Tuesday, June 28, 2016


This is a different kind of design studio courses.  To begin with, the class is essentially working on one large group design project.  Unlike a traditional studio course where each student has the freedom to explore their own ideas (within the limits and context of the project), this class is working toward the same goal, to design and build one structure by the end of July.  Another difference is that the build portion of the studio is funded by the COD foundation through a ‘Resources for Excellence’ grant.  This puts a little bit more pressure on us as a class to have a ‘successful’ final project, as the college is committing a significant resource towards this activity.  Finally, the structure we build will have a visible presence far beyond a normal studio project.  This gathering pavilion will likely live for several years on campus (outlasting the students in the course who will have transferred on) and as a result is both a reflection on our class as well as representative of the Architecture program as a whole. 

For all of these reasons, I tend to try to model the class on a small architectural office.  We have essentially the same challenges as design firm working on a project, which is to work collaboratively, creatively, as a team to produce a set of drawings and documents that will ultimately result in a built object.  (Unlike a firm, however, we are also responsible to build this thing as well)

So as an instructor, I tend to be a little bit more hands on, and involved in the day to day design work.  The challenge for me has been to find an appropriate balance between demonstrating (teaching by doing) and letting the students drive the process.  Recently I have been attempting to model expectations through producing work  myself, without stifling their creativity, or worse yet, giving them the impression that I am going to design the project for them. 

As an example, during the first critique I made this sketch as a response to one of the student models.  Sketching during a crit is not uncommon for me.  What is unusual, however, is after the critique I got on a computer and developed the sketch into a scheme (See design images below), just to see how it might work.  My hope was to model for the students how to take an idea from an initial sketch, into something more developed.  As I have written about before, one of my ongoing challenges as a design studio instructor is to get students to develop an idea into a sophisticated scheme.  Students often seem to get stuck in the first idea, stuck in a diagram (with potential), yet have trouble developing the work beyond a sketch.  My hope is to use my quick design study to show the class how I want them to take their first ideas and push them into a developed structure that we can actually build.

I am not sure if this is working or not?  The effectiveness of the experiment is yet to be determined.  I am concerned that perhaps I overreached and that this was counterproductive, as the team developing this scheme seemed to initially lose momentum after seeing my renderings.

I will know more after seeing the developed design studies this week.  None the less, the class is making progress this toward more buildable, and beautiful schemes.  Albeit slower that I would like at times.

And I am attempting to manage the group as if it were a small design office, not a traditional college class.

In the end, (I think) this will be a positive learning experience for the students.

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