Triton travelers: Triton students learn on this architectural boat tour that there is no substitute for personally experiencing architecture. (Photo courtesy of Garret Eakin)

One of the ideas that founded the community college system in this country was that students should be able to study the first two years of college in their own communities to be better prepared for the rigors of college.

That extends to our own community college, Triton, whose offerings include architecture. In fact, the mission of the Triton College School of Architecture is “to teach every student excellent drawing and construction skills, a thorough understanding of building science and theory, skills that are transferable to other related careers, and an intellectual foundation that will enable the student to comprehend and engage in the events of the day.”

I have personally benefited from taking classes, including real estate, Auto Cad, golf and water color at this tech-savvy college where I teach an architecture design studio. Triton is a hidden gem that should be discovered for its value, facilities and clear goal of training and retraining young and old for hundreds of career tracks. The modernist campus is teaming with 17,000 students, day and night, accommodating a working population with the ambition to improve their lives. I am inspired by students who work all day to prepare for our 6-9 p.m. studio, then drive to the airport to work in baggage handling the balance of the night. They know education has value and is a lifelong pursuit.

Triton’s low tuition, $98/credit hour, and open admission policy have greatly expanded the accessibility of post-secondary education to the 331,000 in-district population, which includes Oak Park, River Forest, Riverside and 23 other culturally diverse towns and villages in the district. The school is recognized for its attractive campus, its diverse and innovative programs, and the quality of its faculty.

In contrast, the University of Illinois Champaign currently charges $480/credit hour, not including books and room & board. Financially, it is a good alternative to choose the community college route to ease into the university challenge, for which many students are not prepared right after high school. One of my students had attended a state university in which he was in an English class of 250 students, while at Triton the largest teacher/student class ratio was 1 to 25, taught by a professor and no teaching assistants.

The Architecture and Building Department was founded in 1965 by local architects and engineers. It is housed in a two-story light flooded space in the M building. Centered in the great space is an open library of building materials, surrounded by open studio space for creative and technical work. All the latest digital hardware, programs, smart boards and computers are networked to printers and teaching screens. Students are working on Auto Cad or Revit drawings while simultaneously building handmade models to study and represent their visions. Theory balanced by practice is the heart of the study. They tackle realistic projects that range from the simple to the complex, small to large. Students are challenged to engage in the classic struggle to balance functional and aesthetic goals.

Students naturally learn more from each other during long nights of camaraderie in the studio, making models of their designs and sketching out the plan alternatives. The open plan encourages students to work and bond together as the training of an architect is challenging. The goal is to activate the passion to create. Professional, practicing faculty teach the skills along with the rigor and work ethic required to persist and excel. The students are a rich mixture of ages and ethnic groups. The goal of many of the students is to transfer to one of the architecture schools to complete their bachelor or master’s degree. Requirements for two years of the four-year programs at the three Illinois universities offering a degree in architecture (UIC, U of I, and SIU) can be satisfied at Triton assuming that one achieves a 3.2 on a 4.0 scale grade point average. Other excellent options for architecture school include the Illinois Institute of Technology, the School of the Art Institute and Judson University.

Architecture is not for the faint-hearted, it is rigorous and demanding but an exciting profession that is optimistic and deeply satisfying. Triton is a great place to get your feet wet.

Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.

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Garret Eakin

Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.