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Q&A with Dylan Burns, Architecture BS '16

Subhashni at Tar Sands

Dylan Burns takes in the sites of London from the banks of the River Thames during his participation in the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Summer Institute at Nottingham Trent University during summer 2013.

By Catherine Maier

Published June 19, 2014

Dylan Burns, a second-year architecture student at the Buffalo School, reflects on his first year in the architecture program and shares his experience as the first UB student to take part in the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Summer Institute. Chosen for his academic achievements, dedication to his community and desire to be an ambassador, Dylan took part in the three-week program during summer 2013 to explore academic, cultural and social prerogatives at the Nottingham Trent University. Fresh from his trip, Dylan candidly expresses the ethos of a young architecture student to fellow student Catherine Maier.

CM / What influenced your interest in architecture?

DB / From the time I was a toddler creating crazy Brio, Lincoln Log, and Lego structures, I always had a desire to build something of my own design. I don’t know why I even kept the instruction packets! Growing up in Buffalo, I continued to foster this design ambition and developed a deep appreciation for the rich architectural history of the city. In this way, studying architecture simply became the clearest and most enjoyable choice for my design pursuits.

CM / Why did you choose to study at the UB School of Architecture and Planning?

DB / UB’s and the School of Architecture and Planning’s constant presence in the City of Buffalo was a major factor in my decision. I enjoy being a part of a program that enriches the city as part of its coursework. This strong sense of pride and giving back to the city is a major reason I chose the UB School of Architecture and Planning. 

CM / What was the most challenging aspect of freshman studio?

DB / The most challenging lesson from this past year was finding the balance in design work, between perfecting and completing a project. Although projects can be tweaked and manipulated for ages, there has to be a stopping point to preserve sanity and move on to the next project with a fresh start. 

CM / What was the most rewarding aspect of freshman studio?

DB / New relationships with professors and friends. There is such a wonderful family of support and melting pot of fresh ideas at the school. It’s exciting to collaborate and develop such a high caliber of communal ideas.

CM / Do you have a favorite project from freshman studio?

DB / At the end of the spring semester, I worked on a group project where we created a clear span structure derived from the studio space. Each group had a different material (ours was paper mache’) and we were tasked with creating a structure which would enclose the members of our group. It was an incredible learning experience that helped me appreciate the beauty of a structural system in its basic form. The process also taught me the importance of developing and nurturing concepts and ideas, planning and physical form.

CM / Tell us about the Nottingham program.

DB / The program focused on the city as our classroom. It was structured to accommodate the evolution of any creative ideas pertaining to the use of the city as a medium. The first week we explored culture and heritage by visiting historic sites around the region with specialists in the field. The second week focused on creative writing, so we explored the homesteads of some famous writers from the area, such as D.H. Lawrence and Lord Byron. We also did a fair amount of writing on our own, using the places as inspiration. The third week focused on fine art and the and the city, with looser parameters. For the last week, we focused on our final project and exhibition. 

CM / What did you explore in your final project?

DB / The final project needed to capture some part of our experience in Nottingham and the U.K. I decided to get out of the whole architecture mindset for a while and focus more on environmental design. What started as more of an excuse to speak with the locals turned into a true sociological experiment. I developed questions I hoped to be thought-provoking and even uncomfortable since they were asked from a complete stranger and more so, a foreigner. I wanted to gain a brief snapshot into the lives of seemingly random people who are encountered but ignored daily. I posed the following questions: “If you knew no one would judge you, what would you do differently?” “What do you sometimes pretend that you understand that you really don’t?” I also took a photo of each respondent. I presented my results visually at the final exhibition in a raw form, so that each story looks incomplete. Through the project I wanted to prove that you only get to know a person as much as you try to. And by approaching as many different people as possible, I wanted to show that everyone has an interesting story that shapes a place.

dylan's project

Dylan Burns presents his final project from his time abroad, capturing a picture and quote of the people he met in his travels.

CM / Were there any sites/buildings you were particularly struck by during your visit?

DB / On one of our weekend road trips we visited Stonehenge. It was the oldest site I had ever seen and is a testament to the defiance of time and the elements. At the same time, I was struck by how relevant Stonehenge is today — we still use the same basic structural concepts. I also was enthralled by the various urban environments of the of the cities I explored. 

CM / What have you taken away from the experience?

DB / I have a greater understanding of architecture, people and environment, and how they all relate and thrive together. I have gained many friends and contacts as well as a new perspective on life and day-to-day activities in general. I have soaked in a great amount of a foreign culture, which has further emphasized the importance of exploring people and activities that aren’t fully understood. 

CM / What is your next destination abroad?

DB / I hope to study somewhere drastically different from what I have experienced so far. I am fascinated with the elements and issues associated with countries experiencing rapid growth and would love to go to such a city in India or China.