In spring 2023, Associate Professor Catalina Freixas taught “Architecture for Non-Architects,” a course for which she was awarded a grant from the Sam Fox School’s Office for Socially Engaged Practice. Designed for undergraduates who are not enrolled in a traditional architecture studio, the course introduces students to the processes architects use to think about, view, and produce the built environment.
The seminar challenged students to design for sites that comprise the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site in midtown St. Louis. The plans included a meditation garden, performance space, dog park, foundation site, and grounds for community events. “The driving factor for each project was the historical significance of Scott Joplin’s legacy, life, and works,” said Freixas.
Student work also included concept plans to integrate a tree farm with the historic site, a real project that Missouri Forest ReLeaf plans to build in partnership with the Scott Joplin House in 2024-25.
At the end of the course, students presented their projects to partner representatives from Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, DTLS Landscape Architecture, and the Scott Joplin House. Students shared their work at the City Tree Farm public event held at the historic site in October, and their collages are on display for a limited time at the site.
One of the highlights for sophomore Charlotte Chen “was designing a pattern based on a specific site and its history and then evolving it into a complex architectural design.” Chen said that her perspective on architecture evolved as she “learned how to better combine creativity with usability and functionality within a space.”
A number of students found the course so informative that they decided to pursue further studies in architecture. Daniel Gassenheimer, a sophomore, switched into the major. “I felt that [Associate Professor] Freixas was able to introduce both the physical aspects of architecture as well as the real-life applications of architecture in society,” he said. “Along with going on a site visit, she regularly brought in guest speakers to teach us about the property and how to think about the project from the lens of the user. This made me passionate in pursuing more community engagement when it comes to architecture, and how we can keep the user in mind to design with conscience.”
The school’s Office for Socially Engaged Practice regularly awards course grants to faculty who have proposed coursework that collaborates with the St. Louis community. The grants are made possible through CityStudioSTL, an initiative that brings students together with partners in St. Louis.