Summer Immersion 2023 Recap


August 23, 2023

This Summer, TSOA conducted its second Summer Immersion Program based out of IIT's Crown Hall in Chicago, IL. Over the course of four weeks, students developed a Bronzeville-sited Library Kiosk and Cafe studio project in dialogue with the City of Chicago's Invest South/West Initiative, visited dozens of significant architectural sites (including many privately-owned Frank Lloyd Wright houses), enjoyed a 3-day excursion to the school's origins in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and even made a trip to Fallingwater near Pittsburgh, PA.

By Mariah Hoffman (M.Arch III, '25)

Following a busy and active Spring semester, this Summer semester was a whirlwind of fun and hard work for both our M.Arch and visiting Immersion students.

Since the 1930s, our school and students have engaged in some iteration of the “migration” from the Midwest to the Southwest and back again. Although our school looks a bit different these days we carried on with a new version of this tradition as we wrapped up Spring semester in Arizona and headed to the Windy City of Chicago. 

This summer TSOA was hosted by the School of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville, Chicago. With the iconic Crown Hall as our base, studio courses were led by IIT instructor Gideon Schwartzman and we were also welcomed back by longtime instructor and Chicago native, Lloyd Natof. 

As a native Chicagoan myself, it was a true delight to be back in my childhood hometown while working through this summer program! As 1st year M.Archs, we were prompted with conceptualizing a neighborhood library and housing in Bronzeville, Chicago through the lens of the Invest Southwest city program. Using the generous IIT woodshop we built a 4’ x 4’ site model as a base for model making, prototyping and eventually our final models. As much as it was a challenge to consider an overlapping program of neighborhood library and residential needs, I enjoyed sinking my teeth into site-specific research. Our studio course was also supplemented by a design communication course that challenged us to experiment with new techniques of drawing representation and rendering. 

During the Immersion portion of the program, it was a real joy to be joined by 16 students from Feng Chia University in Taichung, Taiwan and 7 other American or international immersion students with varying experiences and backgrounds. In their studio, Immersion students were prompted to respond to the vacant lot directly South of our M.Arch studio site and design a park, library kiosk and cafe using patterning and relief studies as a starting point. Students crafted compelling models that communicated sensitive responses to creating inclusive civic spaces and approaches to context.

We took a weekend off from Chicago deep-dish pizza to tour Wisconsin, specifically in Spring Green, where we worked out of Wright’s Wyoming Valley School and also visited the place where it all began, at the hills of Taliesin. Along the way, we stopped in Madison and toured what quickly became my favorite FLW house tour on the trip, the Jacobs I residence. Originally built in 1936 for Herbert Jacobs with the price tag of $5,000 (incredible!) this home is considered the first of Wright’s Usonian home projects. What personally struck me was the distilled elegance of the home with its simple L-shaped plan and killer details (we love a corner door moment).

An evening formal hosted at the Wyoming Valley School included an incredible multi-course meal led by the Taiwanese students and their TA, Lin Yu-Fang (Fanny), followed by a play directed by Wisconsin-based faculty, Terry Kerr. This play was themed around our studio’s brief on the library as a community space.

The summer curriculum was rounded out by a variety of field trips in the Chicago and broader Midwest area, with highlights including the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, the Glore House, the Coonley House, the Wrightwood 659 museum, a Chicago architectural boat tour, and a historic downtown walking tour. Experiencing the scale, craftsmanship, and life stories of Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s designs as they currently stand through building helped to tell a broader story of the school we are part of today.

After my final presentation wrapped and my drawings were submitted, I packed up and prepared for a drive cross-country back to the desert. With even more gratitude for the city of my childhood, I waved goodbye to my old friend Lake Michigan and my new friends from Taiwan and beyond. 

The Immersion students ended their summer with a trip to Pittsburgh, PA to visit the Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob houses — a proper and epic ending to an educational program centered around what we call the “Taliesin Spirit”. While this trip was a major highlight, I think we can all agree that the bond that we built over the course of several weeks through our passion for architecture, our daily community life rituals and the opportunities to share our individual experiences and cultures was the most valuable takeaway of all.

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