University of Rochester
In Class

The Spaces We’re In

CREATING ARCHITECTURE: University architect Paul Tankel (center) says students in the course—like Andrew Slominski ’07 and Sarilyn Swayngim ’06—bring new perspectives to understanding archictecture.

Students explore how architecture influences their experiences. By Enid Arbelo

Sarilyn Swayngim ’06 has enjoyed countless hours in St. Peter’s Square relishing the much-admired dome of the Basilica of St. Peter.

Swayngim, an engineering student who grew up in an Ohio farm town, was drawn to the Vatican City icon’s massive structural elements.

Now her memories of the semester she spent studying in Arezzo, Italy, and its sidetrips to Rome are part of a different conversation.

“Why did they use such large columns?” she asks. “Is it so the façade draws your eyes upwards toward the dome?”

Swayngim was one of 12 students who gathered for a few hours each week in a tiny room underneath the seats of Fauver Stadium.

There, students relive their study abroad experiences, reminisce about their hometowns, and visit the wonders of the world through the magic of PowerPoint.

In short, for a few hours, the students in the course Creating Architecture talk about space and structures and think about how they relate to their lives as students and citizens.

Paul Tankel, the University architect who teaches the course, says he values the perspectives students bring because each one sees architecture through the eyes of someone with a unique history and a different area of expertise.

“Typically we construct in our own mind how we want to see things,” says Tankel. He reminds students to approach each new space with “a child’s innocence.”

The fall 2006 edition of the class explored the fundamental design principles that are the tools used to create architecture. Through talks, images, and field trips students explore how buildings, outdoor spaces, and surrounding cities interact.

The course is open to all majors and requires no prior architecture study. The mix of specialization leads to interesting conversations with wide-ranging views on architecture and space.

The class is a change of pace for Kristin Goodkin, a voice student at the Eastman School. But the singer has a newfound appreciation for the interior spaces of the synagogues and churches in which she performs. Something about one space in particular, a synagogue in nearby Irondequoit, she says, is sacred, a term that’s often used to describe awe-inspiring architecture.

That’s exactly the kind of appreciation Tankel thinks is fundamental to understanding the course:

“A lot of what we talk about is what’s not there rather than what is there,” Tankel says. “It’s not about history; it’s about how forms are created, what space is about.”

Tankel, who has been teaching the course for four years, spends a great deal of class time discussing the architecture and spaces on campus. He treats the class to a field trip up to the tower of Rush Rhees. The idea is to make a space like the quad seem new, he says.

For Mary Ellen Chieco ’07 that’s exactly what happened.

Spaces and structures that once served as a way to get from one class to another now seem to have more than just a utilitarian purpose—they have meaning.

“It made me realize these buildings weren’t just plopped down here,” she says. “Someone actually thought about it and the space it would create.”