Cabinets in the architecture department sit in Chandler-Ullmann Hall on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. Lehigh's design labs include tools such as a laser cutter, which can help students work on class projects. (Austin Katz/B&W photo)

Architecture students voice opinions on design lab resources

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect statements about Lehigh’s design labs and the architecture department’s resources. As of Nov. 6, story has been modified with information to address factual errors that were previously published, including the number of laser cutters being added to the department, course requirements and shop monitor presence.

The headline, originally “Architecture department resources are inconsistent,” was changed to “Architecture students voice opinions on design lab resources” to reflect the changes to the article.

The photo caption, which originally stated that Lehigh equipment was “outdated or broken,” was amended. The current laser cutter was bought four years ago to replace an older model purchased about eight years prior. According to Michael Moore, the assistant manager of Lehigh’s design labs, no laser cutter has broken in the the time the labs have used them.

Students in the Lehigh Art and Architecture department have experienced difficulties with the accessibility of the design lab’s laser cutter offered in Chandler-Ullmann.

There are student shop monitors who are hired to work around their schedules at the laser cutter, who often don’t show up for their shifts and leave the laser cutter unattended, according to Kathleen Gerard, ’17, an architecture student at Lehigh. This poses a problem for students who need to work on projects, because students are not authorized to operate the cutters on their own and do not know how to use them.

According to Michael Moore, the assistant manager of Lehigh’s design labs, the labs will be receiving two new, smaller laser cutters which will be more openly accessible to students next year.

Professors and former students have advised current architecture students to make use of the Northampton Community College printers and laser cutters, where students can print their own files and cut their own projects.

“Northampton is a really great resource for us, it really is,” said Gerard. “It’s just unfortunate to pay all of this money and these lab fees to go all the way to Northampton to get this done.”

Gerard was ready to begin the building process for an upcoming assignment and brought it down to the laser cutter to find nobody in the shop to cut the piece for her. She then had to drive to Northampton to have her project cut because it wasn’t possible for her to do her work at Lehigh’s facilities.

“It ended up paying off because my project came out really well,” Gerard said. “It’s just annoying to have to go so far out of your way because the wood shop and laser cutter aren’t running on a daily basis.”

Gerard also noted it costs $70 to use Northampton’s facilities.

According to Moore, in no curriculum or class is the use of a laser cutter mandatory or required with the exception of a foundations class, ART4, where the students are taught the process of formatting and submitting a digital file to be laser cut. Moore also noted the design labs are not only used by architecture students. The resources in the labs serve students in engineering, architecture, design and more.

“This semester has been the most difficult for us so far because most of the woodshop and laser cutter monitors who were well trained and experienced have graduated in the spring,” said an architecture student who asked to remain anonymous. “I understand it takes time to train new monitors. However, some of the new monitors do not get to their shifts on time or even don’t show up at all sometimes.”

Student shop monitors sometimes call in sick, need time off for a job interview or for academic reasons, according to Moore. In October, one Sunday shift from 1-4 p.m. was closed, and one Monday evening shift 5-9 p.m. closed. All others were open as scheduled, Moore said.

A solution to the problem, as identified and suggested by the anonymous student, would be to train the architecture students in groups at the beginning of each semester on how to operate machines such as laser cutters and other woodshop equipment.

“We would then have a system set up where students could reserve time slots to use the machines and thus take care of their work independently,” the student said.

Art and architecture students have expressed the desire to be trained to use the machines instead of having monitors, as it is at many other institutions. Monitors should be there just as a safety measure and precaution, according to the students who were interviewed.

This isn’t the first year students have experienced this issue.

“I remember this being more of an issue my senior year, with the cutters sometimes not being accessible because of scheduling conflicts with shop monitors,” said Danny Aguilera, a recent graduate of the department. “I think the training and reserving of time slots for individual or groups of students could be something that works.”

“I myself have been cutting at Northampton more than most of my peers,” the anonymous student said. “It is a bit embarrassing that as a private institution our community is failing to provide the kind of efficiency that a community college offers as its routine.”

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