Great design lies in the details | Dharmesh Patel

From Contact magazine, Spring 2014


With a camera strapped across his shoulder, Palm Beach State Professor Dharmesh Patel waited in front of the Mandel Public Library in downtown West Palm Beach for his architecture students to arrive.

He was eager for them to see the four-story structure on Clematis Street given that they each had just four weeks to design their own library for a class project. Their designs would be showcased at the fall “Arch-Attack,” a juried event that Patel created in 2009.

For the next hour, led by the executive director of the library’s foundation, they toured each floor. They paid careful attention to not only the layout and design, but every detail – the wood floors, barrel vaulted ceiling, lighting, beadboard walls that “create a warm, kind of homey feeling,” yellow- and blue- click mouse on the children’s computers and even the yoga class in session.

“A good architect thinks about all of these pieces,’’ James Sugarman told the Architectural Design 4 class. “Always think about the population you’re serving and the population of those who will use the facility.”

Patel knows this. And, he wants his students to become good architects. “I’m constantly stressing that they develop their ideas for the design all the way through to the smallest details,’’ Patel said. “Sometimes they hear it only from me, and it might not resonate as well unless they hear it repeated by someone else. It may be a bigger impact because now someone else is validating what I said.”

Site visits are a big part of Patel’s classes. He likes to get students out of their seats and into various communities to explore examples of the diverse projects that they will design for class and get them involved in projects that help the community and allow them to learn.

In 2012, for example, some of Patel’s students created the “Lake Worth Image-ability” project to give city leaders ideas for how to spruce up the city and enhance its character and charm. Students created site plans and PowerPoint presentations, and they proposed other features, including a Lake Worth mobile phone app. They presented their work to the Lake Worth City Commission during a public meeting.

When Patel, a PBSC alumnus, launched “Arch-Attack” he was seeking creative ways to connect students to industry leaders and to each other. The event is held at the end of each fall and spring term, allowing students to showcase their design projects. He invites all PBSC architecture students and professional architects in South Florida, who critique the students’ work.

“I want Design 1 and 2 students to see what Design 3 and 4 students are producing in their design projects. They can talk to each other and give each other advice on materials, design ideas, equipment to buy and general helpful hints,” Patel said. “It is also important for students to network with local architects, which could lead to summer internships or a part-time job.”

ArchAttack also helps Patel because he gets feedback from industry professionals on class content. “I don’t want to teach something that’s not relevant to the current practices in architecture or in academia. I want to stay current.”

Patel was an adjunct professor for two years before becoming a full-time professor in fall 2009. He has worked to update the architecture lab so that students can use some of the best technology and equipment on the market, including a 3D full-color printer, a laser cutter and a large-format plotter and scanner.

“Now they can design really small scale models of their designs,’’ Patel said. “I’m trying to get them exposed to technology because that’s the new way of thinking about architecture.”

need to know….

Q What inspired you to become an architect and, eventually, a professor?

A I was always good at drawing things when I was a little. When I got to high school, I took an art class. I took architecture, drafting and geometry at the same time. It all came full circle. I was really good at all of the three classes. After graduate school, I worked in L.A. for almost two years. I missed my family and friends in Florida, so I came back here and got a really good offer from an architectural firm in Boca Raton; at night I would teach at PBCC. I loved teaching as an adjunct.

Q If students were giving a speech about you, what would they say?

A I hope they say that I’m a very passioanate guy and that I care about the students. I’m very dedicated to the College, and I want the College to look good when I do anything.

Q Why do you take the approach that you take to teach students?

A I’m trying to push them as much as I can to develop their skills. It’s a very competitive field. It’s not easy getting into the upper vision.

What does it take to be a good architect?

A It takes science, math and physics to be a good architect. You have to know about materials and construction.

See the library tour and learn more about Professor Dharmesh Patel.

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