The Catalyst

“The history of architecture is the history of the struggle for light.” Le Corbusier’s oft-repeated quote captures the obsession most architects have with the role of light in buildings. And yet, the study of light is often absent from architecture curricula. Students rarely get the opportunity to experiment with light or to better understand how this transient, yet critical, property functions.

Blaine Brownell, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota (UMN) School of Architecture, remembers this disconnect in his own architecture education. “Lighting was something that we talked about but never studied on its own,” he says. He endeavored to change that for his students. UMN offers a unique one-week course to its architecture graduates called a catalyst class. The aim is to immerse participants in an intense, quick study of a topic. “The idea of [the] catalyst [course] is that within one week students can take a break from their current coursework and they can focus on one thing,” he says. “And that one thing can be experimental and high risk.”

Excerpted from Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, “The Catalyst: Architecture Students Experiment with Light and Material.” Architectural Lighting (November/December 2010): cover, 32-37.

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