October 18, 2021

Design Thinking in the Lived Environment: the New 2310 Studio

The new 2310 Seeing and Making hopes to break down disciplinary barriers between the sections and promote interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration.

2310 Seeing and Making, the required first-year studio for all undergraduate architecture and landscape architecture students is the gateway and foundation to those programs. Now it has been re-imagined from the ground up in collaboration with the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning.

We spoke with instructors Andrew Cruse and Paula Meijerink about the new course, breaking down disciplinary barriers between the sections, and how expanding access to and success in the studio changes the whole school.

As you began developing 2310: Seeing and Making, you consulted with the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning at Ohio State. Can you describe why you approached them for the collaboration and what some of their insights and recommendations were?

Meijerink: The Drake Institute guided us through a reverse design process by which we would start with course objectives that are expressed in learning outcomes, then develop how these could be expressed in exercises, which is then followed by choreographing these in a sequence during the academic semester. This process ends with developing lecture content.

The second component we examined was the transformation of the lecture format. During our lectures at Stillman Hall for 115+ students, we are experimenting with flipping the classroom and other forms of active learning. This process re-contextualizes the role of the professor as an authoritative figure to a kind of master of ceremonies that choreographs a form of collaboration around critical subjects; not only between Andrew and me but also with the instructors, GTAs, and the students. We are in the process of devising methods for all students to speak in class, collaborate, and form insightful opinions that they can share collectively.

Cruse: The reverse design process itself closely mirrors Bloom’s Taxonomy of Critical Thinking—a series of stages in the learning process. It starts with observing and understanding, then moves to analyzing and evaluating, and ends with creating. These steps closely mirror the studio design process. The course projects are scaffolded in terms of content and approach, allowing students to progress through this hierarchy. Scaffolding refers to a series of projects where a concept or skill introduced in an early exercise is used again in a later exercise to reinforce the ideas/skills as well as to develop them.

Generally, this has led to more, shorter projects in the class. These are high repetition and low stakes projects so students get used to iterating design options and learning from their failures, rather than a “once-and-done” approach. This approach to learning and class projects is new for many of the students, who often put a lot of pressure on themselves to do work perfectly the first time.

We highly recommend the Drake Institute Course Design Institute to anyone who wants to improve their teaching and has the necessary amount of time to invest in doing so.

Students in 2310 use an iPad at a review

2310 has long been the introduction to both the landscape and architecture majors. Can you talk about how your revised 2310 is different from previous versions of the course?

Meijerink: I don't see this 2310 as a revision of the previous course; it is a wholly new, autonomous course. We have not conceptualized this course in the context of its past, rather, we started from scratch by considering its ideal content and how it could reflect our school as related disciplines.

Ultimately, our goal is to introduce students to design thinking; that through careful observation, analysis, and creative responses, students can interact with the lived environment. This approach is beneficial not only for students in landscape architecture, architecture, and city and regional planning but also for students in any discipline.

Cruse: To our knowledge, this is the first Knowlton studio course with a lecture component. We use the lecture to collectively discuss work examples from the students, have the class interact as a whole, and describe and demonstrate new projects and skills. It is not a lecture as much as a combination of brief conceptual explanations, Bob Ross-like demonstrations, gameshow interactions, and a forum for GTAs and lecturers to highlight real-life aspects of their academic and professional careers relevant to course content. Their personal experiences are closer to what the students may experience than ours are.

Our projects focus on teaching students basic design skills that are applicable to both landscape and architecture. These include sketching, orthographic drawing (plan and section), diagramming, ‘impressionistic’ representation, understanding site and maps, model making, and projectively designing in the built environment.

How to teach digital skills in an introductory studio is a perennial question. Our approach focuses on teaching skills that are applicable to both digital and manual workflows rather than teaching specific software. These broadly applicable skills include line weights, layers, color, and texture.

Students in 2310 during review

The course syllabus says in part: “This course introduces students to the role of design thinking in the lived environment...The term lived environment celebrates the entanglements of natural and artificial worlds. It recognizes continuity and connection between the cultural and the ecological, the built and the found, the visible and invisible.” Can you talk about how you are using “lived environment”?

Meijerink: The lived environment is an outstanding term that describes the world around us in non-binary and inclusive terms. To not think of architecture and landscape architecture in separate terms, rather, to think about the lived environment in all its physical, messy, complex aspects that have landscape architectural and architectural components, including those that are social, economic, political, etc.

In the past, we used the phrase ‘built environment,’ but this neglects the role of nature, so usually, a second phrase was used—the ‘natural environment,’ which allows for connections with architecture and landscape architecture. These terminologies confirm a binary understanding of our surroundings which does not reflect current political and social considerations. The phrase ‘lived environment’ is much better: it does not separate disciplines, but rather incorporates many; it includes a social aspect—people—and it is infinitely scalable. As an inclusive term, it reflects our priorities.

Cruse: Generally, the course focuses on teaching students design thinking skills in the lived environment that apply to both professions. Design thinking skills range from close observation and analysis to responsible speculation and creation. The phrase ‘lived environment’ recognizes continuity and connection between the cultural and the ecological, the built and the found, and the visible and the invisible. It productively blurs disciplinary distinction between architecture and landscape while recognizing that each has unique and specialized areas of expertise. We have developed the course with urban and larger scale issues in mind as well, and we hope that students interested in City and Regional Planning will consider taking this course. That way it can truly become a Knowlton-wide course.

Students in 2310

As you say, your pedagogical framework and methodology attempt to break down disciplinary barriers. Can you comment on the studio’s goal to prepare students to think in an interdisciplinary way?

Meijerink: We foster a collaborative environment where students discuss and work in teams, addressing which topics they wish to undertake and how to represent them. We also help them articulate which aspects of the lived environment might be better suited to certain disciplines.

Cruse: The course as we designed it is fundamentally interdisciplinary—in its content, in its projects, in its teaching staff, and its co-teaching methods. What makes it unique in the Knowlton studio curriculum is this collaborative approach. Rather than dividing the course in half and having landscape teach half and architecture teach the other half, Paula and I emphasize shared content in the materials we present and in the exercises we employ all the while pointing to disciplinary specificity that distinguishes the two professions.

And it's not just disciplinary boundaries at Knowlton that we're seeking to make more porous. We've intentionally designed the course to be widely applicable and to teach skills that could be used by anyone. We are planning to apply for GE (General Education) status for the course. Although the course is the introduction studio for future architecture and landscape majors, we think the skills the course teaches—creatively turning close observation of the lived environment into actionable information—are useful to students in other colleges and majors.