The School of Architecture at Florida Atlantic University uses the region of South Florida as an urban laboratory for the exploration of the various facets of architecture in the twenty-first century, reflecting its unique geographic, urban, and academic location. Fort Lauderdale sits on a ridge that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Everglades and, at the same time, along the mid-line of the greater metropolitan area of South Florida. The School itself is situated in a highly urbanized neighborhood, on the 6th, 7th and 8th floors of a high-rise in downtown Fort Lauderdale. This gives our students first-hand experience of a large metropolitan area functioning in very specific environmental conditions. We are a unique school of architecture located within a college with a strong focus on social inquiry. Our collaboration with other units in the college, such as the Schools of Urban and Regional Planning and Social Work, alongside our location in a culturally diverse subtropical metropolis, strengthens our commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
The School of Architecture was founded in 1996 as part of the then College of Urban and Public Affairs. Its history reflects the unique trajectory of FAU: like its mother university, the School initially also offered only upper-division education, with a majority of non-traditional (adult) students, who entered in the third and fifth years from community colleges and other universities. Over the years, the School has grown into a full-scale professional program with both lower and upper divisions on the undergraduate level and a graduate program about to begin.
In its initial three years, the School expanded greatly, growing from only 16 to 115 students and from one to six full-time faculty. This was the School’s “heroic” period, during which it successfully bid for its first accreditation against a range of challenges. The students, many of whom came with professional experience but little academic rigor, needed to be efficiently introduced to the academic side of the discipline of architecture. Moreover, the School operated in an adapted office building, with very limited space and facilities. On the other hand, the enthusiasm of students and faculty, as well as the start-up funding from the University, balanced out the constraints. From the very start, the School has had its own generously funded library, organized in collaboration with the Broward County Main Library located next door; by 2010, the collection has grown to over 20,000 volumes. In our first years, we also enjoyed fully funded lectures and visits from distinguished international guest professors. The School’s AIAS Chapter organized the National Forum in Fort Lauderdale in just its third year of existence. This enthusiasm was shared between students and faculty and supported by the intimacy of a relatively small unit, resulting in an exceptionally successful five-year accreditation in 1999, a great boost for a new and very special program.
In the fall of 2001, following the NAAB Visiting Team’s recommendations for more space, the School of Architecture moved into its new facilities. The faculty actively participated in designing the allocated two floors of the newly constructed Florida Atlantic University/Broward College Higher Education Complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale. This created far more comfortable conditions for work than before: properly sized and well-lit studio spaces, multiple venues for concurrent juries and group discussions, and several specialized workshops. By this time, the number of students reached 250 and their academic sophistication simultaneously greatly improved. Progress was made in the area of applied digital technology thanks to newly installed equipment and software and the active involvement from the faculty and a designated computer lab technician. At the same time, a wood workshop began operation under supervision of its own part-time technician. Yet another positive change was the increased outreach to local community in the area of art and design through several studio and research projects. Despite the severe budgetary cuts in this period, the School maintained a steady flow of guest lectures and exhibitions thanks to the continued involvement and activist approach of its students and faculty. In the early 2000's, the School experienced further expansion, as it sought to establish lower division and Master’s Degree programs. The former opened in 2004 at the main FAU campus in Boca Raton, allowing freshman and sophomore students to be exposed to the rich cultural and interdisciplinary offerings of a large university campus. While we retain the region’s community colleges as our main feeder programs, our own lower division students constitute an increasing percentage of the upper division student population; their well-grounded liberal arts background consistently helps raise the general educational level at the school. Courses for the new MSArch program have been prepared and approved by the University’s Graduate Curriculum Committee and are currently pending approval by the State University System. We expect to soon implement the non-professional MSArch degree-granting program (the 5+1 format).
By the fall of 2004, our enrollment reached 346, which posed a challenge even for our newly expanded facilities. The faculty faced a choice: containing enrollment growth (a source of badly needed funds), or petitioning for limited access approval. We chose the latter and, with the university’s approval, began the limited access system in 2007. With the active and creative participation of our academic advisors in the admissions process and a newly outfitted studio with sixteen additional workstations in the Askew Tower across the street, we further ameliorated our overcrowded situation. As of the Fall of 2008, the School has used the gallery space on the ground floor of the Askew Tower ("The Metro Lab") for exhibiting student and faculty work, with a much increased public visibility. In the recent years, we have also acquired a variety of new equipment, including a CNC router, a laser cutter, a water table for airflow visualization, and an extensive software package worth over $250,000.
The substantial expansion of student population also required an increase in the number of full- time faculty. After three rounds of faculty searches, our ranks have grown to twelve during the academic year 2008-2009. The newly hired faculty have expanded the in-house fields of expertise to environmental and structural engineering, digital fabrication, color theory, and architectural history and theory. At the same time, they have brought in considerable international reputation and a broad range of cultural backgrounds: currently, we have full-time faculty originating from five of the six inhabited continents! This fact facilitates closer contacts with our student body—itself exceptionally diverse—and helps bridge any potential cultural gaps between the students and the School.
This uniquely diverse composition of our School, however, is balanced out by our shared pedagogical and professional views, as well as an atmosphere of collegiality and collaboration, both within the School and with other units of the College. Among the several collaborative efforts, it is worth mentioning a prize from the Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC), funding research by a group of Architecture and Urban Planning faculty to devise the assessment and design criteria for outdoor comfort in a subtropical environment. The School of Architecture is also engaged in funded research through the Broward Community Design Collaborative, which has initiated a multi-disciplinary research group with FAU’s Schools of Urban Planning and Engineering.
Our collaborative efforts also extend into the field of pedagogy. Besides the present BArch professional program and the planned MSArch program, we also offer joint programs in collaboration with other units in our College, as well as with other schools of architecture. We currently offer a combined Master of Urban and Regional Planning/Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. It is also possible for our students to pursue a Master of Architecture degree from the Dessau Institute of Architecture. The latter degree can be obtained through three semesters in residence in Germany and one thesis semester at the location of the student’s choice. The program concludes with a thesis defense with the participation of the Director of the FAU School of Architecture. Several of our students are working toward or have completed one of these degree options or are currently studying in them.