Wait...he wants me to do what??! Research? I'm in architecture class. I thought we just drew in here. I just want to start designing my project.
-Every CCE Architecture Student
No student of mine has ever said this out loud, but I'm sure it has been thought many times. All throughout higher education and my professional career, I have understood and embraced the power and importance of research in architecture. Now I have to pass this critical concept on to high school students to prepare them for a future in this profession. In order to accomplish this, I typically set up projects with a variety of elements and situations that are intentionally unfamiliar to my students.
This semester, my 2nd year class is designing shipping container houses for urban farms in central Detroit. The third year class is selecting the site for the project, master planning the neighborhood, and designing community structures to support the projects of the 2nd year class. Like I said...intentionally unfamiliar.
I concluded my introduction of this project as follows:
Me: "Alright, who in here is from or has lived in Detroit?"
Me: "Who in here is an experienced urban farmer?
Me: "OK. Anybody currently living in a house made from shipping containers?"
Me: "So as architects, how to we address a project like this? How do we start?"
In previous semesters, I have seen students go through the motions of what I have asked them to do at the beginning of a project. They dutifully look up information, write facts down, put images on a poster, or post their findings to the class website. After about a week of work, they have amassed a fairly large collection of useful data that can be applied to their project and used to support a design solution. At this point, the pencil hits paper and all the research is jettisoned in a cloud of dust as they furiously scratch out the ideas that have been bouncing around in their heads over the previous week. It is difficult at this stage of an architectural education to teach students to look beyond the walls of a building and use information outside of architecture to drive a design -- but try I must.
Architecture requires flexibility. Architects are trained in design, and we should have the ability to create any type of building anywhere in the world. Architectural training even takes some people into related fields such as industrial design, video game design, and movie animation. How are architects able to achieve this level of flexibility?
Research is so important to architecture and design thinking that many architecture firms have established their own in-house research groups to address the variety of challenges within the profession:
Office of Metropolitan Architecture and research group AMO
Research is the way we figure out the best way to arrange the spaces for a specific building type.
It's how we make the most appropriate material selections and the best way to assemble them.
It's also the tool with which we shape our future.
Research is how architecture becomes more user friendly, more sustainable, and more valuable to our lives.
It's also how 10 high school students figure out the best designs for an urban farm community in the heart of Detroit. Click here to see our ongoing research that is being posted on the studio website. Feel free to check out the students' findings and leave a comment, word of encouragement, or even your own bit of research you would like to contribute.
I used to help my grandfather on the farm, driving tractors, raising crops and animals…at about 9 or 10 I started driving tractors. It showed me at an early age what hard work was all about and how dedicated you have to be, no matter what you do.
-Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks Center
I grew up in the sticks...yes, it's true. My formative years were spent in rural Texas among hay fields and along the banks of the Colorado river. I learned how to drive on a Kubota tractor and was active in 4H. Mornings and evenings were spent tending to cattle and other farm animals. Family vacations were actually long weekends at county fairs around the state. Somehow the boy on the farm ended up in architecture school embracing the dynamic environment of the metropolis and developing a passion for Modernism.
When I'm planning a semester for my classes, I try and work around a central concept on which all of the studio projects are based. This past Fall, we explored architecture in rural America. Having grown up in that environment, I have always had a keen interest in the subject. Once I understood architecture and had formed my own set of interests and opinions, I found myself inspired and constantly gravitating toward the unique forms, materials, and qualities of the rural landscape. The subject of rural architecture was incorporated in all classes during the semester and customized to the experience level and expectations for the students.
First year students spent the second half of the semester analyzing traditional vernacular houses and using the information to develop their own updated version of a rural house for the 21st century:
Second year students developed one project over the entire semester. Their task was to create a farmstead in three phases. The semester began with an exploration of shipping container architecture to create temporary living quarters and establish the farm:
Phase two required the students to incorporate a rural-based business with their container house using pre-engineered metal building systems:
Finally, the third phase completed the farmstead project with a permanent farmhouse based on traditional vernacular types. In each phase, students were required to incorporate their designs from the previous phase:
Third year practicum students took a different route and explored the variety of ways that architecture can be used to support rural communities. After looking at the work of Auburn University's Rural Studio, students developed projects that addressed a common need that these communities would have:
One of the interests I developed quickly during my undergraduate studies at Texas A&M was a love of books. There's something about architects and books. There's even a book about architects and their books. One of my favorite free time activities during those first years of school was to visit the central campus library and see what interesting architecture books I could find, check out, and peruse (while trying not to drool on the pages). One evening, amid the library stacks, I came across Le Corbusier's "Oeuvre Complete"...and it was over. I was instantly hooked.
"Oeuvre Complete" is an 8 volume hardbound set of virtually every project and building completed by the French architect Le Corbusier. Corbusier is considered one of the masters of International Style Modernism that occurred at the turn of the 20th century. His work has become a staple of architecture schools worldwide. Students study his work repeatedly in history class and design studios. I went through every volume of that set, one by one, visually devouring every image and every word on every page. Many years later, after visiting some of his buildings and practicing as a professional, I can still say that I find Corbusier's work interesting and intriguing.
Now I teach high school architecture...and I get to pass along my enthusiasm for Le Corbusier. Last year in our Advanced Architecture Studio, my students designed a house based on the use of a nine-square grid. This project was a natural fit for introducing Le Corbusier, so our research was based on an investigation of his career and work. Using this strategy gave my students a focused history lesson within the context of gathering tools and information to apply to their projects. As part of this research, students developed three-dimensional representations of Corbusier's "Five Points of a New Architecture"...
...parti diagrams of his buildings...
...as well as a timeline of his life and career. You can see the full web page of the students' research here. Once they had information on Corbusier, they were able to take what they had learned and apply it to their own projects. I think we had some really interesting results:
As a teacher, I always hope that my students find the work I present them interesting and useful. This summer, we had two students attend UT Arlington's Architecture Seed Camp. I was able to be there the final day of camp to see the presentation of their work. As I was milling about the space in the Architecture building, I could see Corbusier's influence in the college work that the University had on display. When visiting with one of my students about her experience at camp, she told me "the instructors started talking about Le Corbusier, and I totally knew what they were talking about!"
Thank you Mr. Corbusier, for giving me something great to share.
Well, we are almost nine weeks into the Fall semester and are hard at work wrapping up project number one. An objective that we had this year was to take the Architecture program further beyond the walls of our school and district. This objective was inspired by the writing of Alan November in his book Who Owns the Learning which was a subject of study over the summer break. You are already seeing the results in this blog post. You will also begin to see changes in the program's website. In addition to my own blog, each student in the program will have their own blog on our site that will allow them to write their thoughts and ideas on the projects and subjects we cover in class. As we progress through different projects this year, students will begin using other online and social networking tools to extend the reach of their work into the digital landscape of the Internet.
Please feel free to take a look at all of the information and ideas posted by the students and provide comments on what you see. Part of what makes architecture successful is the input and critique provided by others, and we want to get feedback from outside of our own walls. One of the foundations of this program is the presentation of projects and work to architecture and design professionals. We think that our work can only get better by presenting our ideas to the world, so thanks in advance for taking the time to visit us. I hope you find the student work intriguing and exciting. I am amazed at the end of every project with what my students are capable of creating.