Architectural studies majors form new student club for building skills, community

Juniors Elizabeth Cornfeld and Jane Nasta, co-founders of the Tufts Architecture Society, pose for a portrait in Tisch Library on Oct. 21. Erik Britt / The Tufts Daily

Juniors Elizabeth Cornfeld and Jane Nasta, both architectural studies majors, founded the Tufts Architecture Society this fall. Prior to its creation, there was no group on campus specifically for students interested in architecture, according to Cornfeld.

“We noticed when we came to Tufts that there was no club that was strictly devoted to architecture,” Cornfeld said.

Director of Architectural Studies Diana Martinez explained that the architectural studies major in the School of Arts and Sciences is housed within the Department of Art and Art History and, as a result, architecture-related extracurricular activities were only available through the Tufts Art History Society. Martinez, an assistant professor of art history, said that she is glad to see the formation of a club that better serves the distinct interests of students interested in architecture.

“I think they [architecture students] have a very particular set of separate interests, and they weren’t represented necessarily by the activities of the Art History Society,” Martinez said.

So far this semester, the club has an e-list of over 60 people and has held three events, including a talk by Martinez about her career in architecture and an event introducing the architectural studies major at Tufts, according to Nasta.

“We also had a drawing workshop for people to practice their perspective drawing … and a presentation on applying to graduate school for architecture as well,” Nasta said.

For its final event this semester, the Architecture Society hosted a gingerbread house decorating activity on Dec. 5.

“We decided to host this event as a nice relaxing way to end the semester … and we really wanted to get in the holiday spirit since December is starting,” Cornfeld said.

Cornfeld and Nasta hope to expand the club in the next year. Currently, the club meets during open block on Wednesdays, which the co-founders noted is not a good time for some members, so they hope to possibly change the meeting time and hold more regular biweekly meetings next semester.

The two co-founders also have several ideas for future events.

“We were thinking of having members of our clubs give … presentations about certain architectural topics they’re interested in, and talking about how to make an architecture portfolio and how to get an internship,” Cornfeld said.

In addition, Nasta hopes to organize events such as presentations from professional architects and information sessions about the software programs used by architects.

“Having local architects come and speak is a popular idea, [as is] learning how to use the software that you need in architecture,” Nasta said.

Nasta and Cornfeld also hope that the club will raise interest in the architectural studies major and serve as a space for students who are passionate about architecture to talk about it.

According to Martinez, there are currently 24 declared architectural studies majors.

Architectural studies is available through both the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, with separate requirements in each. Nasta, who is enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that the major is fairly flexible and allows students to choose the subjects on which they would like to focus.

“It’s pretty much what you want to make it,” Nasta said.

Alternatively, in the School of Engineering, the architectural studies major is housed in the civil and environmental engineering department, and students are required to complete civil engineering courses and the core engineering school requirements. While less flexible than the School of Arts and Sciences curriculum, students can still focus their electives in the areas in which they are most interested.

“You really get your foot in the water in both civil engineering and architecture, which is a great education because a lot of architects don’t have that sort of background, so they design buildings that can’t actually stand up,” Cornfeld, who is enrolled in the School of Engineering, said.

Martinez also commented on the interdisciplinary nature of the major.

“Architecture is … something that requires both mathematical knowledge … a sort of [artistic] sensibility, a knowledge of history … and the ability to organize your ideas in writing,” Martinez said.

In reflecting on why they originally chose to study architecture, Cornfeld and Nasta emphasized the field’s combination of a variety of subjects.

“I’ve always been interested in science, math and engineering but also the arts, so architecture really appealed to me,” Nasta said.

Cornfeld agreed.

“Architecture [is] … a really great fit if you want to do design but make it more practical or be able to apply engineering knowledge to it,” she said.

For Nasta, the appeal of architectural studies lies not only in its interdisciplinary nature but also in its greater relevance to the world.

“Architecture is so cool because it’s just everywhere — you’re studying your world, and it’s applicable to everything,” Nasta said.

Martinez said her own interest in architecture first arose when she realized architecture extended to many aspects of life.

“Architecture is not about just buildings — it’s about society, it’s about how we think about space, how we think about community, and for me, it was so much more than I thought it was,” Martinez said.

Martinez, who is teaching a class this fall on architecture in Boston, said that she connects architecture to topics that are relevant to society today, such as race.

“I can’t pretend I’m an expert in Boston architecture, but I can use my own methodologies to approach Boston architecture, and part of that is focusing on issues I feel are relevant to today … so I focused on two architectural projects where the question of race is central,” Martinez said.

In the class, students are studying the Royall House, a former slave’s quarters less than a mile away from Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus.

“It was a remarkable piece of architecture, and learning about that history through the architecture itself was an incredible opportunity,” Martinez said.

Martinez said the class also looked at the Emerald Necklace, a series of Boston parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Martinez started as Tufts’ director of architectural studies earlier this year. Following the 2016 departure of the previous director, Daniel Abramson, the program had been without a permanent leader, which caused it to shrink in size. Martinez hopes that together with the new Tufts Architecture Society, the program will expand and be reenergized.

“I really wanted to inject a new energy into the program and … make sure that the existing architectural majors felt like there was a real direction for the program going forward,” Martinez said.