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Professor Eirik Heintz: Providing a foundation for success for AUS design students
This semester, Professor Eirik Heintz, Director of Foundations in the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) at American University of Sharjah (AUS), welcomed his 19th class of incoming architecture and design students.
Professor Heintz joined AUS in 2002, when the university was only five years old and the UAE’s now burgeoning design industry was still in its infancy. An architecture graduate from Harvard Graduate School of Design and a licensed architect, Professor Heintz left his tenure-track position at Louisiana State University for the opportunity to teach abroad and help build a world-class design foundations program from the ground up.
Fast-forward almost two decades, CAAD is now widely considered the leading design institution in the region, with the Foundations Program playing an essential role in the success story of each of its graduates. The highly competitive program attracts the best and brightest students from around the region.
“The cultural and social diversity of CAAD continues to add a lot to the teaching environment. It also helps that AUS attracts some of the most accomplished and dedicated students in the region. The quality of the students and the supportive teaching environment has certainly contributed to keeping me at CAAD for so many years,” says Professor Heintz.
Under Professor Heintz’s direction and mentorship, every single CAAD student must complete the one-year Foundations Program before going on to specialize in one of the college’s five regionally renowned undergraduate programs, namely architecture, interior design, design management, multimedia design and visual communication.
CAAD graduates are widely successful and are part of a strong network of regional design professionals including international award-winning architects Farid Esmaeil and Ahmed Al-Ali of X-Architects, regionally acclaimed interior designer Pallavi Dean, global fashion designer Ahmed Alkhyeli, and brand management mogul May Barber of Ayed&Barber and The Cartel, to name a few. It is surprising to note, therefore, that most CAAD students enter the Foundations Program at AUS with little to no prior experience in art and design.
“Many students also don’t quite know what to expect when they enter CAAD. The Foundations Program gives them the opportunity to explore all the majors in the college before going into their chosen major in second year,” says Professor Heintz
“The first year in the design education is very important because it sets the agenda for their entire education. Learning to be a designer is not just learning a set of skills needed to design. It is also about developing a conceptual understanding and an attitude towards design and making. It is about developing an intellectual curiosity of the built environment and visual world,” he says.
While in other years new students have been introduced to CAAD’s intensive studio environment and tight-knit on-campus community, this year’s new class of CAAD students is the first to commence their studies entirely online.
“Our lecture courses—such as Introduction to Architecture, Art and Design History—haven’t changed much, however we have made some changes to the way we deliver our studio courses, especially in terms of the focus of the design work and the way in which it is accomplished. To adapt, we are spending more time talking about ideas and readings and allowing more time for the design projects to develop. Because we can’t be in the studio together outside of class, students are being divided into learning groups that discuss the work and readings and allow peer review of the projects.”
To ensure first-year students feel part of the CAAD family, Professor Heintz has engaged more senior students to help integrate newcomers into the CAAD studio culture. Part of this has included distributing a new CAAD Survival Kit, developed and designed by seasoned CAAD students, to incoming first-years. The kit offers helpful hints on where to buy art supplies, tips on creating a good work environment, and recommendations for best studio practices and maintaining a healthy lifestyle while succeeding academically.
“Fall 2020 is definitely different for our foundations students at CAAD, but we hope it is still challenging and inspiring. Already we are seeing certain advantages of online teaching in terms of discussions and sharing project outcomes. We are hoping the benefits balance the disadvantages of not being together in the same studio,” he says.
For more information about the Foundations Program at the College of Architecture, Art and Design at American University of Sharjah, please visit www.aus.edu/caad/foundations-program.