graduation, Akerfeldt-Howard “was eager to continue designing and creating in a similar hands-on nature to what I grew to love at HWS.” She worked on residential and furniture projects for a carpenter before enrolling at Yale, and after her first year in grad school was part of an affordable housing design-build project geared toward individuals who had been experiencing homelessness. As part of another design-build project, she helped create a small coastal research station on an island off Long Island Sound using sustainable and regenerative building practices.
Currently working at Bjarke Ingles Group’s Brooklyn office to develop her experience before completing her master’s, Akerfeldt-Howard says the HWS architecture program “allows you to fold in your own interests, which for me relate to integrated sustainability — not just from a design standpoint but also from a social justice standpoint. You have the opportunity to do this not only in studio but also in theory courses and independent studies. I believe that architecture is a powerful tool that can reform entrenched systemic inequalities in the built environment, which I have continued to explore after HWS, both inside and outside of my academic work while at Yale School of Architecture.”
The Colleges’ architecture curriculum is structured so that students develop as visual communicators, creative problem solvers, non-linear thinkers, and collaborative learners. Mathews — whose expertise ranges from architectural history, theory and design to drawing, sculpture, structural engineering and more — explains that students “are exposed to hundreds of different precedents, theories and ideas, so they have the tools going forward to navigate the ever-changing world of architecture and design.”
Mathews notes the “professional, practicing architects and designers on faculty,” like Associate Professors Jeffrey Blankenship, Gabriella D’Angelo and Kirin Makker, “who have worked together to develop a comprehensive, coherent design curriculum where every course is integrated and builds on the others. Our students excel at top graduate programs like Yale, Harvard and Rhode Island School of Design because we teach the whole conceptual process of design, which prepares students in a way that no other program does.”
At Yale, Carle has had the “opportunity to explore and expand upon areas of interest that I had already defined during my time at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. My recent and current studio projects at Yale have delved into adaptive reuse, sustainable design, inequalities of race, class and gender, and textile architecture.”
For Felder, who is “interested in projects tied directly to the urban fabric,” the exposure to Urban Studies and Sustainable Community Development at HWS sparked his interest “in adaptive reuse projects, working with the left-behind environment.” He notes that especially today, there is an increased understanding of built environment’s “ramifications on the climate…[and how] it manifests in inequality, health and racial issues. Those are really big questions for design, and HWS could not have prepared me better for dealing with them.”
In the photograph above, Zachary Felder ’18 designs and builds a chair during “Furniture Design.”