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NAAB Visits the School of Architecture

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(L–R) Architecture thesis models and drawings by B.Arch graduates Jose Melara, Justin Gunawan, Seung Kee Kim and Dennis Levy on display for the NAAB Visiting Team. Photo by Bob Toy.

The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) recently returned to Academy of Art University to assess the School of Architecture’s B. Arch program for continuing accreditation, an important procedure for American architecture schools participating in the NCARB licensure process.

NAAB representatives spent four days examining curriculum and student work from the five-year B. Arch degree program. NAAB will officially announce the final status of accreditation at the end of this summer, but the initial verbal progress report that concluded the recent visit was overwhelmingly positive. Of the 26 accreditation categories, four were met with distinction (Pre-Design, Environmental Systems, Structural Systems, Integrated Design), which is the highest mark a program can receive for any category. If formally approved in August by the NAAB Board, the B.Arch program would receive continuing accreditation status for eight more years, the maximum accreditation period granted by NAAB.

School of Architecture Undergraduate Director Jennifer Asselstine has been tirelessly overseeing the accreditation process since NAAB’s initial accreditation visit three years ago. Studio work from the entire student body must be assembled alongside class curricula from the entry-level architectural thinking projects to senior thesis projects. NAAB inspects curricula in everything from the technical (lighting, air conditioning, etc.) to the paramount (structural integrity, environmental responsiveness, architectural material selection, etc.) and all must be accounted for.

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Third year design studio work by Malak Bellajdel gave evidence of how strong and thoughtful design was applied to energy conscience proposals. Photo by Karen Seong.

Maurits Anton Valentijn De Gans is a recent B. Arch alumnus, who graduated in Fall 2017. He came to San Francisco on an interior design internship from the Netherlands in 2013 and transferred to the Academy to study architecture. Some of his projects are featured in the NAAB accreditation gallery. “Jennifer is very personally involved and she knows all the students and their programs. The school here felt like a big family,” shared De Gans. 

For part of the NAAB accreditation process, the board representatives met with students to assess their opinions on the performance of the program. Mellak Belladjel is in the fourth year of her B. Arch degree. She met with NAAB accreditors and also helped prepare the studio materials for the review. “There was a lot of preparation, but I’m glad it paid off. I never intended to be involved in [student activities], but I just knew that I didn’t want to come to school and just stay home after class,” said Belladjel. “I visited many campuses but I wanted to come to a program that taught me how to think like an architect. I think this school did just that.”

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First year student Huilan Hu’s final project was showcased in the exhibit. Photo by Doron Serban.

Of the assessment criteria, the department is especially pleased with the high marks the program received in both Pre-Design and Environmental Systems. “In our second year studio, students built a coffee cart to serve and meet people experiencing homelessness and do community outreach to gather information about needs for a homeless shelter they were designing. The development of tools, like the coffee cart, allowed us to meet the Pre-Design category with distinction,” said Asselstine. “Additionally, students have to understand and learn the concepts of Environmental Systems. For the third year studio, the project site was in Tiburon, on the water’s edge, and students were required to design with a responsibility for the use of our natural resources. In the fourth year, students must take this further and, as a team, design a larger multi-use urban project that incorporates sustainable features with regards to water conservation, energy use, site design and solar orientation.”

One of De Gan’s projects was featured for the Environmental Systems category. “At first, I came [to the Academy] to design nice shapes and make it all pretty, then I found there was more than just nice buildings. It’s about community and public health,” explained De Gans. “Yesterday, I reviewed a project that was a single box. I complimented it and said that you can do so much with a box. It can have solar panels or other sustainable features that allow it to be net zero or net plus [in energy efficiency]. I think Jennifer puts so much emphasis on sustainability that it becomes almost as important as structure. Right now, we see sustainability as a feature and, in the future, we need to see it as the standard.”

While the formal accreditation process has not yet concluded, with four categories met with distinction ahead of the August announcement, the prospects for continued accreditation  are looking very strong as the program develops.