I find teaching to be a profoundly social enterprise, which hangs its success on the quality of what’s between rather than on the individual. I consider teaching a privilege because the work is fundamentally creative and because there is no better way to learn.
In the design studio as well as the seminar, I find it essential to cultivate a spirit of ensemble amongst students so that the learning environment is one of a natural curiosity and inquiry borne out of an ongoing conversation and collaboration between ‘players’. In this environment, even the quietest students find a voice, and the support they find from their peers is far more valuable to them in the long run than any approval or instruction I might give.
I believe that students must learn to define their own interests and passions, and then develop a methodology or practice for investigating those things. They must learn to share the ideas that are inspiring to them, and cultivate an enthusiasm for their work that is contagious. I consider it my responsibility as a teacher to help students discover tools and practices, respective to their interests and talents, which will be serviceable beyond the borders of a curriculum as defined.
I believe in learning that brings the passions and curiosities of the individual into confrontation (or concert) with the culture and context of a course. I have found that such an integration of the personal and the discursive consistently helps students locate their own positions in relation to subject matter. This can only deepen insights, make argumentation more persuasive, and inspire others to the same type of creative honesty.
china academy of art / design seminar / spring 2012
the weather within
Weather conditions are usually celebrated in their extremes: typhoon, drought, flood, blizzard, fog, dust-storm. But “weather” is the constant manifestation of atmospheric change or flux. These changes can be very intimate as well as extreme. Every environment, small and large, has a constantly changing weather condition. As human beings we sense ‘weather’, and its inevitable change, in a similar way that we understand ‘time’. It can be as mundane as a weather report or a daily timetable, but it can also be a source of wonder in our life experience. This is the nature of the ephemeral.
This design seminar explores architecture as a canavas upon which conditions of atmospheric and environmental change are made visible and sensible. It uses observation, intervention and embodied performance as tools.
The first phase of the seminar asks students to observe and define a particular atmospheric condition within the architectural environment. Using a wide variety of media, students will register, document, chart and expose subtle conditions, and their fluctuation.
The second phase of the seminar asks students to intervene, following a rigorous exploration of site through drawings. They are to invent, test and build full scale and sited constructions that challenge, amplify or in some way modify the site as it is experienced by the full range of human senses.
The final phase of the workshop asks students to work in groups, and to use their own body to explore the sited works of their peers. Throughout the seminar they have been led in improvisational movement workshops that emphasize an embodied response to one’s environment. Building on this work, students create a final performance event amidst the constructed works of their peers.
RISD architecture / seminar / spring 2011
working drawings: the poetics of translation
This course is designed to explore the act of drawing as a means of inquiry and as a means of communication, as used particularly by the architect in practice and profession. The course takes as its object of study the Construction Document, considering its production through a theoretical, practical, poetic and ultimately critical lens.
CD’s, the documents that initiate architectural production for the majority of construction projects in this country, have gone through a change in nomenclature from “working drawings” to ”construction documents” to finally “contract documents” reflecting the changing nature of the profession and the architect’s role in the building process. The class will examine the architect’s relationship to drawing as a working process as well as a means of communication and verification. The class will be taught as a seminar with a studio component. Students will read texts on the theory of drawing, and will complete an initial experimental exercise in drawing to explore the nature of working-through-drawing. They will then learn the conventions and methodology behind professional contract documents, including specifications. They will meet professionals in the field and review drawing sets and standard practice. They will be exposed to current trends in computer-aided design, including the transition to Building Information Modeling, and these trends’ impact on the production and documentation process. Their final project will be a complete set of “working drawings” that offer both an example and a critique of the professional practice standard.
RISD architecture / advanced studio / spring 2010
skin deep: tilting the field
The cells in the skin of the human body have the remarkable capacity to transform sunlight into vitamin D, an essential nutrient to our thriving and growing. Without it our skeletal system deteriorates, and bones become weak. Certain plants use their ‘skin’ to breathe light as we breathe air: photosynthesis is a metabolic pathway that uses light to translate carbon dioxide into nourishing organic compounds, releasing oxygen as waste. The class will look at the capacity of the skin of a building to harness light and nourish life within, resulting in case studies for a new building typology: the vertical farm.
The semester will be spent investigating existing 20th c. mill buildings and other underutilized infrastructure in Providence for potential as environments for growing, harvesting and selling food. Students will work in groups to analyze and then reconfigure existing structures to develop a rich and varied day-lit environment indoors. The building will be modified into an environment for growing, harvesting and selling food. The program will be a ‘vertical farm’ and marketplace, with offices and incubator spaces for new food products.
Light and its very real relationship to an interior will be studied and then crafted through subtractions and additions to the existing structure. Existing and hypothetical growing technologies and infrastructure will be explored and deployed to illustrate the potential for ‘cradle to cradle’ food cultivation. The program will address (and question) food farming in all its aspects: initial nutrient generation, light, air and water requirements, sustainability, community and labor, infrastructure, harvest and the market/commerce of harvested foods, food waste and compost. Students will investigate these infrastructural, cultural and formal issues through the architectural problem of reusing and re imagining existing underutilized urban infrastructure. Light and its judicious deployment via a ‘subtractive’ architecture will be essential. Close attention will be paid to the ‘skin’ of the building, i.e. its system of enclosure.
In an effort to further their specific knowledge of daylight, students will also be able to collaborate with a lighting designer and expert from Parsons New School in NYC. A workshop at the beginning of the semester will introduce light and energy modeling software, and certain concepts particular to the program of the vertical farming will be addressed.
The studio will also explore the problem of real-world constraints on this type of food production system, and will partner with students at Brown University to analyze and map factors relevant to this type of building program. Students will also meet with local growers and community groups to explore a full-scale ‘seed’ project as a research and development tool. Final projects have the opportunity to be presented to city and state agencies in an attempt to encourage support for full-season urban agriculture as a building program. Students will also be able to enter projects in the 2010 International Velux Award for Students of Architecture competition, with the theme “Light of Tomorrow”.
At its core, the studio proposes that the professional field (of architecture) needs tilting. Students of architecture are leaving school to enter a society much transformed and inhospitable to the traditional entry-level mindset. Young architects are uniquely poised to become active participants in the transformation of not only the profession but of status quo systems in contemporary society. Our food system is undergoing much renewed interest and scrutiny. It is the locus for many contemporary debates: health, environment, environmental justice, sustainability, local vs. global, community, fast vs. slow. Concurrent with architectural explorations of vertical ‘fields’, students will put their skills and sensibilities towards more systemic problems, at the local level and beyond, to invite the potential tilting of their own future.