Courses Explore Real-Time Business and Entrepreneurial Thinking

December 14, 2009

December 14, 2009 — This fall, University of Virginia School of Architecture students used business concepts to develop solutions to architecture-related challenges through two innovative courses: the "Land Development Workshop," a course from the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in partnership with the Darden School of Business; and a new graduate course in the Department of Architecture, "Design Entrepreneurship."

Both courses culminated earlier this month with student presentations to a panel of academic, industry and thought leaders, several of whom are alumni.

"Design Entrepreneurship" is a pilot course developed and taught by Architecture Dean Kim Tanzer and Warren Buford, director of the School of Architecture Foundation. The course introduces students to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and the tools for developing concepts into sustainable businesses. A combination of readings, guest lectures by experts and analysis of case studies of successful architecture-related business ventures prepared students to develop business plans in collaboration with alumni mentors and faculty.

"Learning 'entrepreneurial thinking' and how to write a business plan definitely helped me think more broadly about my architecture education and the opportunities and challenges in building a successful business in the context of a University," said Alison Singer, a third-year graduate student in the course who wrote a business plan for sustaining and scaling up the ecoMOD program.

Students also presented plans for a new Summer Design Enrichment Program at the Charlottesville Community Design Center, in collaboration with the Architecture School of; the U.Va. Center for Design + Health, a new public service institute at the Architecture School that incorporates community-based design-build projects; and a new U.Va. Center for Sustainable Development.

The "Land Development Workshop" also included a practicum approach, with an emphasis on real-world engagement, constructive teamwork and interaction with industry experts. The course was a partnership not just between students from different schools and different backgrounds, but also between the local academic, business and civic communities. The students were required to balance profits and market demand with social equity and environmental sustainability.

Students in the course focused on two mixed-use urban infill sites in Charlottesville: the Water Street parking lots, and the First and Main site just off the Downtown Mall. Interdisciplinary student teams were challenged to construct an informed development proposal for the owners of the sites, and to thus assume a leadership role in shaping the future cityscape.

"The timing of this semester's class presented both immense challenge and opportunity," said instructor Cass Kawecki, a U.Va graduate who is now a vice president at CB Richard Ellis, a commercial realty firm. "In an era of widespread distress in the real estate development industry, the students were challenged to find opportunity.

"At the end of the semester, the students presented to a large panel of industry and thought leaders, who were decidedly impressed by their innovative and comprehensive approach."

The workshop included students from both Architecture and Darden schools. Students learned the fundamentals of the land development process, including zoning and entitlement, land valuation, design, finance, construction, estimating and demand forecasting processes.

As students prepared their development proposals for real sites in real time, they were challenged to adapt to the rapidly evolving nature of real estate finance and the capital markets,
environmental sustainability, lifestyle preferences, public process and community engagement.

Tanzer said hopes the courses will become a permanent part of the curriculum.

"With the skills they are learning here, our students are well on their way toward making informed, business-savvy and eco-conscious proposals for how we will live and work as the 21st century progresses," she said.

— By Derry Wade