LArchitecture — Fall 2012
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Exceeding Expectations
Steve Tanner

Teaching and Learning Architecture at East Los Angeles College

The boundaries between the community college and the traditional four-year B.Arch program are becoming more fluid as different institutions complement and enrich one another. As a case study, it’s worth taking a look at the architecture program at East Los Angeles College (ELAC), where the intersection of highly qualified and dedicated faculty members, a demographically nontraditional and highly motivated student body and the need to fulfill several different but related missions and objectives has given rise to a distinctive philosophy and approach to teaching architecture.

While it’s commonly referred to as a two-year college, professors and students in ELAC’s Architecture Department will point out that this is a misnomer, particularly for students balancing school and work. According to Professor and former Architecture Department Chair Jerry Ishino, “It takes more than two years. It takes three years, minimum.

To really learn the ropes, you need to be there a little longer.” Typically, students spend three to four years in community college — and, in many cases, longer — before they transfer to the universities or make the transition to the workforce.

Current department Chair Michael Hamner, AIA, has a similar perspective on what constitutes the fundamentals of an architecture education. Ishino and Hamner both identify the architecture department at East Los Angeles College as a comprehensive program that trains and nurtures the complete architect. This means a strong foundation of hand drawing, in part to overcome what Hamner sees as “the shortcomings of individuals who are not versed in manual drafting, that just learn the software program and put mouse to tablet versus pencil to paper. It’s been a very good perspective to me to keep our students in line.”

To complement their architecture coursework, Hamner explains, ELAC students are also required to take classes in other subjects like philosophy and the humanities — some of which may not seem immediately relevant. “When you understand sociology, anthropology and psychology, there’s so much that plays into design solutions.”

What Hamner hears most from former students is how well prepared they felt after completing the program at ELAC. “That says a lot about us,” Hamner believes.

The college can also point to some exciting successes when it comes to transfers to universities. Karin Yang transferred from ELAC to Woodbury and completed the graduate architecture program at Columbia. Vincent Hui, who was dual-enrolled at Cantwell High School and ELAC, applied on his own initiative and was admitted to the highly competitive program at Cooper Union directly from ELAC. Graduates of ELAC have also gone on to Pratt, Syracuse, Harvard and Princeton, as well as to local schools of architecture such as Cal Poly Pomona, SCI-Arc, UCLA, USC and Woodbury.

Exceeding Expectations: Teaching and Learning Architecture at East Los Angeles College by Steve Tanner Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, AIA, is chair of the School of Architecture’s graduate program at Woodbury University and former chair of the undergraduate Architecture program in Los Angeles, where a strong relationship has been forged with schools like ELAC and Pasadena City College. She finds that ELAC students who transfer to her program as second- or thirdyear students come in with strong fundamentals that help them meet the challenge of transitioning to a university program.

ELAC students have also distinguished themselves on the front of competitions. For the first time since 1978, a team from the Architecture Department, consisting of Mario Arana, Adam Martinez, Felipe Oros and Roberto Rojas, was awarded Best Overall Structure at Design Village 2012, held at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. One other team from ELAC also competed, along with 50 teams from schools across the Southland. 2012 was also a banner year for ELAC at the AIA Los Angeles 1:2 Interiors Charrette and the 2x8:TAUT student competition and exhibition, where East Los Angeles College students took home honors and scholarships.

Ion Kudryashov represented ELAC in the 2012 AIA Los Angeles 2x8:TAUT student scholarship competition and exhibition, along with fellow student Daniela Angelo, under the direction of faculty member Ramon Ramirez. For his Nin Kasi Brew House project, he was awarded a second-prize scholarship from AIA Los Angeles. For Ion, “Winning this award is very encouraging. I put a lot of hard work into my projects, and it feels good to be rewarded for it. I’d also like to give credit to my teachers at ELAC; they are great at what they do, and it’s because of them that I’m able to compete against fouryear- university students.” Juan Pablo Onate competed in the one-day AIA Los Angeles 1:2 Interiors Charrette, collaborating with fellow student Bernardo Rubio, where the team won first place and shared a $10,000 scholarship. For 2012, the students were assigned to develop The Tasting Lot. The program was to create a physical space for something designed to be impermanent — a food truck — and develop a complete immersive experience.

Onate and Rubio’s presentation, “Tapas and Wine,” was inspired by the history of tapas as food “on the road” and by the idea of downtown LA’s Art Walk as a journey.

Now in his second year at ELAC after transferring from Cerritos College, Juan Pablo says, “ELAC is a fantastic school. I’ve had two internships [and] a competition.” The key for him is “the connection with the teachers. They want you to excel.”