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Requiem for studio culture

<h6>Gabe Lipkowitz / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Gabe Lipkowitz / The Daily Princetonian

It’s about three p.m. on a Wednesday when I look up from the model I’ve been working on and ask aloud, “Hey, I’m going to Late Meal in a minute. Anyone wanna join? Anyone want anything?”

It’s crunch time before a big pin-up (a presentation in Architecture), so I’m greeted with a chorus of varying “No’s” — but a pair of eyes peers over the partition that separates my desk from the person who faces me.

“Could you maybe get me a cookie? I just want one.”

I nod at the pair of eyes. “Of course. What type?”

The eyes shift to the side for a second in thought, then the decision is made. “Peanut butter, if they have any left.”

This transaction is a perfect example of the studio culture that was lost the Wednesday before spring break. On Friday, March 13, after a morning meeting with the School of Architecture, some of us went upstairs to our studio spaces on the third floor and cleaned out our desks. We took necessities with us in bags, boxes, and whatever other receptacle we could proffer in the moments of campus-wide pandemonium. We dumped the rest — long-term projects, ideas, sketches, images, and notes — into the trash. 

With that, we threw out half-made projects, but also a deep experience that Zoom cannot reproduce.

With the enrollment in ARC 204: Introduction to Architectural Design or URB 205: Interdisciplinary Design Studio, an Architecture or Urban Studies certificate student plunges into the land of Studio, an integral and formative experience. With each Studio class, the student receives their own desk-workspace with a set of drawers for their use the entire semester. Class will meet in that space unless there are days of presentation in one of the School of Architecture’s many galleries. Meeting twice a week for three hours each time, Studio is a rigorous design course that is fulfilling, informative, creative, and often obscenely stressful. 

All Architecture concentrators — about 12 students per graduating class — take no fewer than four studios during our time as undergrads at Princeton. During those times, we build community and sharpen our design skills all while pulling all-nighters, waking up at 4 a.m., imbibing near-fatal amounts of caffeine, and occasionally crying. 

At any given night, the Architecture building becomes the domain of undergrads and grad students. The shop in the basement comes alive with machinery, the computer lab down the hall reaches full capacity, the plotters (big printers) are always producing something, the library buzzes with researchers and readers, the smell of food cooking somewhere in a microwave wafts through the building while music plays softly somewhere else. Grad students occupy their second-floor spaces; undergraduates huddle in theirs on the third. 

We are stressed and sleep-deprived; always working against a deadline. Yet, at the same time, we are learning from others’ work, talking about truly anything, and just being there with each other. I have done everything from helping craft a Junior Paper proposal to helping determine whether my colleague should swipe right on someone on Tinder. 

We’ve complained about professors, exchanged tips about what was good on the Street the coming weekend, decrypted strangely worded emails from TAs, gone on Late Meal runs, debated whether or not a person should ditch an upcoming lecture, and partaken in hot departmental gossip.

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With Princeton’s transition to digital classes, we lost the physicality of the studio, and all the experiences that come with it. We are still expected to make models and drawings, which may compensate for what we have lost academically, but that doesn't account for the Murray-Dodge runs and the scavenging through leftover catering from a special conference or guest lecture. Nor does it replace the slices of pizza from the Princeton Pi standing order on Thursdays that we cram into our mouths as soon as we hear our professor climbing the stairs to the third floor.

The funny thing is, I don’t regularly hang out with these people outside of the walls of the School of Architecture. Studio exposes me to social groups on campus with whom I don’t regularly associate: from dance groups to USG to varsity sports to eating clubs I’ve never been to. I was one of the first to find out about the February norovirus outbreak coming from Prospect Street, but I don’t even belong to a club. I’m proud of the widespread diversity of my Architecture colleagues, in terms of race, class, origin, identity and interest. From private school to public school, U.S.-born or international student; we are from all walks of life.

I know this sounds like a cliché motto from a well-known restaurant, but when we are in Studio, we’re some sort of dysfunctional, creative, sarcastic family. I am fairly certain that every Princeton student feels the absence of madness and mayhem that is certain to ensue when a bunch of teens and 20-somethings make a campus, a class, a temporary space their theoretical home.  

My only hope is that our home will be restored in the coming semester.

Sally Jane Ruybalid is a junior from Trinidad, Colo. She can be reached at sjr4@princeton.edu.

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