Students from architecture course pose for an on-site photo at the RailYard project.  Photo courtesy of Charles Trowell.

At the base of every great building is a solid foundation. For a considerable number of employees at The RBA Group, Inc., that foundation is UNC Charlotte.

Charles Trowell, an associate architect at the firm, received his bachelor of architecture from UNC Charlotte in 2017. Trowell is staying true to his 49er roots with his latest inception.

“Coming out of school, because architecture is kind of a studio-based thing, a lot of the work that you do is really just on paper. So there’s sort of a gap between academia and then trying to translate that to the actual workforce,” said Trowell. “You kind of get thrown to the wolves, essentially, when you get out in the field. I still have good ties with UNC Charlotte, so I just told them like, ‘Hey, I see the opportunity that you all are missing. Give these students something that I didn’t get or we didn’t get when we were in undergrad.’”

Trowell’s blueprint hopped right off the page and into action.

On March 13, David Thaddeus and students from his Structure of the Everyday course visited The RailYard project. Thaddeus, also a registered architect, has been a professor of structures and architectural design at UNC Charlotte since 1999.

The RailYard is one of the most anticipated commercial spaces under construction in the Carolinas. The eight-story, two building project will include 300,000 square feet of creative office space, an outdoor plaza, rooftop park, ground-level restaurants and incredible views of Uptown, South End and Dilworth. The $100 million project is expected to open in January 2019.

“The most important thing is they get to see what they’re drawing,” Thaddeus said. “Getting to see the stuff and how it goes together is just an invaluable lesson that they don’t get in school. RBA is giving back to the community in many ways by hiring UNC Charlotte students and mentoring students. Their engagement and involvement in the professional community is the true definition of leadership.”

The site visit consisted of a brief overview and on-site view of the project, in which students were able to meet with the contractor and see steel going up. The visit ended back at the RBA office where the staff held a networking open house for the students to ask questions and learn more about what the architecture firm does.

UNC Charlotte senior Maura Witzel appreciated the real world interaction.

“The opportunity to engage so fully with the professionals in and around our intended field has been both invaluable and relevant,” said Witzel. “Not only have we seen the physical nature of architecture and its construction, we’ve learned so much about the collaboration that brings it all together. It’s really important in deciding the next step in our education and careers.”

Fellow classmate Shane Zimmerman thoroughly enjoyed the inner workings of a large-scale building.

“Having the opportunity while in school to visit job sites is extremely beneficial in understanding the process of construction,” said Zimmerman. “It also makes it very clear to see all the parts that we as students heading into the workforce will be drawing and detailing. What better way to learn and understand a connection than by seeing it be put together.”

Trowell believes his initiative will improve the network between the collegiate and corporate world for years to come, especially for 49ers.

“We’re primarily creating a bridge and getting a little more notoriety for UNC Charlotte,” he said. “Now their architecture program is bigger than NC State’s and we’re in a city that is growing crazy fast, so really making that connection is sort of a no brainer for me. We have a company with all these UNC Charlotte grads, so why not cultivate these relationships and get a little more strategic about giving the new students better resources and better access to opportunities that they wouldn’t get otherwise?”