Innovative studio space

 Michael Hays (GSD), Allen Sayegh (GSD), Mariana Ibanez (GSD), Silvia Benedito (GSD), Stephen Ervin (GSD)

Summary: Awardees plan to design and teach a studio class in a technology-enhanced, active-learning classroom.

Technology and hand-making

Awardees built an experimental studio space for design learning emphasizing abstract geometrical systems and their transformations. Gund522 (The HILT Room) explores technological possibilities for project-based education. It includes movable furniture, large-scale networked displays, gesture-based control systems, high-end audio and video recording devices, and staging equipment. “This little grant allowed us to think about the undergraduate program and what those studies will look like in the future, both the physical and the virtual spaces,” said Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory at the Graduate School of Design.

Hays and his colleagues have offered two cohorts of the studio course “Transformations,” enrolling sophomores, juniors and seniors to date. He emphasized that the work of architects is more than building: it’s really about looking at infrastructure, contexts, and systems. The course allows students to consider the shapes and logic that comprise a geometric system, and how the system adapts when it comes into contact with some external factor like site or program. “It’s like making up a game; the rules of the game have to accommodate different players and situations,” explained Hays. He posits that the process of learning the complexities of each system, and the sophisticated construction and deconstruction that is required, has value beyond the individual course. While the undergraduate program at GSD is not pre-professional, he believes that these skills will benefit students’ in their graduate studies and professional careers, whether they pursue biology or business.

The room is set up to promote collaboration—something that undergraduates are not used to, according to Hays—because it can accommodate multiple projections where students can notate and draw on top of each others’ work. In terms of instruction, students have time for focused, individual work, as well as group work and discussion. Hays was surprised at the ease with which they were able to incorporate material typically presented in one hour lectures into a few minutes here and there within the studio, in between collaborative exercises. The courses’ final review involved the students presenting their work and providing critique to each other. Hays found that this was another point of collaboration, and one that helped students practice their interpersonal skills: “they learned to separate themselves from their work, so that they can accept criticism and feedback.”

According to Hays, the immediate access to technology—iPads, multiple projection screens, laser cutter and 3D printer—in the room made for an incredibly intense experience. They accomplished everything using advanced software with no traditional pen to paper drawing, and were able to produce physical prototypes of their creations on the spot: “we were interested in ways that tech could work with ‘hand-making.’”

The second offering of the course consisted of more animation and more field work – students pursued urban projects such as mapping urban food truck distribution. Hays felt like this model did not work as well, and that it may have been too big a leap from the original model: “we should introduce scale more slowly.” The Graduate School of Design continues to pursue other applications of the studio space and have dedicated their HILT decanal funds to this project.

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