Students enrolled in the Master of Architecture program, as well as those in the Master of Architectural Studies program, pursue a concentration in one of five areas.
The Urban Practice Concentration examine architecture with a particular emphasis on contexts. Contexts are taken in its broadest sense: reciprocating, mutually beneficial situations that are simultaneously physical, social, historical and conceptual. Working within what educational theorist Étienne Wenger describes as "communities of practice", students interrelate architecture and urban design employing varied media while engaging in a rigorous intellectual discourse.
Urban Practice: Preparing Urban Thinkers and Practitioners
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.
Étienne Wenger, Cultivating Communities of Practice
Urban Practice students approach architecture as a cooperative act in which they expand their individual abilities through collaborative design practice. Design practice is reflective actions that engage conventional and unconventional design methodologies that can help students anticipate design needs and solutions.
Urban Practice students consider Eliel Saarinen's advice to “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” Working at multiple scales, students examine contexts--the physical, cultural, economic, civic and material systems within which architecture both emerges and, in turn, informs. The goal of working collaboratively and within contexts is to prepare students to work rigorously both as team members and leaders in the design field. Mentored by architects such as Mark McInturff, FAIA (McInturff Architects) and Elizabeth Emerson and Mark Lawrence (E/L Studio), and supported by firms such as Hickok Cole Architects and Ayers Saint Gross, students experience a broad spectrum of the design environment both in the Washington, DC region and abroad.
Design Studio and Course Work
Students, working both individually and in teams, examine architecture in the public realm. Starting with conceptual questions and working with more unconventional sites, students research and develop broad urban strategies that are then tested or "fleshed out" with individual architectural investigations. Past students have examined Berlin's Topography of Terror, Jersey City's Harsimus Stem Embankment and Washington, DC's Union Market. Seminars such as "Public Realm of Private Building", "Advanced Architectural Analysis" and "Urban Housing Typologies" help students develop intellectual scaffolds and design methodologies.
Studying in Contexts: Here and Abroad
To attend chiefly to the desk or schoolhouse while we neglect the scenery in which it is placed is absurd.
Henry D. Thoreau
Washington, DC and its environs' urban design and architectural excellence, international and national institutions and with the most design firms in the United States, provides a exceptional context within which to study and work. Catholic University’s location also allows students to travel easily to cities in the United States and abroad. Urban Practice studios have traveled to Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Chicago and Barcelona and have been part of summer programs in Japan, Italy, Cuba and Turkey. Travel is further encouraged by curricular flexibility as well as grants and sponsored funding.