Designing the visible and invisible in master of Architecture design studios; From concept design to detail drawings

After teaching full time for multiple theory, history and studio units throughout 2017, I took sometime off from teaching to focus on developing my current project and to have the opportunity to design while I’m doing research. I still had the privilege of getting invited as a guest critic to couple of undergraduate and masters design studios this semester which was very refreshing and inspiring. I often used to focus on encouraging students to come up with their unique ideas and creative modes of representing their design. While I still admire and encourage students’ brave ideas, in the recent critique sessions I was also inclined to see how they have considered the feasibility of the design concepts. Many students have the ability to produce intriguing renders, which could potentially communicate their creative ideas with the audience. However, they often undermine the importance of structural and material design in supporting the foundations of their proposed concept.

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This challenge was even more interesting in some of the studios with creative briefs, in which required the students to represent the ideas through drawing conventions and renders. They seemed to be pretty excited in expanding their design concept but majority of them struggled with tying the drawings back with the original ideas. An example could be the concept of atmosphere and communication of sensorial interaction through drawings or other formats of representation. The projects often look at the sensory or ‘invisible’ qualities as decorative elements, which appear disconnected from the actual materiality of the structures or landscape. I suppose we all sometimes undermine the fact that these atmospheric elements perform as part of the materiality of buildings and landscapes and hence, their structural details are essential for realization of the proposed concept. In fact at times the study of the construction detailing of the project could provoke intriguing creative ideas about building performance and temporal changes.

This shift in my view was perhaps resulted from my recent focus on practice in the last couple of months, which reminded me that creativity and project feasibility are non-separable elements. While studio briefs have certain creative and real-world agenda, perhaps having different experts, i.e. academics, designers, developers, etc. present at critique sessions would be a balancing factor in improving students’ projects. Although bringing all the experts together at critique sessions is often a tricky thing for studio leaders to organize, but it seems to benefit the students immensely to hear different conceptual and practical commentaries. Finally and more importantly, going back to studio presentation sessions was a reminder about the importance of and the power of ‘we’ vs. ‘you’ or ‘me’. It was rewarding to see how working through students’ projects with a genuine intention of improving the design shifted their focus from wanting to defend their works towards getting inspired for improving the project out of excitement, even after the final presentation session.

 

The Level of design intervention and transformation of heritage

I’d like to start my first blog with the topic on transformation of heritage sites and the impact of the level of design intervention on the contemporary experience of heritage. This is particularly because this topic is related to our article with Professor Hannah Lewi, which is being presented today via pre-recorded video at AMPS conference 2018, on ‘tangible – intangible heritage’ in London. The paper looks at the significance of the level of design intervention in transforming a heritage site into a contemporary space and its impact on the way we experience it in the present.

We have essentially investigated the architects’ design strategy in a public space project in Barcelona and interpreted it in relation to the site history and the present experience of the visitors. Instead of wiping out the remnants or adding any external architectural structures, the designers show a deep interest in the history of the site by retaining the remnant structures from the Spanish Civil war and the informal houses of the post-war immigrant. This is also evident in their comparative style of drawings where they constantly draw upon the archival drawings of the site topography, the bunkers and the informal houses. They even excavate the landscape in an attempt to carve out the historical topography of the hilltop. In this article we argue that the minimal design intervention through tracing the site history and applying sensitive touches on formal and material finishes provokes a collectively liberal and individually embodied experience

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While it was a privilege to visit and inhabit the site in 2012 and find out about the visitors’ individual and collective experience, I had to follow up the continuity of this experience by reading community’s comments in online blogs and websites. It was amazing how much in-depth information I could collect through reading visitors’ comments. In fact it seemed like people can more easily open up about their uncertainties and allow the flow of discussion in an online platform. At the end of this article we pose questions such as the difference between the level of design intervention on the more formal architecture of museum, compared to the more informal and restorative approach to the landscape. We also draw upon the ‘non-designed’ look of the site and its informal setting, which has led to issues with maintenance and safety. I’m hoping that this blog could also become a channel for hearing about the opinion of the wider audience. As we couldn’t attend the conference in person, the recorded presentation is played at the conference and is currently available on AMPS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6zYdPl0DZ2pCp-uUp_fpFPzPOG7rvLdd.