Posted on 6/25/2012 10:54 PM by AnnMarie

Schoooooool’s out…for…summa!!

Sorry, that was admittedly incredibly cheesy. But the warm weather brings out the silliness in me.

It really is summer time though, so I thought it would be a great time to bring you back to school.

A couple months ago, I was honored to take a trip to a city I’d never experienced before. That’s always a treat in and of itself, but the point of this one was to visit the Academy of Art University in San Francisco!

I arrived on a Sunday, and as I tried to get a nap in after my flight, the streets of this town had other plans for me. Someone had taken to a microphone and I couldn’t figure out in my post-airplane haze  if the (what seemed to be) concert was going on inside or out. I had been generously put up at the Sir Francis Drake and I was wondering if what I was hearing was the drag brunch show at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room up on the 21st floor.

The next day, our wonderful driver James informed me it wasn’t a bunch of queens that had been responsible for my unrest, but rather the Occupy movement that had followed me out west. At least I know it is alive and well somewhere

Our first stop was the AAU interior architecture and design department, where I was introduced to executive director Laura Blumenfeld. Blumenfeld talked to me about the history of the Academy of Art, which today has developed into 18 schools with a very strong online component as well. Interestingly enough, the online courses have a strong attendance in war veterans.

“We’re artists teaching artists,” says Blumenfeld, who explained that the majority of professors are part-time because they are practicing professionals. I was able to sit and chat with three said professors who showed that the educational focus at AAU is truly to give students an edge on the fierce competition now-a-days. They are taught how to convey their design to a potential client in just 15 minutes. And educators are always asking themselves these types of questions:

What will the relevant design issues and concepts be five years from now?

What will help students understand the actual business side of the profession?

How can we help them be better specifiers?

“The temptation is to just give them the solutions,” says professor Stephan Hoffpauir who has been teaching skills-based classes such as perspective drawing and color rendering for approximately seven years now.

“It’s better to teach them the process on how to arrive at an answer,” he says. “I’m giving them skills for the first time. That and I put the fear of God into them apparently.”

Look for a profile column in our August retail issue about one of these interview subjects, professor Doris Guerrero!

She says students are always hungry for new ideas and product uses, and therefore sees a huge disconnect between product manufacturers not acknowledging that students are the future.

Guerrero pushes her pupils to plan for future projects by looking to magazines and publications in general because that’s where trends begin, she says. She also encourages them to follow the fashion world for inspiration.

Speaking of which, I also learned a lot about the AAU fashion school and how far it’s come since director Simon Ungless took over in 1998. The fashion and interior architecture and design schools often collaborate together on issues of the fashion department’s 180 magazine. The IAD students also take the fashion school’s textile classes.

Here are a few shots from some of the fashion school classes and in particular, a denim project being conducted in the textiles department.






But before we toured the fashion school, I was of course treated to a walk-through of IAD. There, the spring show presentations were on display:













There was the IAD shop, where students can use the machines free of charge to practice furniture design and more.


I even got a peak of their new Academy Café, designed by AAU graduate Agustin Sanders. Sanders is also AAU’s resident social media guru and is the voice behind the school’s blog and social media pages. The details he incorporated give it a gritty and urban aesthetic that is somehow wonderfully accommodating and comforting. He added drama to this creative space with a mural that tells a story. It’s also a great juxtaposition of a classic element (the mural) and such an industrial space.





Augustin demonstrating the drop-down outlets on pulleys throughout the space.



Besides getting more acquainted with this truly progressive school, I was able to do some roaming through San Francisco. Check back next week to see some of the sights from when I stumbled upon the infamous Haight-Ashbury district and more.