The Class of 2022 at the Mount Holyoke Summit House during orientation week. Photo: Dave Weber ’15

Students who, prior to COVID, would have entered Conway in September 2020, completed their twice-monthly Thursday evening class The Story of a Place: Introduction to Observing a Site. This was an optional course meant to help students prepare for the upcoming in-person year in Northampton and begin to create the learning community, with classmates and faculty, that will sustain them through the next year.

Now we have our first in-person class in two years! It’s good to be back to trace paper-filled studio, field work, formal presentations, and more of the traditional Conway experience. Students dove right into the design process from Day 1. They headed into the field with faculty, visiting local areas of interest such as the Summit House on Mt. Holyoke and honing their observation, drawing and mapping skills. This year’s class was even better prepared than most, having taken online classes offered during the “pandemic year.” By June we’ll be celebrating their graduation, the grand finale of traditions.

Above: Students participated in a mapping exercise at Paradise Lot, an urban perennial food forest set on a tenth of an acre in Holyoke, MA. There they were asked to focus on a single aspect of the site and draw a map of what they observed. Site designer/owner Eric Toensmeier shared his stories and suggestions from his design experience.

Above: Ecological design isn’t just about landforms and plantings. It includes the history of a space, and how it interacts with the spaces, objects and inhabitants surrounding it. After an informational talk with trustee and City of Northampton Councilor-At-Large Bill Dwight about place history, students visited Pulaski Park in Northampton, MA to continue strengthening their observation and analysis skills.

Above: What’s it like to work with a client? Students got an introduction to site consultation courtesy of The Community Builders, who are mid-construction on a mixed-income housing complex in Village Hill, the community where our campus is located. After walking the site with the project managers, students asked questions and made sketches of the site. Once you’ve collected all this information, what do you do with it? Students began learning in class how to put all the pieces of data into a useful visual, then tried it for themselves.

We’re thrilled to welcome students back to campus, and looking forward to what the rest of this year will bring. Onward!