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Architecture after dark at Boston's BAC

Ninety-one ago, it was an experiment. Employees of architects were given an opportunity, in the evenings, to upgrade their skills by studying with architects who volunteered their time.

Today, Peter Papesch is the volunteer president of the BAC (Boston Architectural Center) at which he has been a volunteer teacher since 1973. To continue turning out 20 to 25 architectural graduates each year, the BAC has stuck to its four basic cornerstones:

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* An open-door policy, which welcomes any high-school graduate.

* An all-volunteer faculty, giving the school a close tie to actual problem-solving in practice.

* Minimal tuiton, now pegged at $980 per academic year.

* The requirement that students work in architecture or a related field as part of their professional training.

Mr. Papesch feels the open-door policy attracts a special sort of student "who rejects academic institutions, or can't afford them" -- so that the BAC is not competing with Harvard or MIT. He respects the students spending six years of tough evening study, and added that "When you have to work full time and maybe support three children and in addition to that earn a degree in architecture, you are bound to be unusual person."

Proof that employers recognize the value of a BAC education lies in the fact that graduates continue to land good jobs. And Percy Hill, professor of engineering design at nearby Tufts University, says that he sends some of his students to take courses at the BAC for full Tufts' credit "which is the best possible praise I can give for the quality of work at the BAC."

The BAC's reputation stretched to New York in the case of Charles Kirk. I found this student busy redesigning the Beacon Hill district of Boston. His studio assignment was to evaluate current density and usage of the area and turn out a better total design.

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After putting in a full day a lighting designer, Charles Kirk totes his briefcase to the BAC because "I think I will be able to handle a lot more as an architect because of the direct interaction with the field."

"University," he explained, "gives you all your formal training but there's little or none of the real work experience that is part of our training here."

Peter Papesch recognizes that the workstudy approach creates problems as well as special opportunities.

He told me that BAC "produce the kind of architect that has his feet very firmly planted in the soil" -- or on scaffolding I thought while talking with two young building contractors who spend their days building houses and their evenings from 5:30 to 10 attending BAC lectures.


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