Aspiring architects dream of building cities and erecting monuments—of creating bold statements with steel and glass.

“As an architect, you work when a place is growing,” says Wes Janz, associate professor of architecture.

But what about when a place is declining?

As part of the spring 2007 immersive learning seminar One Small Project, Janz took a group of students to the other side of architecture, to spots around the country where building materials might come from garbage cans and architects are simply ordinary people trying to fill their most basic needs.

The students found themselves in worlds they had never seen—talking with homeless people in Indianapolis, laid-off factory workers in Flint, Michigan, and drug addicts in Southern California. They saw firsthand how cities are addressing shrinking populations and abandoned homes—the forgotten people and places not featured in glossy architecture magazines.

A powerful moment came for the students as they watched a house in Flint being demolished. A neighbor shared memories of the family who had abandoned the home after nearby factories closed. Suddenly, the group saw not just a pile of twisted boards destined for the landfill but a community, a family—the dignity and dreams of real people and a higher calling for architects.

“I’ve always wanted to be an architect,” says architecture major Mona Luxion, '08. “Taking this seminar really made it a little more concrete for me—I want to use architecture to help people.”

Related links:

College of Architecture and Planning

Department of Architecture

Immersive learning