Category: Final Reflection

20 Weeks, Oh Man

The thought that keeps running through my head, “I can’t believe this season is ending.” Not only is this 20 week open source learning studio of set class hours blocked as winter and spring courses ending, but our entire third year is ending. It is strange to imagine exploring these concepts without the familiar 18 faces around me all the time. Reflecting on our time together, there were most definitely challenges faced. Most of the challenges proved conceptual. One particularly difficult concept for me to grasp was this cluster. What is the cluster exactly?! Why 150 people?! Where are the history and math classes taught?! It was and still is a stretch for me to conceive of a system where students would absorb all of the fundamentals of high school education in a realm where you are encouraged to invest in whatever you want. When OSL was first described, I pictured students being phenomenal underwater basket weavers but lacking in basic math, history, and english skills by the time they graduate. I am still not exactly sure how these guide teachers would be able to teach/lead these high school students through all the basics and give them freedom to pursue what they want.

One of the conversations that my partner for spring quarter and I discussed was this notion of input and output. After interviewing a graduate from High Tech High, it seemed that she was given tons of freedom within her projects to explore what she wanted to focus on but she did not graduating knowing the quantity the facts that a traditional high schooler would. For her, the project based learning system equipped her with skills of how to solve problems, manage time, research, and network with people but the sheer quantity of understanding of facts about specifics of anatomy, biology, advanced algebra, the Civil War, etc was lacking. What both my partner and I valued from a traditional high school experience was the vast input that we received from the six 50 minute periods of segmented subject learning. I think the output of learning will be greater if the input is greater, if you can pull from many facets of life, subjects, and experiences.

Something that was frustratingly ambiguous and out of our hands for the most part was scheduling and administration. Based on my experience of both High Tech High and e-3 Civic High, administration and how the class is facilitated makes a HUGE difference! While e-3 Civic felt far more designed, High Tech High felt closer to open source. This proved an interested irony as the place less “designed” for such use (High Tech High) felt far more alive than the manicured e-3 Civic where rules seemed to restrict the atmosphere. e-3 Civic v High Tech High

A few times, reviewers asked how an average day would function in terms of class hours, periods, rotation of teachers, etc and I had no idea what to tell them. It was difficult to take a spatial stance but not a curriculum or scheduling one. (Obviously, we had to take somewhat of a curriculum stance on how we organized the interest groups and classrooms, but still, you know what I mean.) Because we are proposing something different than the existing high school mold, I wanted to propose a complete packaged functioning system. BUT I’m only an architecture student, not a formal teacher with years of experience or a principal who has an idea of what works and what doesn’t for orchestrating so many moving parts. I think my voice matters and has value, but there MUST be other voices of expertise that would be contributing to this system, beyond a spatially thinking mind. I found it difficult to work with pieces of the puzzle knowing that some of the other integral pieces are outside of my sphere of influence. I can design this incredible open source learning academy and it could be built and the people could move in and at the end of the day, it’s still in the hands of the occupiers as to how the building will be used.

For a while, it was strange to consider what type of students would be in this high school. Questions I had and still have are how this system helps all students. What about the kids who are generally unmotivated? I easily see the overachieving, motivated students excelling and thriving in this project based learning system but what about the average to low motivated high schooler? I still don’t know. I chose to design for the motivated but I’m not sure how the kids who aren’t the overachievers would thrive unless they became passionate about something.

Everything seemed to tie back to “How is this a spatial question?”


The most challenging part of this two quarter study on educational spaces for me was to find a strong enough concept to weave into a spatial experience and how to balance this with the site conditions. The concept of open source in which I see it is a system that is constantly evolving through given inputs as did my own concept of how to tackle this design problem.  My first attempt focused on the exchange of information through a forced intersection of circulation, a collision of ideas. My second concept focused on a process of information gathering, a period of a synthesis of these ideas, and lastly spaces provided to activate the learning system by sharing finished products. The second touched on the idea that transparency of work where students can see what the others are doing and this then transferred into the final concept. In the final concept, Cole and I put more focus on the difference of learning styles and whether the spaces focused on individual identity or group identity or both. We decided to splice these two together with a commons that provided that that horizontal and vertical transparency where students can see the others at work and peak curiosity.  We also provided places where groups of students can express their identity through the designing of walls with the intention of sharing will the other students or visitors. So to sum it all up, in the first quarter where I was working by myself I focused on two possibilities, a student sharing with a student, and a student sharing with a group. For the second quarter, working with another person, we began to think of more interactions where it can be a small group sharing with another group or the whole school sharing with the outside community. I believe by just having that other person to work with helped me think outside of the individual scale…

Another difficult and nagging topic was determining what space should be user defined and what space should be architecturally defined.  We both agreed that the spaces should want to be used in the first place, that is making them pleasant to be in with natural light and natural ventilation except we let the given program determine sizes of spaces instead of imparting our own spaces on the program. We thought it important for the student to feel ownership of the space so we created a vertical separation of work spaces and study spaces and hang out spaces and spaces that they can impart their own identity onto.  I believe that ownership of space is what creates that vibrancy, that life in a school.  Is this an institution that I must conform to, or a place of learning that we are all apart of? I believe that all the schools we visited fell into these two categories…


It almost feels like we experienced winter quarter and spring quarter in two different lifetimes. Winter quarter was filled with challenges and roadblocks and asking big philosophical questions about the role of architecture and our educational system. What’s the role of the designer in Open Source? How is it a spatial problem? Standards vs. standardization? Even though we talked about Open Source endlessly throughout winter quarter and materialized our conversations/interpretations into individual projects, most of us didn’t grasp Open Source Learning on a human level. Because we weren’t experiencing it ourselves. Now looking back, it seems ironic and ridiculous that we tried to answer all our questions as individuals, rather than bonding together in studio and creating our own open source environment.

Spring quarter was a whole other animal, but this time we were all in it together. Studio culture aside, there was one main difference between the two quarters. In winter we asked a lot of big, headache-inducing questions. But in spring, we finally channeled those questions into the architecture.

How can we use space to share knowledge?

Courtney and I had a pretty clear direction all quarter, and we tried to answer this question through each of our design decisions. But this created a whole different challenge. Now that we were thinking spatially (rather than just philosophically), the question became: how can we best represent our ideas through drawings, models and diagrams? What makes a successful drawing/model/diagram? How can we produce visual representation that speaks for itself? These questions led to our “just f***ing do it” attitude that made us work through every diagram and drawing over and over again. Constantly producing was a challenge in itself but I think it helped us answer the three questions above better than we could have in any previous studios.

Before this studio, the only experience I had with interiors was through floor plans. And even then, I didn’t truly consider circulation or even think to define spaces by furniture instead of just labeling each room. My concepts always centered around the building form, rather than the interior function (sorry for the cliché but it’s too true). I don’t think I ever thought about the building occupants and how spaces function on a human level. Which, now as I’m writing this, makes me question what I was trying to achieve with my projects up until this point. Buildings aren’t giant sculptures with extruded floorplans shoved inside. I think the biggest discovery I made in this studio is how to design through the interior perspective. Project Titan was the perfect way to shift our thinking into small scale human experiences, and it carried all the way through to the day in the life diagrams (which I think were the most successful products of our studio). It makes me happy that Courtney and I presented our final project concept by pointing to our day in the life diagram, rather than just our building form diagram.

Unsurprisingly, with these discoveries came curiosity. In what ways can design enhance the human experience/comfort/happiness? How can we visually represent the human experience to help tell a building’s story? How can we continue to blur the lines between interior and exterior, to help create one holistic building experience?

I have no doubt that all the questions, discoveries, challenges, epiphanies, and adventures from our clusterfuck of a studio will remain with us and continue to help us evolve as designers.

Closing the Open Source Studio

Over the passed 20 weeks everyone in this studio has worked on two open source learning academies, reviewed countless others, and even visited some leading examples in the open source teaching field (UNO, E3Civic, High Tech High, etc.) Although visiting these schools was extremely helpful, each school had its own unique twist on the system. Personally seeing each organization allowed me to compare & contrast and ultimately attain a hybrid idea of open source learning.

What were the primary challenges you faced in designing for open source learning environments?


The hardest thing for me throughout the quarter was the constant back and forth in scale. Because of the complex program, we had to figure out how all these individual spaces worked architecturally and then link these ideas together as a whole. The building size itself was larger than I had ever worked with but it presented a problem that required multiple angles of thought, which got fulfilled by our class discussions.

The New Project

Taking over someone else project was a completely different experience since we started with a project that was  (in our eyes) fully developed, or at least as far as we’d ever taken it.  On top of that we got partnered up and at first this was a pretty scary idea, all quarter long for 3 integrated classes. The team project therefor also completely changed the way studio, and architectural design worked. Overall it was a very lesson filled experience since having to both agree on an entire project is a long process of compromising and redesigning.

The Family Table

Looking back at the quarter I think the best way to describe open source learning is through our family table. Whenever we did some sort of work, or came back from a lecture we would come together around the central table. At the start of the winter quarter coming together meant putting up our work and hoping it was up to par, dreading the idea of getting called on as a poor example. But as the 20 weeks evolved the table brought us closer as peers, reviewers, future architects, and friends and the discussions evolved from the required topics to the farthest tangents that still had a significant influence on the open source topic. The meetings at the start of class evolved in a sharing of ideas that ultimately help us all develop models and diagrams we had never done before. In my mind if we want our education to evolve, we need to move from a lecture based style of teaching to a discussion based style of teaching. So if I’m left with any questions, theres only one:

“Why doesn’t everybody have a family table?”

Concluding the Open Source Studio..

What were the primary challenges you faced in designing for Open Source Learning environments?

IMG_5396 IMG_5169 IMG_5413 IMG_5411

Over the past two quarters the Open Source Learning studio has challenged me to approach architectural design from angles I may have not explored prior. In an effort to create learning spaces like the precedents we visited in San Diego and Chicago (shown above) I found a few things particularly challenging:

Interior approach..

Is it a furniture problem or is it an architecture problem? This was a constant question in the studio starting with Project Titan in the winter. While it was a short design charrette, this was my first interiors project and challenged me to really dive into the experience and utility of a space. When switching scales from the small library to the Open Source Learning High School it became difficult to put this level of thought and detail into the entire projects interior.

Switching Projects..

Without the understanding of a project from developing it over winter quarter, spring quarter began as a struggle. Instead of developing off of what we understood from winter, we had to grasp and agree upon the concept and direction before we could continue into design development. Spending a few weeks of spring quarter in schematic design made later design development feel a little rushed.

Working with a partner..

Erik and I have vastly different approaches to design. He likes to work in mathematical systems and apply them across the board to create the sectional and planar relationships he desires. Myself I prefer to start with a concept and freely design to create the adjacencies in program and experience of the project. More so, we are both stubborn in our ways and this led to slow progress towards a final design. With that said, I believe working with a partner was a great experience, I was able to pick up a new perspective on design and a few digital tools and tricks from working with Erik on Rhino and Grasshopper.

Tell your story..

The most challenging and largest lesson learned was to evaluate the project and really develop what it is that will support your concept. Over the 20 weeks we have questioned the idea of mandatory or required in school and I have come to believe that student led projects may benefit from loose guidelines opposed to strict requirements. Moving on from the open source learning studio I will worry less about completing a check list of deliverables and worry more about how my presentation TELLS MY STORY.

Are there any “big questions” that you are leaving this studio with?

From day one you must past one test to get onto the next. To be successful you are rewarded for following and completing required activities. Requirements and standards have become the standard of education, but what is the future of education? While there are obvious flaws in the monotony of the lecture and test format what is the solution? Is there a universal solution or an adaptable alternative? HOW DO WE DROP STANDARDS WITHOUT CREATING ANARCHY IN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?

With todays emphasis on standardization the SAT, Star Test, scantrons; the benefits of the standard way of teaching towards the test can be successful in getting students to that next step, the next test, the next grade, the next school. On this educational path, if you are dedicated you will learn, but are you learning what you need to be successful in the real world?

The Open Source Learning Academy and similar 21st century schools like High Tech High and E3 Civic are emphasizing a curriculum that prepares a student with the skills necessary to be successful in the real world. In the project based learning students get experience in skills they can use beyond the next test. However, when working towards the ultimate goal of college, will these students be as prepared as a student that had a traditional education? Without application of 21st century teaching techniques at all areas of academia how will students have equal opportunity to advance to receive a college degree?

Final Reflection: What were your challenges in designing for Open Source Learning?

Learn-by-doing is often thought to be demonstrated through the things we make, but in fact, reflection is a critical aspect of learning by doing.  We have done / seen / discussed an extraordinary amount over the last 20 weeks, it seems much much longer than this.  In this last and final blog post, I am asking each of you – and I will do the same – to reflect on the last 20 weeks through the following question:

What were the primary challenges you faced in designing for Open Source Learning environments?

Challenges can be positive / negative.  Challenges can be adventures, curiosities, as well as real road blocks you faced.  Most especially, challenges can be nagging questions that are present in your mind but still not resolved.

Please look back on this 20 week experience, and use the blog as a space to share your knowledge, linking back (literally with links in the post) to key moments or things said, as well as the work of the studio (whether yours or others) that connected with you.  Please do connect these reflective thoughts with images / artifacts to help make visible what these challenges were.

And lastly, while answers are nice, it is really the questions that drive us:

Are there any “big questions” that you are leaving this studio with?

Please do not reply to this post with comments as your answers, but rather, create a new reflective summary post answering these questions.