School of Architecture competition to showcase ingenuity, hardwork

Architecture students are the unicorns of the college campus: they are hardly ever seen outside their studios, leading many to believe they don’t actually exist. Today, students from the School of Architecture and Community Design will assert their existence by presenting the fruits of their semester-long toil with The Cantilever Project. 

A cantilever is a long projecting beam or girder fixed at only one end, used mainly in bridge construction. They are the reason people can drive on bridges and why freestanding balconies don’t collapse. For the competition, students will fix their cantilevers to the wall of the HMS building and place concrete blocks on them to see how far and how much weight they can hold. 

While the event is technically a competition, it is also a requirement of students’ Materials and Methods of Construction class. The professor for the class, Carlos Molnar, is excited to see this year’s results. 

“Last year a girl broke the record and had two blocks six feet away from the wall,” Molnar said. “This year, there’s two teams trying to break 10 feet. I’m excited to see how they do it. I know how they think they’re going to do it but I’m curious to see how they accomplish it. It’s actually pretty fun because we talk a little, they load it, we say clear and everyone is watching in the quad. We usually have 50 to 60 spectators.”

The requirements for the cantilevers are rigid: The first six inch by six inch concrete cube must be held 36 inches out, perpendicular to the railing of the HMS building. It must be level with the railing’s top and is not allowed to fall. 

The second concrete cube must be held out at least 20 inches away from the railing, and the third cube can be incorporated at any point in the cantilever. It can be located on either side of the railing and at any elevation above the second floor. 

Along with logistical requirements, the project is also required to be pleasant to look at while being functional. On top of the other classes the architecture students are required take, they must participate in this nine credit hour course in order to pass. The stakes are very high. 

“I won’t say they will fail,” he said. “I’ve had a block fall because, by accident, the person was very nervous, the cantilever worked just fine but they were so nervous their hands were shaking. They were afraid it was going to fall, so it was more of an accidental drop. That was different, they were just nervous, they pushed a little too hard. Now if it fails because the design was not correct, that is different, their grade will be affected.”

Students who win first place are offered a paid summer internship at Molnar’s architecture firm, Sol Design Studio. 

The project is the first time many of the students get to work with real-life materials such as concrete and wood. Junior Maria Gomez said the lack of experience with the materials was a big challenge.

“In the beginning, we had to do a concrete cube and that was our first encounter with concrete and understanding how it works and how to get it nicely finished and now we have to do three more cubes and another pour,” she said. “It’s been a huge learning curve for us.” 

The competition requires knowledge in physics, engineering and architecture. Jorgelina Moretta said architecture is all-encompassing. 

“Our professors tell us in order to be a good architect, you have to know a little bit about each profession,” she said. “You can’t tell an engineer to do something if you don’t know what you want it to do. This project lets us have a hands-on experience with trying out real-life materials.”

When it comes to designing a cantilever, the guidelines give only a small picture of what the professor wants, and coming up with a functional design is the real challenge. Senior Sebastian Gutierrez said making something so large is a departure from the usual project. 

“It’s a pretty large-scale project,” he said. “Most of the stuff we normally build is anywhere from six inches to two feet or three feet, but this thing is like seven or eight feet and much bigger. And not just bigger in and of itself, it’s something that’s actually to-size. We’re building something big that will actually do something as opposed to what we normally do, which is more abstract and exploration of space and kind of like the creation of space.”

Molnar said in the past, the final projects for students were more about designing a piece of furniture, something functional but not something as challenging and large-scale. He was brought into the school because he isn’t a professor by trade: he is an architect. Molnar said learning to be an architect is not about taking paper tests and studying for hours at the library; it’s more than that. 

“Architects are more about projects. We do have a test, we have a midterm and it’s hard, but that’s not what architects are good at. Our job is more to solve problems. We are problem solvers,” he said. “If the client wants 100 offices in a space that is only so big, we have to figure out how to do that. That’s a problem we try to solve.”

Above all else, Moretta wants people to come out and really learn what architecture students are truly like. 

“The reason why we want people to see what we do is because no one really understands it. People do not understand why we stay in the studios for such long hours, they do not understand why we pull all-nighters and we struggle when we have to tell our families that we are not going to drive down for Thanksgiving or Easter because we have to build a model,” she said. “Architecture school consumes us into a world unknown to other majors.”

The Cantilever Project will be on display at the HMS building starting at 3:30 today.