Virginia Tech Magazine
Virginia Tech

The Raw Materials of Creativity
Photos by John McCormick and Jim Stroup
Multimedia by Megan Donald
Burchard Hall, a den of ingenuity
So that we can examine the building blocks of creativity, freeze-frame the frenzy of Burchard Hall.

Late in the spring semester, creative chaos fills the two-story underground atrium, housing studio space for upper-level architecture and industrial design students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

The raw materials of creativity coat the estimated 250 desks. A peanut butter jar lies sideways on the floor, near a container of ammonia. Elmer's Glue is common, and one desk sports a Mr. Potato Head, half-dressed. Like a recently shoveled snowfall, scraps of cardboard are piled on the fringes of the walkways.

Burchard Hall is open 24/7, and students stay until the work is done. "Sometimes staring at your model all afternoon is the most productive thing you can do," said Jim Bassett, assistant professor of architecture. "There really is no substitute for time at the desk. As a result, there is a culture of late nights and long days."

Caffeine is ubiquitous. Empty soda bottles decorate desks, while shelves hold tea bags, sugar packets, and Red Bull. The long hours demand creature comforts. Many a desk is buttressed by the sort of pricey office chair found at Staples. Sunlight streams through the pyramid skylights above.

On the outskirts of the two-story atrium, workshops for metal, printmaking, ceramics, textiles, and more are mixed with meeting rooms and faculty offices. A smell of sawdust wafts from the woodworking shop. On the atrium floor, a circular classroom called a kiva presents students with a unique space for building upon each other's ideas.

The atmosphere is pedagogical by design. "The culture of the school is evident in the space," Bassett said. "Experimentation is highly valued. You see more false starts than arrivals. That's actually encouraged. Design is complicated and complex and certainly doesn't come out of any formula."

"One of my roommates said [the space is] like Santa's workshop," said Karen Glass, a fourth-year architecture major who had been at her desk until 2 a.m. the night before. "You can imagine Santa coming in and saying, 'Ten more days till Christmas!'"


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Summer 2011
work tables in Burchard Hall
click image for aerial view