ped-a-go-gy: the art, science, or profession of teaching
Can the activity of ‘Design Build’ become a tool to enhance teaching and learning? This is one of the fundamental explorations with this course. Can the integration of ‘building’ within a studio course positively impact student learning? Based on the initial observations thus far, the answer is unequivocally yes.
One benefit of using a design build project in a studio course has been the change in design conversations that we have had within the studio. “What kind of material to you anticipate that being?” This question is no longer just an esoteric question posed by a guest juror at a final design review. Discussions based on building materials, connections, detailing, material availability and material cost were an essential part of the design conversation within the studio. Knowing that this design had to be built created an opportunity for craft and construction to be equally considered as an essential component of the design process. Students had to include materiality and detail thinking as a part of their design thinking.
To be clear, this project is not intended solely to be a technical or practical exercise. The project was always approached as a ‘DESIGN’ project in the truest sense. We did not ignore the essential aspects of creating memorable spaces as part of the design process. Rather, the necessity of building this structure added another layer of depth to the conversation. The reality of building forced students to consider both the poetic and the tectonic simultaneously, adding a richness to the design conversation.
DRAWING VERSUS BUILDING
Another interesting aspect of this project has been the relationship between drawing and building. During the design process, a team of students began building detail mockups to explore critical portions of the structure. Immediately this group realized that they could not build the test mockup exactly as it was drawn. Inevitably the team realized that they needed a nailing surface here, or a place to connect there, etc. This is a very important learning experience for students (and probably architects alike). How many times have professional architects encountered the scenario where a contract says ‘hey Architect, I can’t build this the way it’s drawn!”
This happens because there is sometimes a disconnect between drawing and building. When students were drawing the framing sections for example, they may not have been completely visualizing these drawings as built constructs. This is in spite of the fact that we “drew” a very detailed 3d model that included every board. Even so, there is still a tendency to be removed from the ‘real’ by the computerized image on the screen. The best architects and designers must mentally connect the drawing to the reality of building. This project is illustrating this in a very real way for the class.
“This is bigger than I imagined!” This statement has been made more than once, by many students in the class. Even though we made detailed scale models, drawings, and renderings to try to visualize the design before we started building, some students have been surprised by the scale of the final built object. Understanding scale is in my mind a fundamental design skill that students need to master in studio courses. What better way to illustrate scale that to build full size? Computer and physical models are just tools to help a designer visualize a project. They are essential tools that we all use to mentally construct our designs, but nothing beats the real thing. As design professionals, we understand scale and space through our experiences. Our memories of places and associations with real world spaces inform our understanding of the scale simulations we create in the design process. This skill evolves with experience, and this project has allowed us to provide a powerful educational lesson in architectural scale to our students through firsthand involvement in the building process.
One last benefit that I have also seen with this project is student engagement. In particular now that we are working on building the structure in our shop, students have been extremely motivated and into the project. At our build day this past Saturday the students worked hard. I am not quite sure why this is? I suspect that it might be a combination of the uniqueness of the project coupled with the opportunity to see a design project realized. Motivation has been high, and the students have been working very well together as a team.