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Learning the Language of Design

When Lindsey Allen ’08 applied to colleges two years ago, she was looking for a relatively small liberal arts school that had an engineering program and was less than six hours away from her home in Macedon, New York. “There weren’t that many on the East Coast,” says Allen, 19. Smith subsequently rose to the top of her list. “I narrowed it down to Smith, and they did an amazing job with financial aid, which is why I can go here.”

Allen stuck with engineering for an entire year until she took Issues in Landscape Studies. “I thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard of,” Allen says of the two-credit class. “I never really thought about architecture. I think I was just completely set on becoming a civil engineer or a city planner or urban designer, and I didn’t even think about taking another route.” Now that Allen is a second-semester sophomore, her schedule is no longer full of chemistry and math, but now has an assortment of art and design courses. She has changed her major to architecture with a minor in landscape studies.

On Wednesdays, Allen pulls herself out of bed and logs onto her Smith e-mail and Facebook accounts. Without any boldfaced subject headings flagging unread messages or electronic nudges, “pokes,” to idle her time, she showers, brushes her teeth, and dresses in jeans, a button-down collared shirt, v-neck sweater and black wool coat. Allen, who lives in Jordan House, usually walks to the neighboring King Scales dining room to eat meals with her fellow housemates. She allows herself plenty of time to enjoy a toasted blueberry bagel with cream cheese and to make dinner plans with two of her advisees (Allen is a student academic adviser to the first-year class in Jordan). Then Allen and her friends begin their eight-minute trek from the Quad to the Brown Fine Arts building for her 9 a.m. architecture studio.

At the Drawing Board

Although Allen arrives about 10 minutes early, many of her classmates are already working on their drawings and corresponding basswood models. This is Allen’s first studio architecture course, but she moves with comfort in the spacious studio, where each student has her own station—a drawing board and several drawers in which to keep supplies. Allen says she enjoys the class because she learns the language, materials and habits of designers and takes class trips to notable museums. On a February weekend, Allen and her classmates traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, and studied and sketched the Yale Center of British Art, a 32-year-old building designed by the internationally acclaimed Louis I. Kahn, an architect she admires. When Allen returned to Smith, she worked at her desk for a few hours, only to return to the station Monday morning. “I had been with architecture students for 12 hours,” says Allen, who hopes to spend the next school year studying architecture in Denmark. “We had left here at 10 and I didn’t leave the studio again till 10 at night. I can’t get away from this place.”

She usually eats lunch in the King Scales dining room, runs errands and sometimes squeezes in a 20-minute power nap before catching a bus to her 20th-Century Architecture class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Allen used to keep the scoreboard and work out statistics for volleyball and basketball games; now that the winter sports season is over, she devotes more time to her coursework in Islamic Art and Architecture as well as Public Opinion and Mass Media. She also gives tours as a Gold Key guide and reshelves books at the William A. Neilson library.

The highlight of Allen’s week is on Wednesday nights when she attends The Playground Project—a one-credit landscape studies class in which engineering, architecture, landscape studies and education students work together to design a local playground. “I like that class because it’s very hands on and applicable to the real world right now,” Allen says. “Whereas, in my other classes I study what other people have done and I’m doing small projects that won’t necessarily be built, with this class I have a direct link to design things that will be built. I feel like I’m in the midst of the real world.”

Jessica Chiang: Finding the Right Path

Rebecca Berman: Where’s Becca?

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