AD Architecture College Guide: Pasadena Art Center College of Design

There’s a new program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Situated in the south campus designed by Kevin Daly of Daly/Genik , the Media Design Practices program is a newly minted program that is an exciting new approach to design.

Why you may ask has the ArchDaily College Guide decided to examine a media program when its focus is architecture schools around the world? Simple. Because this is an innovative program that will impart new skills, enhance the ones you have, and help you find a job to boot. All of this can happen regardless of your undergraduate degree.

Read our full review after the break

The former supersonic wind tunnel was renovated and add to the ACCD campus

The program has two tracks: a Lab track and a Field track with 3 and 2 core faculty members, respectively. The entire program is a relatively modest size of between 45-50 students, a boon that offers a significant advantage over schools that admit 100-200 students per class because students have more sustained interaction with faculty and learning opportunities. Upon entry, each student is assigned a mentor, while during the last year an advisor is designated to guide the thesis process. While the tracks are distinct, they are interwoven so students are able to pursue collaborative projects. 

We spoke to Tim Durfee of Tim Durfee Studio a core faculty member from the Lab track about the inception of this recast program: “This last summer [2012], we tried to create two tracks and to rename the program. We wanted to add the concept of practices to open up the field of enquiry to question the future of design and what modes of practices there are.” And those practices are iterations of communication as it engages design in such disparate arenas as social justice and technology, privacy and social media, crisis intervention and information-sharing.

South Campus green roof

The field track is an on the ground that engagement that works with people in other communities. The goal to determine what sort of assistance, rather than projective intervention, can be made. In partnership with UNICEF, the faculty and students determine what they can do within a design framework to improve these people’s lives. Too often the understanding of different historical and cultural narratives is missing in design programs. Thus a key element at MDP is that one of the core faculty members is an anthropologist. The presence of Professor Elizabeth Chin makes certain that “solutions” are not simply imposed upon a presumably passive, grateful population when those ideas are frequently neither useful nor even welcome. Says Mr. Durfee: “We’re trying to encourage a hybrid form of practice which is extremely timely. The field track, which just returned from Kumpala, Uganda, are partnering with UNICEF. It’s an ongoing program where before they go out, they study for six weeks. They come back and then they’ll have another follow up visit. So this is not just dropping in by air for a few days. This is a sustained engagement.”

Given that Mr. Durfee is a core faculty member of the Lab track, there are clearly many opportunities to explore architecture not only through devising buildings but also more theoretical enquiries into the field. For example, one graduate student charted the “changes in public space and the Occupy movement.” And while this may seem irrelevant, there are legal ramifications resulting from the Occupy movement, including an Orange County, California ruling that Occupy tents were a form of Free Speech. In fact, “many architecture schools need to find ways to maintain the rich traditions for different kinds of critical education, as well as ways of allowing the degree of criticality and engagement to be applied in other realms of design.” And that is the goal of Art Center’s MDP, “to provide that framework so people can apply their critical education outside architecture.”

In this era, a multi-disciplinary approach is central component to preparing students for the future, professionally, culturally, and socially. Says Mr. Durfee, “We emphasize this pursuit of or interest in having students come from all different backgrounds. Currently we have students with professional degrees in architecture, cell biology, graphic design, industrial design, and landscape architecture. Our intention is to build off their background for work in different contexts and opportunities.”

Of course, the issue that is constantly raised in this series is cost. For undergraduates and graduate students the debt that is incurred after 2-4 years of school is often prohibitive. This is especially true when one is uncertain about one’s job prospects. The backlash has been that those entering into undergraduate and graduate programs are more practical and less willing to explore intellectual or experimental educational tracks: “Architecture programs do encourage innovation but how do we reconcile that with the horrible debt people are finding themselves in? In our program, we’re lucky to have a foundational approach in what I call media because that is an area where there is tremendous growth in the marketplace.” This is paired with a very strong engagement with the students upon matriculation to assist them in their job searches.

As to the practicalities, tuition is $18,522 per semester, which is a total of $37,044 per year. The MDP program is 16 months or 3 years. As mentioned above, there are 5 core faculty, 3 in the Field track and 2 in the Lab track. Lab fees are an additional $250. 

So if you’re thinking about pursuing architecture, but are interested in exploring other design issues and innovations as well, Art Center’s newly redesigned Media Design Program might just be the school for you.

About this author
Cite: Rodrigo Frey. "AD Architecture College Guide: Pasadena Art Center College of Design" 16 Nov 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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