Dancing with Design: Architecture Students Learn from UF School of Theatre + Dance

By: Kyle Niblett
January 6, 2023

Dancing as the clock strikes midnight is a New Year’s tradition for generations of folks, but at the University of Florida School of Architecture (SoA), a new tradition is taking place: dancing for your design.

As part of Dr. Ryan Sharston’s ARC3320 Architectural Design 5 studio (D5), SoA students were tasked with designing a climatic performance studio and support facilities for the Lake Wauburg North Shore. With UF’s interdisciplinary mission in mind, Sharston enlisted the help of the UF School of Theatre + Dance (SoTD) and came up with an outside-the-box idea to help both schools: mix the students during a day of contemporary dance.

“Architecture crafts space and dance exists to move bodies through space,” said SoTD Assistant Professor of Contemporary Dance Practice Alex Springer. “Professor Sharston’s goal was to create site-responsive architecture for performance, so we collaborated with his class to give his students the opportunity to experience performing and moving through site and space.”

Instead of just designing a building with a mundane list of required or desired spaces, Sharston wanted his students to focus on the humanity that would occur within the building. The interweaving of ideas and collaborative nature of those within the space help facilitate the experience for everyone involved.

“There is so much value in our students getting to experience the function of the space beforehand,” Sharston said. “From a designer perspective, it does not get better than interacting with performers and performing themselves.”

Interacting is exactly what they did on a warm autumn day this past fall. Contemporary dance students and D5 students merged together in a massive group of humanity at the courtyard behind Dickinson Hall, with Springer’s students warming the group up with dance exercises. Once everyone was loose, the group of 40 or so students split into several miniature groups, charged with coming up with a dance they might before at their designed studio.

“It was a great experience because it helped me imagine my performance studio,” said Adolfo Herrera, a D5 student in Sharston’s class. “I learned a lot about how movements express how our bodies feel.”

After every group performed their dances in front of curious onlookers and their classmates alike, students like Herrera were left in awe of how similar the two disciplines are.

“Architecture and dance are very similar in that the human experiences lays at the core of both,” said SoTD Assistant Professor of Contemporary Dance Practice Xan Burley.

With the dancing done, students eventually returned to their studios to develop architecture proposals for a climatic performance studio. Their designs, with the dances in mind, included context diagrams, sites plans, elevations, 3D models, physical models, drawings, renderings and analytical diagrams to support the North Florida landscape.

“I look forward to making this an annual tradition,” Sharston said. “Our OneDCP mantra promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, and this was a fun way to engage the students in that goal.”

Scroll to Top