A Mid-Journey Landmark Pointing Towards Where?

…jk. A landmark suggests a pivotal turning point, a new perspective, a monument that rises from the ground stating a sense of accomplishment whilst screaming “YAY, LOOK HOW FAR WE GOT IN THREE WEEKS TIME“! But midterm review seemed more like an obstacle than any landmark – it always does. After stumbling through a week’s worth of sleepless night, suffering through the deluge of simultaneous deadlines, and driving relentlessly (through sunshine and rain) to the Southern-most end of the state, we always seem to end up with more questions than we set out with. Doubt undoubtedly always amounts to confusion. In the jumble below, I will attempt to sort out my thoughts and find the exact direction to set off in for the upcoming weeks. F**king believe in yourself, right?

Previous | The Blob

The Blob was an earlier massing model, the version before midterm review. Here, I was seeking to connect the students learning and identity through physical bridges that linked the two masses. These offered a space that blurs the line between transitional space, social space, and academic space, so that all three may begin to integrate to encourage learning throughout the entire academy. Tiny protruding classrooms offer spaces for quiet, reflective learning space weaved into an open web of learning that flows from level to level. However, the masses were just too massive. It enshrouds the students in an abyss of darkness, and the complicated forms will only precipitate a sense of confusion and ‘I’m lost’. To remedy this, I tried to pry apart the program even further in the next model.

Current | The Sprawl

In pulling masses apart, I can achieve a must more streamlines, open, and spatially forgiving plan for the OSL Academy. Here, the students are organized into spatial ‘cohorts’ that correspond to the four different centralized learning cores, which in turn corresponds to the four different design aspects of the curriculum. Note that this isn’t a definitive ‘sorting’ into program; rather, it is an emphasis on the area of interest so that students can begin to increase their interaction with like minded individuals. Subsequently, projects that students complete will be interdisciplinary, so that students are constantly interacting. Specialized classrooms have been brought into the center, so that the important learning spaces are elevated to the ‘heart of the school’. See plans below!

I had identified several key aspects I wanted to achieve with this design, which I described  to critics at both LPA and our midterm reviews.

  • Pulling the program apart so that sunlight and open space permeates the campus
  • Visual connectivity so that students are aware and interested in projects outside their area of focus
  • Centralized ‘cores’, both academic and social, to foster a common sense of identity
  • An interconnected network of ‘learning hallways’, transitional spaces where students can discuss both academic and social subject matter

The sections below will attempts to demonstrate these ideas through changes in level.

Levels

Specialized learning clusters. Rooms for small gatherings. The fourth floor is encourages inter-student collaborative learning where older students can begin to help younger students with coursework. This also offers a comfortable learning environment for quiet self study.

Common rooms. Storage spaces. Cafés and scenic walks. The third floor is open connects the two separate masses through a platform that sits on the open classrooms below. Students from the different ‘cores’ can unite here in an open atmosphere.

Traditional classrooms. Non-Traditional studio spaces. The second floor is a mix between lecture style rooms, where teacher oriented classes can mete out information. The studios closer to the courtyard are more transparent, proudly demonstration the project based learning that happens inside.

Exhibition spaces. Inner courtyard. The entry level to the academy displays all of its components at a glance of the eye. Open outdoor walkways give entry to all four cores of the school, while studio wings jut out into the heart. At the center is a large exhibition hall for interdisciplinary exhibitions.

Originally, I had hoped that these renderings below would aptly demonstrate how these various spaces were inhabited, and how they come together to form a holistic academy for project based learning. They did not.

"But what did you REALLY learn? What did you REALLY mean to say?"

Asst. Professor Meredith Sattler

"Should you SERIOUSLY be worried about fluorescent lighting panels right now?"

Asst. Professor Dale Clifford

I thought that these renderings could look pretty. I tried to make them look somewhat pretty. I had hoped that the lights would accentuate the translucent wall panels and transparent glass curtain walls, which so critically connect the student learning spaces through visual means?

Unfortunately, architecture professors have an uncanny ability at pointing out the bitter truths. These renderings, though complete with lights, materials, backgrounds, detract from the points that I was trying to make earlier. Visual connectivity isn’t immediately evident. The separated programatic spaces does not demonstrate the openness in comparison to the previous plan, the Blob, like I had hoped. It was just unclear.

The professors suggested that I revisit the first ideas of pedagogy and curriculum we discussed as a studio (Illich and the Third Teacher), and rethink about what I had taken away from the third teacher – lessons such as the importance of sunlight, bringing the outside in, and building in harmony with the gradient of the site. They emphasized my project’s need for an overarching idea that ties its sub-themes together, as well as a more defined progression of the concepts that resulted in the most current iteration.

So I revisited our ideas, our readings, and even our puzzle projects. I sought for further wisdom through other sources, which led me into the world of the Reggio Emilia Approach. This contemporary educational philosophy, which arose from the aftermath of World War II (calling for a new pedagogical method), is based on several key assumptions that explains some of the phenomenon observed at the High Tech Programs:

  • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing;
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore;
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

Through all this, I arrived at one key question – how does space begin to connect? How does spatial qualities connect the academic learning of different subject areas? How does spatial qualities connect the social identity of different students in different concentration and grade groups? How does spatial qualities connect the academy to its site, to its institutional beliefs, and even our culture as a whole? I had to re-explore the renderings.

Though these renderings are still not at a level where I can confidently conclude that they best represent the ideas that I was hoping to achieve through the architecture, they were conducive to some very constructive feedback at LPA architects in San Diego. My critic, Marcus, has been working on Hospitals and Recovery centers for nearly 20 years, and thus was able to offer valuable criticism from an institutional design standpoint. He called for an ambient space of understanding, stating that progress is achieved through self-direction. Spaces should be versatile but inviting, so that the students can begin to tailor each room to his/her own need. They also need to be tactile; interaction between students and students, student and academia, or even between student and the social world can be fostered through interaction between student and architecture. MAKE IT YOURS, like Mark would say. Ample daylighting needs to flood the space, so that the students are constantly connected to the world around them. An immersive but connected environment.

Looking To The Future

So in which direction does the mid-review landmark-hurdle point me towards? Though the things to reconcile about this project seem endless, the advice I received at the mid review (from both peers and professors) and in San Diego allows me to fathom several key things.

  1. The form of the building needs to be revised. Though its not quite ‘ugly’, the complicated masses towards the center is a mass of confusion and needs to more coherently demonstrate a central, elevated learning space.
  2. Interaction between the various concentrations (areas of study) need to be more connected through spatial qualities. Simply describing that there is a conjoined curriculum will not suffice; there needs to be even more spatial architecture qualities that link the students.
  3. The need for more daylighting is evident. Through strategies such as stepbacks and voids, I hope to introduce not only more natural light, but also a bigger variety of space. Atriums anyone?
  4. The graphic output needs to better represent the ideas that I am trying to convey. Writing out theoretical conclusions along the process will also be beneficial and assist me in better communication during presentations. But let’s get through 1, 2, and 3 first.

Looking ahead, there are only but three short weeks before this quarter closes. Through working on these things, I can only hope to resolve a portion of these current questions and issues before new ones arise. But f**king believe in yourself, right?


-XCL