From Models to Prototypes – Exploring Digital Continuity and
Collaboration through the Parametric Design of a Pavilion
The design studio was set up as a semester long, masters level collaborative design studio module which aimed to:
- investigate and explore various applications of parametric design and digital production technologies in Architecture, in a collaborative design setting.
- to explore methods and tools related to innovative topics of the architectural discipline.
- to explore translating computer generated design into built architectural objects through digital fabrication.
- to critically understand and appreciate the importance of the process on the creation of the architectural product
The brief comprised of the design, development and production of a temporary Pavilion through an “informed design” process. Informed design emphasized the process of gathering, selecting, embedding and sharing “design information”. In this particular context, the design information related to a range of issues such as day-lighting, energy use, structural stability, local climate conditions. Using parametric design tools, we aimed to optimize and selectively share, control and parametrically link such information to the evolution of the product geometry.
The studio comprised of 33 students, coming from varying professional and educational backgrounds (related to design and construction); such as Architecture, Building Surveying, Architectural Technology, Product Design, Civil Engineering, etc.
One of the challenges we faced throughout the studio was to embed a rather complex computational design challenge in a design studio module with very specific learning outcomes, with students who have very little or no prior knowledge of computational design and no prior experience with parametric design tools, within a 15 credit module, with only 2 hours contact time per week. Therefore we had to come up with a rather innovative pedagogical approach to make sure to comply with the predefined learning outcomes, and at the same time to deliver some of the necessary theoretical knowledge, concepts and practical skills to the students so that they could feel confident to tackle the design challenge. Another issue we needed to consider carefully was the fact that a majority of the students were international students coming from various different educational backgrounds (e.g. architecture, engineering design, interior design) and levels of familiarity and interests in the wider spectrum of design (e.g. technical, theoretical, management).
Our main response to tackle these pedagogical challenges was, firstly, through the preparation of the brief, and secondly, through a rather experimental approach we attained in the structuring, distribution and management of the distinct dimensions of learning – individual, collaborative, distributed and guided - in the context of a highly technology-mediated design studio. On the distributed level, creative, technical and intellectual expertise were distributed to provide support and inspiration for students engaged in a group design project (through social media, and other informal learning platforms). On the individual level, students were encouraged to steer their own learning process and become self-aware of their own learning experiences. The guidance was provided by the tutors acting as “curators” instead of “instructors”.
In other words, instead of dispensing knowledge, we aimed to create spaces where students could build, explore and connect different knowledge elements and skill sets. In this regard, our role was to provide interpretation, direction, provocation and guidance as and when necessary. For example, students were expected to follow the online video tutorials of Rhinoceros and Grasshopper (provided on the course web-site) as part of their individual learning, at the pace and order suggested by the tutors, at the beginning of the semester. The first few weeks were front-loaded with theoretical lectures and seminars where all students were engaged in highly interactive discussions on the subject matter to form the foundational intellectual basis that was deemed minimum to build before they got engaged in any tool-driven design activity.
Although this studio module could be considered as a typical “parametric design studio”, in terms of its content and the design methodology advocated throughout the semester; we deliberately avoided too much emphasis on the “tool” aspect in the formulation of the brief; but rather put the emphasis on an “informed” design process. Therefore, the parametric design process had been introduced as a means (instead of an end) in identifying, selecting, optimizing, selectively sharing, controlling and linking parameters (information) in the design of a pavilion. The design, development and production of the pavilion had been emphasized as a collaborative design task, to be conducted as a team-work, with team members who were assigned both individual and group tasks for this particular design assignment. The design teams were composed of 3 members, acting as;
1) Design Architect,
2) Manufacturing and Sustainability Consultant,
3) Knowledge and Communication Manager.
Instead of starting the task of pavilion design by solving “design problems” imposed by the instructors (through the brief); the students were expected to define cross-disciplinary challenges and possible problems, collaboratively, and then try to bring innovative solutions through associative and parametric modelling (thinking). The rationale behind this was that in addition to the theory and knowledge acquired through formal lectures, i.e., know-what and know-how, group-design learning experience would enable the students to identify cross-disciplinary objectives and thereby develop know-why knowledge in a situated context.
In addition to the design task, the second part of the assignment focused on the creation, representation and sharing of new design knowledge by the students. Each design group were asked to create an online digital portfolio (embedded into Blackboard and set as wiki-sites for each individual group) to manage, coordinate and document their team interaction during the life-cycle of the design process. The digital portfolios of each group were composed of both individual and team input. The students were required to use multi-modal representations, to articulate both the knowledge they have acquired throughout the “collaborative” design process and the relationship of this knowledge to the evolution of the design artefact. In other words, the use of the digital porfolios were not only limited to the “display” of the design artefact/information produced, but were also utilized to “personalize, share, reflect and display what they (each group) have learned and produced collectively. Therefore, the learned elements (knowledge) displayed in the digital portfolios were required to be structured and interlinked in such a way that different learned elements could be compiled, organized, represented and shared selectively. At key times during the semester, students were asked to share their wikis in conversations with their tutors and peers.
At the end of the semester, one of the designs had been picked and produced in 1:1 scale in the campus.
By just looking at the final product, it’s practically impossible to be able to read the knowledge used/produced during the design process, however, the wiki site gives a detailed account of this process.
We are currently considering to use these wikis to build a knowledge repository to be used and shared in similar design studios; the content of which will be collectively developed and shared by its users.