Building a Meeting Place Between Disciplines: University of Idaho Offers Law for Architects

Tuesday, October 26 2010

Written by Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho – It takes a whole village to build a house, or a housing tract.

It’s a big, diverse, multi-stakeholder village that can include architects, contractors, developers, home owners, brokers, planners, engineers and attorneys.

Extensive land development and construction can require primary contracts, subcontracts, leases, loans, insurance and other agreements. A working understanding of those sometimes complex legal relationships is essential to practitioners of both law and architecture.

To help both law students and architecture students better understand and navigate those complexities, the College of Law and College of Art and Architecture offer an interdisciplinary course listed as Architecture and the Law in the law curriculum, and Situational Prototyping: Architecture and Law Professional Practicum for architecture students. The graduate-level course was first introduced at University of Idaho in 2008.

“What is beneficial for the different parties in the transaction, from a class such as architecture and the law, is the eye-opening education that each side learns from the other,” said Michael Satz, an associate professor of law who co-teaches the course.

The course covers basic contracting: law students learn to tailor a contract to protect and fit the needs of the architecture students, and architecture students learn the importance of the language of contractual agreement.

The course is team taught. Satz offers an attorney’s perspective, and Román Montoto, associate professor of architecture, teaches from the architect’s point of view.

Once the interdisciplinary student teams develop an understanding of their professional roles, Satz and Montoto throw situational obstacles in the way of student projects. Those problematic scenarios might include a subcontractor not meeting a deadline or a project site determined to contain hazardous waste.

“We use the actual terminal project that the architecture student is working on as the vehicle to facilitate learning,” said Satz. “In this way, the law students actually learn about the architecture profession and the architecture students learn that there is a lot more at stake in this commercial transaction than simply the planning and design of a project.”

Montoto’s and Satz’ practical experience gave rise to the course, and continues to shape it.

Satz earned a juris doctor degree, cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School in 2001. His experience in private practice since then has included two years of practice focused on bankruptcy and commercial litigation, and four years of practice focused on business formation and structure, including incorporation, commercial and private contracts, commercial law, real estate law and deceptive trade practices.

Montoto studied art history and criticism in preparation for the study of architecture at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in art history and criticism, a bachelor’s of science degree in architectural studies, and a master’s degree in architecture. His experience in professional practice ranges from small chapels to high rise office, mixed-use, and residential buildings and corporate office campuses.

“I think the reason Mike Satz and I first began discussing the possibility of this course hinged around the fact that we both had professional practice experience and understood that the complexities of real-world situations were often difficult to demonstrate and use as an instrument for teaching in an academic setting,” Montoto said. “The series of obstruction exercises given to the students, for the most part, directly reference situations Mike and I dealt with in our own professional practice experience.”

The University of Idaho program is unique in its focus.

“Many schools have different interdisciplinary offerings,” Satz noted, “but I am not aware of another offering that blends the professional programs of law and architecture in such a commercial and practical manner.”

For more information about the structure, content and goals of the course, and the research underlying it, see, Situational Prototyping: Architecture and Law Organizational Practicum. International Journal of Knowledge, Culture & Change Management, vol.8. issue 10 pp.43-50.
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit