Studio Culture

Hana Lemseffer (B.Arch, '17), Interim Design Center, Bldg. 89.
Hana Lemseffer (B.Arch, '17), Interim Design Center, Bldg. 89.

Studio Culture Policy Overview

NAAB requires that all architecture programs, “demonstrate a positive and respectful learning environment through the encouragement of the fundamental values of optimism, respect, sharing, engagement, and innovation between and among the members of its faculty, student body, administration, and staff.” It also asks that programs, “encourage students and faculty to appreciate these values as guiding principles of professional conduct throughout their careers.”

Cal Poly Pomona has adopted a written Studio Culture Policy that specifically addresses issues of time management, respect for others, support for individuality and creativity, and safety policies to protect both faculty and students. The following list summarizes ways in which students and faculty can support an open and collaborative environment, as spelled out in the Studio Culture Policy:

1. A student representative shall attend all faculty meetings (with the exception of times when faculty are discussing personnel decisions or specific students).

2. The Department shall hold student and faculty meetings at the beginning of every quarter to introduce faculty, student activities and scholarships, and elective and topic studio course offerings.

3. The chair shall schedule a “chair chat” one day per quarter to get feedback from students regarding courses, policies, resources, and the general state of the program, and culture.

4. Students and faculty shall meet once per year to revisit studio culture policies and to discuss their effectiveness as well as ways to improve adherence to these principles. This meeting will also serve to reinforce the need for a positive and respectful learning environment. 

Shared Values

The Department of Architecture has established a set of shared values for the faculty, staff, and student body. The original text was authored by former dean Marvin J. Malecha, FAIA, in consultation with faculty and students and adapted in modified form on November 1990 (and 2016) by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS).

The right of inquiry establishes the freedom to choose the time, place and nature of learning, free from any form of prejudice or the fear of failure.

Each person must be allowed to be unique, not bound by preconception or a curriculum so fixed as to prevent individual expression. Each individual has the right to learn without fear of character depreciation or retribution for personal opinions. 

It is the right of an individual to be exposed to a diversity of philosophical and cultural lessons. No individual should ever suffer in the learning experience because of race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religion or lack thereof, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Never in the educational environment must information be withheld because of the judgment of another that one represents improper political, religious, or social positions.

There is a demonstrable connection between the quality of the learning place and the memorable learning experience. Such an experience must be made available to every individual.


Architectural education at Cal Poly Pomona is focused on the design studio as the integrative agent to a thought process where students develop the analytical skills necessary to discover the essence of a design problem as well as the ability to synthesize a response and give it a three-dimensional form. Students begin with studio exercises in drawing, graphics, and visual communication and progress towards more comprehensive architectural design projects that employ creative and analytic skills. Course work in history, theory, environmental controls, structures, practice, computers, construction, and human behavior is integrated with studio work, so that students can acquire the necessary knowledge that allows them to make informed decisions that affect the built environment. 

This Studio Culture Policy was written collaboratively by faculty and student representatives from the AIAS, following a number of meetings. The document is organized into the following categories: Social Environment, Intellectual Environment, Physical Environment, and Studio Structure and Policies.

I. Social Environment

Respect for Others: While preparing students for the profession of architecture and its demands for working, collaborating, and sharing space with others, it is incumbent on faculty, students, and staff to do the same in our school with respect and consideration. With the understanding that the academic requirements of our program and working in a confined space can amplify the stress that some students may feel, it is even more important then that our department provides for an equitable and comfortable working environment and that the university and department policies that protect this are enforced and maintained. 

Both students and faculty need to be made aware that activities that may be seen by some as playful studio behavior may also have the effect of being distracting, unsafe, or adding unnecessary stress to others in their workplace. These activities may include: playing music loudly or not using headphones, playing sports inside, storing food, spreading workplace mess outside of designated studio areas, not cleaning up in a timely manner, spraying chemicals and spray adhesives inside and shouting or speaking loudly while other students are working. The goal of identifying these issues and asking students to maintain some decorum with regards to their studio workplace is not to inhibit the special educational environment and camaraderie that is created in an architecture studio - it is simply to ask students to be considerate of each other’s space and working environment and to recognize that different people may work and study in different ways.

Commitment to Cooperation and Collaboration: Collaboration with faculty and interpersonal communication between students, inside and outside of architecture, is crucial to a productive and engaging academic learning environment. This includes involvement in discussions, opportunities for teamwork between students, and opportunities for cooperation and scholarship between students and faculty. The Department also gives students opportunities to weigh-in on curricular decision. 

The value of collaboration within the architecture studio includes the open exchange of ideas during design reviews, making work visible by displaying student work in studio, encouraging peer-to-peer learning opportunities, such as student-led tutorials, informal pin-ups, and other means of sharing resources. The Department also encourages collaboration by facilitating lower-division students to help Senior Project and graduating thesis students with their culminating project.

Time Management: Students need to be able to balance schoolwork, paid work, and personal life. In our college, where many students work outside of school and often have long commutes to campus, time management is particularly important, allowing students to function properly at school and work and to be safe on their commutes. Faculty are asked to use judgment on a reasonable work load, to evaluate and balance competing demands and deadlines, and to respect the requirements of all classes, including lecture, seminar, and studio courses.  

II. Intellectual Environment

Engaging in Open Dialog: The design studio is a crucial space for students to learn to communicate their ideas. Students should feel comfortable speaking up and having their voices heard. This is true of discussions with faculty, as well as peer-to-peer conversations and critiques which is strongly encouraged.

Helping students find their own creative voice: Cal Poly Pomona’s Learn-by-Doing approach provides opportunities for students to experiment, build objects, test ideas, and experiment with innovative technologies. In studio, students are asked to understand, question, reconsider, and shape architectural processes and conventions and are encouraged to be inventive and imaginative. The goal is to prepare students to develop their own approach to architectural problems and to the discipline in preparation for a productive and innovative professional life.

Exhibiting thoughtful decision-making: Students are expected to develop diligence and reliance as part of their work habits and to concentrate on producing high quality work. Students’ work should show a process from the project’s conception and offer alternative perspectives in order to provide adequate assessment towards a finished product. Students are asked to maintain an open attitude towards advice and to improve through constructive criticism. An integral part of the studio learning experience is the exchange with peers and the assessment of peer projects. This gives students the opportunity to learn from their peers while also developing the ability to be critical of their own work. 

III. Physical Environment

Safety first: Studios are locked to those outside of the major but open to architecture students 24 hours / 7 days a week. Those outside of the major are not allowed in studios without permission and an escort. Architecture majors may use their IDs to gain access to studios located in the Interim Design Center (IDC). Keys are available to graduate and undergraduate students for the studios located in Building 3 and Building 7. Failure to return key will result in a grade hold and fine.

Students and faculty must respect all fire lanes and safety rules, as spelled out in College and Department Policies. If you see someone doing something that is unsafe, feel uncomfortable or in anyway unsafe you should say something. It is all of our responsibility to look out for each other and to create a safe work environment. 

Keep it clean: Policies have been developed for the use of the studios and are posted in the building. Students are asked to adhere to these policies and to maintain their workstations in excellent condition. Tables must be covered with chipboard at the start of each quarter, and students are encouraged to invest in a cutting mat to be used over group worktables to protect workstation surfaces. Students will be responsible for damage to work stations/desks.

Students are asked to clean up trash on or around their workstations and to keep all aisles and the floor clean and free of hazards. Architecture students are responsible for all materials used to construct projects.  This includes, but is not limited to, wood, chipboard, cardboard, paints, glue, etc. Students’ materials are not to be left unattended and must be secured when not in use. Studio aisles must remain clear at all times.

College policy requires that personal possessions be removed from instructional areas at the end of each quarter. Faculty will place a “hold” on grades for students that leave projects or materials on campus past the end of the quarter.

The Department supports recycling. Bins are made available for basic recycling: paper, glass, and cans. When using these bins, please take care not to contaminate these with non-recyclables. If necessary, students may be asked to help move student-owned recyclable materials to a recycling center.

Use tools and equipment responsibly: Students must pass the ENV Model Shop test before using power tools. The College maintains a list of those students who pass the test. To avoid noise, debris and air pollution, power tools shall not be used at any time within studios and classrooms or other indoor spaces (except for the wood shop and digital fabrication shop). 

Only with permission and after successfully passing the ENV Model Shop test may power tools be used outside on the concrete pads behind the IDC or other locations approved by the ENV Model Shop technician and preferably when an instructor or the ENV Model Shop technician is present. If no technician or faculty is available, students shall work in groups of not fewer than three people. In case of an accident, one person would then be available to stay with the injured student while the other seeks help by dialing 911, or the campus police at (909) 869-3070 (3070 on a campus phone). Power tools shall be used outside in dry weather only and when the pavement is free of any moisture, as electricity and water are a dangerous combination.

No chemical products (including but not limited to clay, plaster, paint, or concrete) are to be mixed or disposed of in university sinks. For your own and your colleagues’ welfare, please use and (safely) store the least possible amount of hazardous or flammable products on campus (please refer to the official campus policy). The indoor use of aerosols, “spray-mounts” and “spray-paint” is strictly prohibited. Outside surfaces that may receive overspray when using aerosols must be covered. See the CPP Office of Environmental Health and Safety’s specific instructions for chemical and hazardous wastes on campus.

IV. Studio structure and policies

Desk crits: Desk crits are an opportunity for faculty to engage students in one-on-one conversation regarding their project. The goal of these meetings is to offer constructive feedback, encourage students to evaluate other possibilities, or to suggest readings and research on precedents that could help strengthen the work.

Midterms and Final Studio Reviews: Design reviews are an opportunity to discuss larger architectural issues and to evaluate students’ individual responses to these issues. The design review offers students an opportunity to defend their design strategies and outcomes, to develop clear arguments, and to improve their oral presentation skills. Design reviews are an important part of studio teaching and should be conducted in a professional manner. Students and faculty should be on time for reviews. Each student shall be given a similar amount of time to present their work to the jury. Juries should refrain from making personal criticism of the student and shall focus on the students’ work. 

Studio grading: Grading shall be based on a student’s performance in studio to be assessed during desk crits, midterm and final reviews. Syllabi should clearly explain the grading rubric. Faculty should advise and counsel students on their performance throughout the quarter and should issue midterm grades to ensure that students are aware of their status in the course.

Studio lottery for Topic Studios and Senior Project: Students will select Topic Studios and Senior Projects through a lottery. Instructors will present their studios on the first day of studio, and students will then rank their preferences, giving their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. choice. A neutral party, such as the chair, will then assign students to each section, so that all students get one of their top choices and all sections have an equal number of students.

Studio field trips and travel: Studio field trips should take place during studio hours or on weekends. Longer studio trips should be scheduled on the 3rd week of the quarter to minimize conflicts with other courses. Students and faculty must file appropriate paperwork, such as 1A travel forms and student releases, prior to their trip. For foreign travel, students should consult with the International Center regarding special requirements and ensure that students are insured while they are abroad.

Studio and Lecture schedule: The Department makes every effort to create an equitable timetable and class roadmap for student success. An effort has been made to avoid deadline conflicts between studio presentations and other courses by implementing a master calendar. The calendar designates that studio course midterms be held on week 5 or 6 and that lecture course assignment be scheduled for weeks 7 and 8. Week 9 is reserved for completing final studio design projects. Week 10, the last week of classes, shall be reserved for studio work. Week 11, finals week, is reserved for lecture course final exams and papers. No studio final shall take place in week 11 (except for 5th year senior project and 3rd year grad thesis, which will take place on week 11 of spring quarter).

Maximum work hours and course units: While we understand that most students work outside of school, we expect that education remains their highest priority. We strongly recommend that students work no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, recognizing that the Architecture Program is a full-time commitment. We also recommend that students take no more than 18 units per quarter and that faculty discuss the implications of taking on extra courses before signing petitions for students who wish to take more than 20 units.

Lecture and studio homework: Although our design studios are accessible 24 hours/day, it is strongly discouraged to regularly work through the night. Students are instead encouraged to plan their work intelligently and to work efficiently, so that “all-nighters”, which are ultimately detrimental to the quality of the work and to a student’s well being, can be avoided. The architecture department aims to meet a 40-50 hour workweek schedule for class time and homework, which matches the schedule of most professional environments. For the average schedule of 16-18 units per quarter, students will spend 20-25 hours per week in class and 20-25 hours on homework. Students may choose to spend more time on their work; however these allocated hours shall be sufficient for students to complete their assignments with a passing grade.

Studio Policy Contributors

Studio Culture Policy Contributors:
George Proctor, Chair
Sarah Lorenzen, Associate Chair

Zaira Hernandez, President (5th Year)
Vice President: Maya Reyes (5th year)
Treasurer: Kleon Tran (4th year)
Secretary: Jose Yael Flores (4th year)
Event Coordinator: Vi Phan (3rd year)
Publicist: Tyler Liang (4th year)
Fundraiser: Fariba Dorrifar (4th year)

ENV Reps: Klaude Matias (2nd year)
Jorge Saucedo (4th year)