Scholarly article on topic 'An Innovative Approach in Architectural Education: Designing a Utopia'

An Innovative Approach in Architectural Education: Designing a Utopia Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Selay Yurtkuran, Gözde Kırlı, Yavuz Taneli

Abstract Architectural design education requires a process oriented studio environment that involves creative thinking and hands on experience. It is suggested that utopias may be a valuable teaching tool within this studio environment. Despite the long history of utopias in architecture itself, they have been underutilized as studio teaching material. Utopias may be offered as readings, i.e. Platon's ‘The Republic’, Thomas More's ‘Utopia’, and Francis Bacon's ‘New Atlantis’, but also as avenues of exploration. This paper describes the process undergone in a first-year basic design course of an architecture department, where utopias have been utilized as an educational tool to foster creative thinking skills. Specifically, the process involves the creation of a utopic scenario about ‘An Alternate 2012’, in a different World following a fracture in time. Students have been assigned with creating new life forms and appropriately designed living spaces. The design process and final products are presented. Potential benefits of this innovative educational approach are discussed further in the article.

Academic research paper on topic "An Innovative Approach in Architectural Education: Designing a Utopia"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 89 (2013) 821 - 829

2nd Cyprus International Conference on Educational Research, (CY-ICER 2013)

An Innovative Approach in Architectural Education: Designing a

Utopia

Selay Yurtkurana, Gozde Kirli b, Yavuz Taneli c*

aUludag University, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Department of Architecture, Gorukle, Bursa 16059, Turkey

Abstract

Architectural design education requires a process oriented studio environment that involves creative thinking and hands on experience. It is suggested that utopias may be a valuable teaching tool within this studio environment. Despite the long history of utopias in architecture itself, they have been underutilized as studio teaching material. Utopias may be offered as readings, i.e. Platon's 'The Republic', Thomas More's 'Utopia', and Francis Bacon's 'New Atlantis', but also as avenues of exploration. This paper describes the process undergone in a first-year basic design course of an architecture department, where utopias have been utilized as an educational tool to foster creative thinking skills. Specifically, the process involves the creation of a utopic scenario about 'An Alternate 2012', in a different World following a fracture in time. Students have been assigned with creating new life forms and appropriately designed living spaces. The design process and final products are presented. Potential benefits of this innovative educational approach are discussed further in the article.

©2013TheAuthors.Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu, Near East University, Faculty of Education, Cyprus

Keywords: Design education, basic design, Utopia, creative thinking;

1. Architectural Design Education & Utopias

Architectural design education is a process that revolves around studio courses. Design studios require an environment that fosters creativity and experiential learning. Students of a design studio need to gain the proper skills for creative problem solving and critical thinking. Salama (1995) defines the design studio as being the primary environment for teaching potential architects the creative skills to produce socio-behaviorally appropriate, three-dimensional spaces.

Architecture students are obligated to design the functional and aesthetic spaces that house human activities. Thorough this individual learning and creating process, participants also interact with fellow students and instructors thereby enhancing their communication skills and group working abilities. Schön (1985) describes the architectural

*Corresponding author: Yavuz Taneli. Tel.: +90-532-341-1820. E-mail address: yavuz@uludag.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu, Near East University, Faculty of Education, Cyprus doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.939

studio as a prototype of 'education for artistry and problem-setting'. He also states that the design studio environment is a place for students to learn both about designing and about learning to design (Schön 1985).

In this context of producing a creative environment for design students, utopias may become a tool to foster creative thinking. Utopia is the name of a fictional island, that theoretically has a perfect socio-political and legal system that is designed by the writer Thomas More, and described in the book with the same name 'Utopia' in 1516. Utopia comes from the ancient Greek word 'ou' meaning 'not' and 'topos' meaning 'place' (Liddell and Scott 1889). Utopic thinking and creation has a long history, starting from the third century BC; with Plato's 'The Republic', then through the early and modern periods with Thomas More's 'Utopia', Francis Bacon's 'New Atlantis', William Morris' 'News from Nowhere', to a recent work that was produced in the last century such as Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities' (Halpin 2001).

For decades, science and philosophy have been in search for the ideal city and an ideal socio-economic and cultural organism within that city. These utopic thoughts and creations originated some widely known urban utopias. These utopias suggested new ways of life, communication, mobilization, production, and consumption, as well as new architectural spaces (Yurtkuran 2010). In 1925, Le Corbusier created a new vision for Paris named after an automobile manufacturer (Fondation Le Corbusier, 1925). 'The Plan Voisin' dealt with unfavorable conditions of the city; however, was met with criticism for offering class-based stratification, among other drawbacks. In 1964 Ron Herron proposed the 'Walking City' made up of robotic structures, congregating to share resources (Herron 1964). Both visions provide excellent examples of utopian thinking in urban architectural design.

Utopias were also used in the art of cinema. Considered the first futuristic movie, 'Metropolis' is a demonstrative example for an urban utopia. In 1927, Fritz Lang pushed the edges of technicality of that era and created a 'perfect' urban 'dis-utopia' ('dystopia' as is commonly used), which can be denoted as a dilemma. The city Metropolis can be defined as 'cold', 'mechanic', and 'cruel', as it emotionally consumes the people of Metropolis (Figure 1). The movie has an epic that communicates the real sociological disparities of the 1920's within the context of pressure, reform, and peace (Newman 2005).

Figure 1. A Scene from Metropolis, 1927 (Void Manufacturing, 2008).

In 1982, Ridley Scott directed the 29 million dollar budgeted blockbuster Blade Runner, which was inspired by the 1968 book 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick. The work is another example of iconic utopia scenarios (Figure 3) (Barry 2005).

Figure 2. Scene from Blade Runner, Los Angeles, 1982 (Marcus, 2007).

Utopias are proposed in literature, film, and architecture and dwell on urban and socio-cultural issues, as well as questions of political administration. The multifaceted nature of utopias makes them suitable for classroom discussion in architecture schools, where a global understanding of life is required to substantiate design. Utilization of the concept of a utopia in the educational process of a basic design studio is outlined below.

2. A Studio Project: 'An Alternate 2012'

The 'An Alternate 2012' exercise is built on the premise that a fracture in time following a catastrophic event results in an alternate world. Students are asked to identify the catastrophic event, describe life forms on the planet detailing their daily activities, and present their work through a poster and model they assemble.

The exercise satisfies a number of the aims of the Basic Design 2 course offered in the Architecture Department. Through this exercise, students are expected to (1) improve their three dimensional thinking and design competence, (2) develop an aptitude for creative problem solving, (3) hone multidimensional thinking skills, (4) become open minded, and (5) achieve an empathic approach. The exercise has been carried out by 48 students, clustered in groups of four, in the Basic Design 2 Studio, and has been completed during a four-week period. During the first week the content of the exercise was revealed, and students groups began to construct their scenarios. Student presentations were given; the group, followed by an initial evaluation during the second week, performed a creative drama. The third week was devoted to evaluate the final work, and subsequently the process was completed.

Students used chicken wire, strips of wood, flax yarn, sketch paper, cardboard, white paper coated board, fishing line, and one more material they were asked to introduce of a color other than the prescribed materials to build a model of the alternate world that occurred following a catastrophic event they themselves envisaged.

Students actively utilized the Basic Design studio environment, and were directed by the studio instructors, who functioned more as advisors than instructors, by providing subtle hints and constructive critique during multiple phases of design.

Step 1. Revealing the Theme +Studio Work (Week 1)

Prior to explaining the theme and content of the exercise, the studio began with an analysis of the article 'The Intelligence of Perception' from the book 'Visual Thinking' by Rudolf Arnheim (1997). The aim of this reading implementation was to support the 'An Alternate 2012' project with solid academic information in the context of 'perception'. Following this reading assignment the studio instructor explained the aim and objectives of the project, and ideas were exchanged respectively between fellow students and the instructors.

Initially, students were asked to divide into self-assigned groups of four and begin to create a basic scenario for an alternate 2012. During this process, instructors acted as moderators for the groups and also gave basic clues for innovative scenarios.

At the end of the studio students were asked to prepare a digital presentation on the topic of 'Time and Color' for the following week. The exercise aimed for the students critically assess color and material in general, as well as the notion of time to inform their choice of one additional colored material for the project. They were also required to design an A1 sized poster, explaining their themes for the scenarios and a draft model of the alternate world with new life forms. For the second step of the project the groups were expected to create a digital presentation containing a 20-second creative drama / body storming video, as well as a report of the process.

Step 2. Student Research + Introductory Presentations (Week 2)

Students gave digital presentations on the theme of 'Time and Color'. Following the group presentations, the instructors and fellow students provided feedback and critique about the presentations in the contexts of; (1) appropriateness of the concept and the visual content to the given topic, (2) the expressional characteristics of the digital presentation in terms of graphic expression, and the appropriateness of the selected codes and modes for conveying the intended message, (3) participation of group members in the presentation, (4) use of body language, and (5) the quality of the knowledge that is presented. Participation of fellow students in the evaluation and critique process was encouraged.

Following the 'Time and Color' presentations, two supporting reading materials were discussed. The topics were; 'Architecture: Time, Space and Change' by Guvenf (2008) and 'Space as a producer and consumer of time' by Dr. Kahvecioglu (2005). Both papers were discussed in detail by the students and the instructors in the context of Time and Space, and in how these papers might provide constructive input to the 'An Alternate 2012' project.

Step 3.Poster + Digital Presentation +Model + Creative Drama & Critique (Week 3)

The critique of 'An Alternate 2012' had two consecutive steps. Initially, students prepared a digitally constructed presentation and supported it verbally. Their posters were displayed simultaneously (Figure 4, Figure 6). The objective of this step was to present the group's scenario for an alternate world in an alternate 2012 and describe the utopia's socio-economic and cultural structure. The second step was to present the draft models of the alternate World at different scales (Figure 5, Figure 7), illustrating different aspects of these new forms of life.

The emphasis of the critique was: (1) the sufficiency of the scenario in terms of the objectives of the project, (2) the adaptation level of the non-human creatures to the new scenario, (3) the compatibility of the constructed model to the scenario, (4) the purpose of the additional color used and its benefits to the project. Other than these central points of critique, the instructor and fellow students discussed the graphical language that is chosen and its compatibility with the project, the level of individual contribution of the students to the process of presentation, the use of verbal and body language, and the quality of the presentation content.

Subsequent to the presentation and evaluation of the poster, model, and digital presentations, groups displayed their creative drama acts, aspiring to present the point of fracture in their scenarios. Drama has been described as a "total activity, concerned with the inner self and surroundings, the physical and the mental self, the individual and the community, and the human situation and potential" (Freeman, Sullivan, Fulton, 2003). The aim of the creative drama exercise was to gain competence in communicating with body gestures instead of the more conventional

modes of speech, text, or visual tools, and also to acquire competence in multidimensional thinking, as well as to understand design through the use of one's own body.

Following the critique process and the creative drama act, students continued working in the studio in groups, and deliberated on the feedback and criticism from the instructors and fellow students.

Step 4. Final Critique: 'The Jury'

The Jury is a critical process where the student work is evaluated in its entirety as it is being presented through predefined tools such as digital presentation, visual boards, creative drama, and models. In addition to the preset modes, students are allowed to enhance the presentation by their outfits, gestures, tone of voice, etc.

The final product is evaluated by the studio instructors on the aforementioned multiple dimensions, each according to preset percentage points. Points are also given for intergroup harmony, participation in the exercise, curiosity, creativity and creative courage, innovation, connectedness to the project, and belief in oneself.

The final evaluation considers: (1) sufficiency of the proposed scenario, (2) appropriateness of the designed space to the scenario, (3) sufficiency of the final product, (4) use of color and contribution of the specific color to the scenario, (5) appropriateness of the spatial design to the intended function and users, (6) graphic qualities and clarity of the presentation.

Two examples of student work are presented in the Findings section of this paper.

3. Findings: Student Work & Interpretation

Both Project 'Mayosapienza' and Project 'Bird Civilization' are examples of student work that demonstrate the process of the studio well. The studio instructors who also acted as evaluators during the Final Critique/Jury found the work to be innovative, rich in terms of novel ideas, sufficiently developed, consistent throughout, and well presented.

Student Work 1: Project 'Mayosapienza'

The scenario of the project 'Mayosapienza' is asfollows:

The World has momentarily lost its magnetic field due to explosions on the sun's surface. The atmosphere, as the source of life has dissipated. All life forms, along with all water on Earth spread to outer space. This impact does not last long, and all creatures start to move in sync with earth's rotation. Evolving humans achieved superiority over non-evolving ones, and started a civilization called 'Mayosapienza' based upon pain, rottenness, and corruption (Figure 4& Figure 5).

Mayosapienza is located on a large main plant covered with lichen, and this lichen prevents proletariat (non-evolved humans) living at loam covered lower layers from coming to upper layers. Guardian cats called 'Mayofelis' live at lower layers. These cats quash rebellions of the proletariat (Figure 4 &Figure 5).

mayosapienza

DÜnya, güne§te oluçan çok sayida güne§ patlamalari se-bebiyle biranligina atmosferi ve tüm canillan üzerinde tufan manyetik alani kaybetmi$t¡. Bu esnada yaçamin kaynagi

oían atmosfer kaynagi uçup gitti. Dünya üzerindeki

tüm canillar SUyla birlikte uzay bo§luguna yayildi. Fakat bu etk¡ kisa sürdü ve canillar suyun içinde dünyanm ekseninde harekete ba§ladilar. Gel¡§en insanlar gel¡§meyenler üzerinde

üstünlük kurar ve Mayosapienza adinda bie uygarlik

olu§ur. Bu uygarlik aci, ÇÛrÛlTie ve yOZla§ma üzerine kurulmu§tur.

Mayosapienza dak¡ bitki örtüsü insanlarin yerleçtigi ana bitkide yayilan yosun tabakasidir. Bu tabaka ayni zamanda alt katmanda bulunan

¡§g¡ sinifinin üst katmana ulaçmasini engeller.

Kumlu toprak katmaninda ¡§çi sinifina ait degi§im sonrasi gel¡§mem¡§ insanlar yer almaktadir. Bu katmanda i§çilerin

di§inda onlarin isyanini engelleyen gardiyan kedi

mayofelisler ya§amaktadir.

mayofelis mayocanis mayosapien homosapien

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Figure 3. Poster of the Project 'Mayosapienza'

Figure 4.Models for the Project 'Mayosapienza

Student Work 2: Project 'Bird Civilization'

The scenario of the project 'Bird Civilization' is as follows:

At the beginning of the year 2012, huge explosions occurred in the atmosphere. The atmosphere was damaged because of these explosions and living creatures suffered genetic and biologic mutations because of the UV rays reaching earth through damaged areas. Structure of birds' and cats' genetic codes changed wildly, but birds evolved more than other life forms and achieved domination of the world. Humans dwindled in numbers and eventually became pets for birds. Birds started to live in developed nests on giant trees made from materials collected from the surroundings. Transportation is by flying, but some species use flying machines because their bodies are too large for their wings to lift. Birds consume fish and bugs to provide their daily food. Trees are surrounded by water used to produce fish, which also provides water for the giant trees. Dogs are responsible for the production of fish and bugs. Cats are known as disturbing the peace of the society as they assassinate birds. By evolution of the species the ancient fight of cats and dogs grows wildly.

Figure 5. Model Photos of the Project 'Bird Civilization'

Both student projects display proficiency in terms of utopic scenarios, creative thinking, and creative writing. Most of the student scenarios envisioned 'good' in a dis-utopic context. The authors considered this notable. Additionally, both scenarios presented in this paper provided exceptional detail. Before addressing the design of

new life forms and their respective habitats, students thoroughly evaluated phenomena such as the Sun and Earth, water on Earth, human/animal interaction and their roles in life, Earth's magnetic field, evolution, and civilization, thereby managing the creative process. As the students were involved in all aspects of design, the scenarios possessed unity across different scales. Projects conveyed wholeness from small scale/universe conceptualization to large scale/life form and habitat.

4. Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

Utopias may be innovative tools for design education. As argued in this paper, educators may benefit from an existing utopia and may use it as a catalyzer in design education in numerous ways. The 'An Alternative 2012' project is an interesting and promising example for the use of utopias in design education to foster creative thinking and innovative design abilities. The project also acts as a tool to help the students gain the abilities to work in groups and act as leaders. Students benefit from the use of various kinds of representation techniques such as body storming, digital presentations, graphical posters, and 3D actual structured models, respectively or simultaneously. This helps the student gain the ability for multidimensional thinking and multi-tasking. In the case described above, instead of using an existing utopia, the project asked the students to create their own scenario, which clearly made the project process more stimulating and appealing for the participants. This creation of a utopia made the students to take possession of the project, and fostered their creativity in writing, as well as designing.

The authors suggest that different degrees and levels of educational institutions may benefit from using such a utopia exercise in art and design classes in order to foster creativity and cultivate open minded individuals.

Acknowledgements

The authors of this paper would like to thank their students for their effort in taking part in this exercise.

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