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(Almost) Living and (Definitely) Learning at Fallingwater

Chatham Interior Architecture Student sketching in notebook near Fallingwater

One afternoon, Kyra Tucker, director of interior architecture programs, walked into Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic architectural masterpiece Fallingwater to find her students sitting on the floor with their shoes off.

I said ‘What are you guys doing?’” she recalls, laughing. “‘[Chatham has] a reputation to protect here!’”

But Tucker was joking, and the high level of comfort was entirely appropriate for the situation, a weeklong residency for students in the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (BIA) program, also offered for students in the Master of Interior Architecture program. While students don’t sleep at Fallingwater – they stay in new residential facilities nearby – they spend plenty of time in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture – for instruction, to work on projects, or just to absorb their surroundings.

“We had hours and hours in Fallingwater
to sketch and take photographs. We could explore whatever we wanted,” says Mark Shorthouse ’17. “It’s not like we were lounging on the beds, but we were in there barefoot. We were going down to the private swimming pond,” a sheltered spot directly underneath the house.

Most of the roughly 200,000 people who visit Fallingwater each year go on one of the regularly scheduled tours that move through the building like clockwork. Tours last about an hour, and shoes are required. Visitors typically take a few photos, browse in the gift shop, and hop back in their cars to go home.

Chatham students have a much longer and more intensive interaction with the house and site. Says Hallie Dufour ’18, “It was really amazing that we got to experience it more deeply than everybody else.”

Fallingwater has had programs for visiting students and educators for about twenty years. Made of ad hoc groups of individuals from different locations, these have been available “for anyone who wants to register,” explains Fallingwater Curator of Education Ashley Andrykovich. In contrast, Chatham’s program is solely for its own students and is tailored specifically to the University mission and program curriculum.

Says Tucker: “One of our University initiatives is sustainability. Fallingwater, we decided, would be a sustainability mission course. It is really based around Frank Lloyd Wright being the original ‘organic architect.’” It is also an official part of the Maymester schedule, and BIA students are required to attend in their first year.

Chatham’s program was unique at Fallingwater this year. But even if other universities follow Chatham’s lead, it will remain a rare experience. “We only have the capacity to do programs with two or three universities each year,” says Andrykovich.

The student experience at Fallingwater begins with a silent hike that starts at High Meadow. Students are required to turn off their phones, which don’t get much reception out there anyway. “We ask the students to unplug and be silent. We actually collect their cell phones for this part,” says Andrykovich. The approach places an emphasis on contemplation and observation. “We hike through the meadow down to Bear Run, and the landscape changes in ways that are observable three or four different ways during that hike.” Students are encouraged to sketch on the hike, as they will be encouraged throughout the week.

Chatham Interior Architecture students sit together to sketch and talk at Fallingwater

Graduate student Heidi Tabor, MIA ’17 found the phone-free approach “a little intimidating at first.” But it was one of several things “that pushed you outside of your comfort zone. I think I grew that way.”

The residency week blends contemplative study with industrious instruction and studio work. Andrykovich explains that students
do “a combination of sustained looking, sketching, and experiencing the house, combined with exercises that are designed to push them to think about the design themes that are at play in Fallingwater.”

For the undergraduates, one of the first design exercises, described in written assignments as a “sculpture light intervention,” is otherwise known as a lantern or lamp. It was an opportunity to consider “different types of lighting, how it can be manipulated, colors of light, textures,” says Dufour.

Shorthouse adds, “Our projects needed to be implemented in Fallingwater itself…to look as if they were originally built there.” Students would photograph their model light fixtures in place in Fallingwater for use in their portfolios.

“They came up with some really innovative, extremely cool things,” says Tucker.

A second exercise was to design a screen or scrim to be placed somewhere in the house to frame a particular view. “The lantern had them focusing inward, and the screen helped them connect the inside with the outside,” Tucker explains. “Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! I just love this.”

While enhanced design skills are important, Tucker also finds success in developing a studio culture in which students work together successfully.

“What I am finding they get from it is a very close experience with each other, so we are building a studio culture, not just relationships with friends through social media. We need that, because that’s how it is in the workforce. That is how great things are accomplished. Together.”

Dufour agrees. “It brought me and the other students together, especially students I had not known before,” she says.

The program uses the rare experience of a unique building to teach lessons about interior architecture that are applicable to all aspects of future careers in professional practice. The student response to the Fallingwater program is categorically enthusiastic.

“It’s a super intensive, immersive, creative studio experience,” says Shorthouse. “I felt that I had really grown as a designer in a way I had not felt up to that point. It gave me more confidence that I am a creative person and I could create designs.”

“It opened my eyes more to the world and what I was seeing,” says Tabor.

Learn more at youtube/chathamu.

Peace Corps and Chatham University Announce New Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program

PITTSBURGH: The Peace Corps and Chatham University today announced the launch of a new Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program housed in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment. The program offers up to five graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers who have been accepted into the Master of Sustainability, Master of Arts in Food Studies, or dual-degree MSUS+MBA and MAFS+MBA programs. Returned Peace Corps volunteers selected as Coverdell Fellows will receive 25 percent off tuition cost and mandatory fees.

All program Fellows will complete internships in underserved American communities while they pursue their studies, allowing them to bring home and expand upon the skills they learned as volunteers. Through their internships, Coverdell Fellows apply what they learn in the classroom to a professional setting while gaining valuable, hands-on experience and  furthering the Peace Corps mission.

Since 1961, Chatham University has had 57 Peace Corps volunteers.

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Course spotlight: Wines, Ciders, and Mead

The Falk School of Sustainability Master of Arts in Food Studies’s course Wines, Ciders, and Mead (FST512) has some things in common with your canonical graduate seminar. The instructor—Sally Frey, MFA, Ph.D.—is eminently qualified, having worked as a master sommelier (Frey is also a chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris). Five students are seated around a conference table on a brisk early winter morning, with another student at the podium, in front of, there it is—a PowerPoint presentation.

Her name is Danielle San Filippo, MAFS ’18, and she is showing photographs and reporting on a pear cider that she made. Listen:

“I wanted to let them ripen a little bit more so they’d press more juice. In retrospect it may not have been the best idea to let them get really sweet and sugary when you’re looking to get a dry cider (laughs). I took them home, and I decided to use the process Mike (Sturges, proprietor of a local cider collective, who was a guest speaker) shared with us – which is where you essentially juice the pears, right, we all had our different styles, mine was to use my juicer–and then mix the pulp back into the juice and press it again, and that way you’ll get this really concentrated flavor. That was a really bad idea, (class laughs) because I am not strong enough to press all that juice back out again. Essentially what happened was that I ended up with a really thick situation there. You guys can see all of this here, (gestures at screen) is the extra pulp that I was trying to mix back in together and press through. So in retrospect what I would do is just use the juice and sacrifice a little bit of the pear flavor. I also used a champagne yeast, but mine was a wine yeast as opposed to a beer one, because I had planned to use the champagne beer yeast that Mike gave us and luckily tried it first to get it activated and it was dead. So since I was already in the middle of this, I just grabbed what I had bought for one of my meads. That got me wondering – does that make this a pear wine now?”

“Technically no, because the alcohol content’s too low,” says Frey.

Danielle continues. “By November fifth, there was still a good bit of sediment, so I decided to go ahead and let it settle and then rack it, and it only produced those two bottles right there.”

“So there was that much sediment?” asks Frey.

“There was that much sediment. In fact, it was like pear sauce! I think overall in terms of making the cider I wanted to make, it didn’t get quite as dry as I like, but the flavor of pears definitely stands out. I think using the Eden Hall pears was a good choice, and I’m glad I tried this the way Mike said to, that we can all know not to do that (class laughs) moving forward.”

“We just don’t have the equipment to do that,” points out Frey.

“Right, right, if my juicer would have made the juice that I needed, it would have been fine. Anyway, I’m excited for you guys to try the perry (,” says Danielle.


What’s impressive is the consistent reflection: in retrospect, she says, and that got me wondering. Because as hands-on as this class is, Frey equips her students with the theoretical knowledge and collaborative spirit that effectively makes them artisans—even if just for the semester.

danielle

According to the syllabus, FST512 “provides a detailed study of the world of wines, grape varieties, ciders and mead,” and the word world seems carefully chosen indeed. Not only does it deal with global (and local) events, trends, and implications, but for every question you might expect in a course like this—what is so special about Chateau d’Yquem?—it goes snooping into other subjects, like history (What are some of the ways that Prohibition changed the way Americans ate?), technology (What type of bottle closure is the most sustainable?), psychology (What influence would a high score in a magazine like Wine Spectator have on how you choose a wine?), and biology (According to Giovanni Ruffa, it would be ironic if the world’s vineyards managed to survive the phylloxera epidemic only to be decimated by this trend toward what he calls “homologation.” What might be the consequences for bio-diversity?)

Students discuss wine journalism; marketing; and laws related to alcohol consumption, production, and distribution. They read texts and watch documentaries. They’ve visited Apoidea Apiary and Soergel Orchards, and guest speakers included Michael Sturges, proprietor of a local cider collective; Holly Harker from Subarashii Kudamono, an Asian pear orchard; and alumnus Michael Foglia MAFS ’16, who presented research that he did for local distillery Wigle Whiskey (which has teamed up with Chatham before).

After the presentations, the class moves downstairs to the spacious lodge kitchen. One by one, students pry caps off the bottles they’ve brought in, and pour samples for Frey and their classmates.

glass

Students report on their ingredients (“The honey comes from Maple Valley Farms near Ross Park Mall. I called to find out more about their practices. They are not using certified naturally grown methods but they use organic practices for beekeeping.”), tasting (“I think you taste ginger in the end. I can feel that kind of burning sensation, which is a bad way to put it, but it’s good.”), their processes (“I ran into a few issues with temperature because I’m in the dorms. I wasn’t able to regulate the temperature. I wrapped my little blanket around it.”) and plans (“I’m gonna bring it home for Thanksgiving and have my family try it. They’ve never had mead!”).


Assignment: Write a 3-5-page proposal for a “Sustainable Beverage (multiple categories may be included) Tasting Fundraiser.” You will have an imaginary $400 budget to get you started and the event is to take place from 7:00 – 9:00 PM on a Saturday evening. The only requirement is that it should be “fun and educational.”  Be specific with any items that you would purchase for the event and think through all the details from a sustainability lens. You will present your concept to the group and we will debate the best concept.


The course capstone is the final, semester-long project. Students pick a research topic related to local or global cider, mead, wine, sake, or honey to be presented to the group along with an essay and photo documentation of the fermentation/production process, if applicable. The goal is for the final project to be used as a portfolio piece.

For her final project, Danielle is making four different types of mead. “Modern mead-making uses chemical-based accelerants,” she says, “but I wanted to figure out how to make dry, semi-sweet, and sweet mead just by altering the amount and type of honey and yeast.”

“Lots of classes in the Falk School focus on group work,” says Danielle, “so this class is unique in that it’s focused on individual work, but then we all come together for three hours each week and work as a group to solve problems. The structure gave me time to think through my preconceptions and then come to class and be challenged.”


Image Text: Tips for Homebrewers Students from FST512 share their secrets: 1. Taste. Make sure your ingredients taste amazing to start with. 2. Sanitize. Make sure your materials and environment are very clean, or else everything you make is going to have a funk to it. 3. Document. If you’re doing this on an at-home scale, you probably won’t be able to reproduce what you did in a given batch–but if you have notes and photographs, you can get much closer.

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.