Multidisciplinary studio course reaches new collaborative heights

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —  A new level of collaboration between students and industry professionals was reached this semester in the interdisciplinary Collaborative Studio (CoLab) for aspiring architects, landscape architects and engineers at Penn State.

The CoLab is a cross-listed upper-level architecture, architectural engineering and landscape architecture studio course that “utilizes integrative project design to address a mission-driven, real-case project working in interdisciplinary teams,” according to the syllabus. The disciplines involved include architecture, landscape architecture and the four options within architectural engineering: construction management, structural engineering, mechanical engineering and lighting/electrical engineering.

According to David Goldberg, associate clinical professor of landscape architecture in the College of Arts and Architecture’s Stuckeman School and an instructor of the course, there is no other academic program in the country that combines six architectural, engineering and construction disciplines in one studio experience.

“The 2023 studio is remarkable because we’ve had consultant advising sessions every two weeks throughout the semester,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had professionals join as jurors for the design reviews or join a studio for an event called ‘speed consulting,’ ala speed dating. However, this year the consultants have joined the studio for regular advising sessions and for juried reviews.”

Students this semester have been developing the building and design considerations for a micro-hospital project.

The project utilizes the functional program of the new Penn Highlands Healthcare Hospital constructed in Patton Township on Colonnade Drive in State College but, for the class’s purposes, imagined it in a larger site location. In the course, the students “re-developed” the micro-hospital in Toftrees West in State College, which is being developed as part of a larger town center including outpatient health, retail, hotel, commercial and residential buildings.

Professional consultants with extensive health care design and construction experience have joined the studio every other week during the semester to mentor the students.

Robert Banas, an adjunct instructor for architectural engineering, was a professional consultant to the CoLab studio two years ago. Now, as a faculty member, Banas reached out to his industry partners to help bolster the architectural engineering consultant experience in the studio.

“Having professional consultants is a cornerstone of the CoLab Studio, but in our 15 years of running this studio, this is the most we’ve engaged with consultants, most of whom are Penn State alums.” — David Goldberg

The professional consultants working with the studio include construction managers, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, civil engineers, landscape architects and architects.

Jennifer Harrington, who graduated from the College of Engineering at Penn State in 2002 and is currently an electrical engineer and director of lighting design at Barton Associates, Inc., has been working with the CoLab Studio this semester, describing the experience as “extremely enjoyable and inspiring.”

“CoLab reinforces the idea that no one student or one discipline can truly be successful at their craft without considering how their design will impact the other team members and the overall building project,” Harrington said. “These students represent the future of the building industry. I am happy to do anything I can to bolster their success in their journey toward their professional careers; it also has provided me a chance to give back to the school and the program that gave me a head start in mine.”

The multidisciplinary nature of the course means the student teams have been developing several different aspects of the micro-hospital, including a prominent and safe arrival for patients, access to nature through exterior views and healing gardens, efficient medical planning and appropriate levels of patient safety and quality of care.

Jim Gleba, senior vice present with WSP USA Buildings Inc., who graduated from Penn State with a degree in architectural engineering in 1995, said he believes it’s important to provide a level of mentorship to students as they transition into full-time careers.

“I struggled early in my career with having confidence in my skills, but over the years, I had great mentors and had incredibly rewarding experiences as a design professional,” Gleba said. “I feel it’s my duty to pass that experience and knowledge on to these students. Giving them real-world experience this early in their careers, hopefully will allow them to see what it takes to develop into well-rounded and successful professionals.

Gleba said his experience working with CoLab has been “very rewarding.”

“CoLab has allowed me to see the complexity of the design process from the eyes of our next generation and to transfer some of my technical knowledge to them,” he said. “It has allowed me to look back on my career and recognize how lucky I have been to work with many incredible people to solve some of the most challenging problems in healthcare systems design.”

Daniel Flickinger, a 1997 Penn State architectural engineering alumnus who currently works as a project executive at the Alexander Building Construction Co., said his experience with CoLab has been excellent.

“The number of interactions we had with the students and the work the students were required to perform between interactions set the table to thought-provoking questions and meaningful exchanges between students and industry members,” Flickinger said.

Allyson Everlof, a fourth-year architecture student in the course, said her experiences with CoLab have strengthened [her] ability to learn and effectively communicate ideas of a project, while also collaborating with peers for a common goal.

“Collaborating with engineers has proven to be incredibly important for understanding the limitations and possibilities of our design,” Everlof said. “Without the realistic perspective provided by the engineers, our design would likely lack both realistic and creative aspects.”

“I believe that our interactions with professional engineers, architects and landscape architects have not only driven our project but have reinforced its overall integrity.” — Allyson Everlof

Everlof said this collaboration was particularly helpful when she consulted with a structural engineer to rework the form of a building.

“His input impacted my understanding of structural design limitations in a way that I will carry with me throughout all of my future projects,” Everlof said. “All of my initial reasons to take CoLab have come into fruition throughout the semester, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have taken this course.”

Rebecca Jones, a third-year landscape architecture student in the course, said she’s benefited greatly from the knowledge the industry professionals have brought to the table.

“I have learned so much working closely with them, from new programs and skills to overall ways of thinking about projects and the people who will use them,” Jones said.

Corey Gracie-Griffin, associate professor of architecture and associate dean for Research and Engagement at Penn State Altoona as well as an instructor of the course, believes the multidisciplinary collaboration in the CoLab studio is unique.

“I’ve taught studios at other universities that attempt to bring students from different disciplines together to simulate what designing a building in a professional setting would look like. CoLab is the best model I’ve seen to do this by bringing students together at the right level, creating time and space for them to meet together regularly and combining that with support from professionals and having a strong team approach to teaching. Our CoLab students will be well prepared for their future careers,” Gracie-Griffin said.

CJ Bauco, a fourth-year architectural engineering student focused on the mechanical engineering option, said working with industry professionals has been one of the most enriching experiences of his college career.

“Being able to say I designed a hospital with a team of students over the course of a semester is something that would impress many people in the industry as most programs don’t have an opportunity for students like this,” Bauco said. “It allows you to work with teammates from many different focuses, speak with professionals and use your collective knowledge to create a product just as you would in the real world.”

For more news from the Stuckeman School, follow us on Twitter @StuckemanNews.