Photo courtesy SCAD
A student in the Savannah College of Art and Design's Interactive Design and Game Development department. Students from the game department are collaborating with architecture students to design an video game that will simulate working in an architecture firm.

Let’s face it: Architect: The Video Game doesn’t sound quite as sexy as Grand Theft Auto or Mass Effect. But faculty members at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) are hoping that an interactive approach to teaching professional practice will engage architecture students in a subject that is often met with little enthusiasm. They’ve just won a $40,000 award from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) to help develop the concept.

The idea, says Greg Hall, chair of SCAD’s architecture department, is to create a video game that will add some fun and excitement to the school’s required architectural practices course, which covers such mundane topics as office and corporate structure, administration, public and client relations, consultant and contractor relations, project administration and procedures, and compensation.

“Students,” Hall says, “are initially drawn to architecture for the design aspects. But when they start working, they suddenly realize that what they spent 90 percent of their time on in a design studio only takes up about 10 percent of their time in a firm. The rest of their time is spent on construction documents, coordinating with contractors and clients—all of the logistics of getting a project built.”

Hall and several colleagues in the architecture school are collaborating on the project with SCAD’s interactive design and game department. Hall envisions a competitive video game (which is untitled for now) in which students make “real-time judgment calls and decisions” that an architect would make—basically playing the role of the architect working in a firm.

So, kind of like L.A. Noire, but with architects instead of 1940s-era detectives? Something like that, says SCAD game design professor Aram Cookson, who is part of design team. But the details—PC or tablet? First person or third?—will be worked out starting in January. (There will be no guns involved, he insists.) Students from both departments will be part of the game’s development process, along with representatives from three architecture firms: Nelson Chen, principal of Nelson Chen Architects in Hong Kong; Jerry Lominack, principal of Lominack Kolman Smith Architects in Savannah; and Roberta Unger, principal of The Architecture Group in Atlanta. The architects will help create real-world scenarios that will be incorporated into the game. The goal is to have the game ready for the classroom by next fall.

Hall believes interactive video games have the potential to “revolutionize” architectural education by making topics more exciting and relevant for students. “Most students are very familiar with this type of media,” he says. “And it’s widely recognized that ‘playing’ is one of the best ways to learn. We hope to expand this concept to other classes.”