The work of Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art Wiebke Theodore and her husband Steven Theodore, both architectural designers and co-partners of Bath's Theodore + Theodore Architects, is currently on display at the University of Maine at Augusta.

The exhibit, entitled "Sustainable Practices: Architects Working in Maine," features the work of three Maine architecture firms, all of which employ alternative building processes and sustainable design techniques in their work in the residential, non profit, educational and commercial sectors. The exhibit strives to show designs that display both architecture's evolution towards greater environmental consciousness, and how the challenges of constrained budgets during an economic downturn can result in innovative work.

The Theodores, who categorize their aesthetic as one of "elegant simplicity," contributed five recent projects to the exhibit. These projects were collectively chosen to convey Theodore + Theodore's creative process—the translation of an idea from paper to physical building, and their long standing commitment to sustainable design. Though their practice encompasses residential, educational and commercial projects, Wiebke Theodore notes that "participating on [the] level of small municipal and local non-profits" is central to the work she and her husband do. This interconnectedness with community organizations has become an integral part of many of Theodore's courses at Bowdoin.

For the exhibit, the Theodore's elected to include their plans and models for the Environmental Education Center at Wiscasset's Chewonki Foundation, Artist's Cabins and Kiln Sheds they collaborated on for Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, an arts non profit, and photographs of the barn they designed for a local farm after a fire burnt the original. After seeing the exhibit, one visitor sent the Theodores an e-mail noting the "spare, careful detailing [of the] architecture," as well as its "jewel-like precision" especially in contrast to some of the "gritty" materials, such as raw cardboard, that the Theodores use in their models.

Alongside this work as an architectural designer, Wiebke Theodore has taught and emphasized these ideas of community and design. She defined the greatest reward of teaching as "connecting students in a real and meaningful way with the local community and each other"—a practice that is facilitated by the studio setting of architecture classes.

This fall marked Theodore's first semester-long break since she began teaching at Bowdoin five years ago. During her time off Theodore was able to focus on several local projects, among them a study of the Mid-Coast area food networks and farmers' markets that she intends to incorporate into this semester's Architectural Drawing I course.

Putting together Theodore + Theodore's submission to the UMA exhibit also afforded her some time to reflect on the body of work the firm has created. She and Steven Theodore have been working together for 22 years, a period of time that encompasses the lives of their two daughters, as well as the creation of two of their own houses, both solar homes conceived and built on limited budgets.

Due to Theodore's brief sabbatical, no architecture courses were offered the Fall 2009 semester. This absence resulted in an unprecedented surge in interest in spring 2010's Architectural Design I. Forty-two students listed Architectural Design I as their top choice course for the spring semester and over 30 students e-mailed Wiebke Theodore to join the waitlist for her class. Waitlists for Theodore's classes have always been notoriously long; however, with only one architecture course this school year, the pressure to gain a spot in the class was heightened.

Annie Hancock '10, a physics and visual arts double major, spoke to this passion for design—a sub-culture so to speak at Bowdoin—saying "there is a core group of students who have maintained a strong interest in the diminishing architecture program here at Bowdoin" most of whom have "sought architecture programs outside of Bowdoin, whether abroad or in an equivalent American university."

The central problem identified by Hancock and other upper-level art students with interests in architecture is the "lack of an upper-level designing course," leaving students who complete the introductory course and desire to continue their studies "stranded."

Thus far students who have wished to pursue interests in architecture have cobbled together programs for themselves—combining drawing, other studio art courses and Wiebke Theodore's various classes, with summer internships, study abroad and independent studies.

Despite some student wishes for a more structured course of study for architectural training, Wiebke Theodore does not hold the current system is inherently in need of change. Theodore suggests that architecture programs can, and should, exist as part of a liberal arts education. She sees "architecture as the expression of ideas about how we should live in 3-D form," a subject area which can "inspire students to go out into the world...learn about civic responsibility and issues of environmental justice."

Bowdoin, as a liberal arts institution first and foremost, should be teaching architecture courses with the intention of creating design-conscious graduates whose course experience will aid them regardless of whether they pursue a career in architecture, Theodore explains. Furthermore, applicants to architectural graduate programs often come from a variety of backgrounds and an expected course of study is not dictated in the same way medical schools expect the study of certain biology and chemistry courses. In fact, it is often those students who are able to synthesize a broad variety of ideas, a trademark of the liberal arts education, who flourish in the creative practice of graduate level architecture.

Though an answer to the balance between liberal arts and some pre-professional tracks will be hard to come by, the challenge of over-subscribed classes will be alleviated by the Bowdoin Department of Art's plans to add a new full-time 3D/architecture faculty member for the coming school year. Ideally, an additional professor will allow the department to offer more courses, thereby reducing student demand. Additionally, with more opportunities to construct courses, Theodore sees "strong potential" for collaboration between Architecture and other subject areas at Bowdoin, including sociology, biology, art history and theatre. These collaborations have long been sought after by students and faculty alike.

Looking towards the future, Theodore hopes that the new architecture classes will emphasize the active engagement with the Brunswick community which has been an integral part of her classes in the past. Over the years, Theodore and her students have worked with Brunswick Housing Authority, a local landfill, and other Mid-Coast area non-profits. They've also worked on campus, contributing to the design of both the McLellan and Adams buildings on campus, as well as aiding in programs affiliated with the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good. Her students speak of this real and tangible interaction as among the most valuable aspects of her courses and their courses of study at Bowdoin.

Sam Modest '09, who graduated with a major in south asian studies, took four of Theodore's classes during a time at Bowdoin, interned at her firm and completed an independent study in architecture his senior year.

Of Theodore's courses, he said ,"What kept me coming back to Wiebke's architecture classes was that I learned how to use the design process to propose solutions to real social problems and issues that affect [our] immediate community...the focus was on learning the importance of the design process as a collaborative endeavor...[and] I have found myself applying principles I learned in Wiebke's classes to work that I have done with communities in Topsham, Maine; Homer, Alaska; and Darjeeling, India, since graduating Bowdoin."

With changes on the horizon for Bowdoin's architecture courses, UMA's exhibit "Sustainable Practices: Architects Working in Maine," allows for the time to reflect on Theodore + Theodore's core beliefs in design and community, ideals that propelled this growth in Bowdoin student interest and passion for architecture.

The exhibit, showing in UMA's Jewett Hall, runs through Friday, February 12. It is free and open to the public between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.