In March, students from Hampton University’s School of Architecture will once again participate in an intense five-day program in New Urbanism in Seaside. Instead of the usual spring break activities, they will spend their days working long hours in the Academic Village — a, now, three-year tradition for the university.
Hampton University is a Historically Black University (HBUC) founded in Hampton, Va., immediately after the Civil War. The architecture program is one of three in the state and provides a five-and-a-half-year-masters of architecture program. Typically, three students from each class of the program will make the trip.
The course was initially developed by faculty members Mason Andrews and Ray Gindroz, who lead the program; other faculty members are also invited to attend.
In the first part of the course, the students analyze Seaside. They begin with a series of walking tours and lectures on Seaside’s history and design, including some led by Robert Davis. The walks include a “treasure hunt” in which students are asked to identify key urban design elements such as “Classical Temple Front Facades,” “Landmarks,” “Terminated Vistas” and “Urban Rooms.” In the course of these walks, students record their experience with eye-level sketches. They then measure key public spaces such as Ruskin Place in order to produce dimensioned plans and sections of key spaces. Field trips to WaterColor and Rosemary Beach provide a useful contrast with Seaside.
In the second part of the course, the students re-design Seaside five times: first, as if they were Ancient Greeks, then as Ancient Romans, then as a Medieval duke, then as architects for a French king, and finally as an American town council. After a lecture on the essential elements of each period’s approach to urbanism, the teams of three or four people are given two hours to design the city.
In the final working session, all of these designs are compared with the actual plan of Seaside. It becomes clear through this exercise that part of Seaside’s rich urban form is due to the way in which its designers have incorporated so many aspects of these different historical periods.
The Academic Village has been the perfect venue for this type of course. The students enjoy living in the middle of their subject and experiencing the joys of a walkable community. They meet residents and have been treated to visits to homeowners’ rooftop decks for an overview of the town.
All of the students who have participated in this course have said the experience of being in Seaside has changed their attitude about architecture and its role in society for the better.