Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Models from our in class charrette this week

This week I revisited a favorite studio class experiment, having student’s trade projects for a day.  Over the past few years, I have experimented with variations on this exercise, where students complete a studio class charrette working on a project that is not their own.  The students don’t always love this activity, as they would probably prefer to work on their own design issues, but his exercise has several goals and positive outcomes

  1. First, I find this is a good exercise for the first class back after spring break.  Students often return from the break with a kind of post break sluggishness, and this time intensive class charrette gets them back into a productive studio class, encouraging the creative energy to flow again.  If nothing else, this activity is worth doing for this one aspect alone.
  2. In a professional environment, it is not that uncommon to find projects passed around within design firms.  You might inherit a project started by a colleague, and be responsible for shepherding the design through the next phase of the process.  So this is a valuable future professional skill to have.  
  3. More importantly, this is an excellent exercise to shake things up in the studio.  I want the students to see this design project from an entirely different perspective.  By forcing students to work on the project through the lens of another students’ work, I hope to help them challenge their own inherent biases that they have accumulated by this point in the semester.  It is my hope that now, when they return to their own work, they will have a new sense of openness to new possibilities, and will see new potentials in their own work, having spent a class living in someone else’s project.
  4. Completing this exercise as a charrette, with limited studio time to work, also has its advantages.  One positive is that the tight deadline keeps students from over thinking the exercise.  It is not that I am advocating for a thoughtless design process, but sometimes students have a tendency to get stuck over analyzing the problem, and the intensive nature of this exercise promotes a more intuitive approach to decision-making.
  5. This exercise is also an opportunity to work on students critique skills.  By having the class trade design projects, I am asking them to critique a peer’s work through the design changes that they propose.  It is important, and I stress this, that they not design this new project the way they would do it – rather, I ask them to help their colleague by developing the work based on their peers design intents.  This means identifying what is working well about the project, and trying to amplify these successes.  It means identifying areas that are not working well, and trying to edit these deficiencies.  It also means suggesting variations and alternatives, in an attempt to clarify and strengthen the work that has already been started.  It does not mean simply saying ‘now how would I do this?’.  By trading projects, the intent is to have students assume the role of the critic or instructor, and help each other to develop and strengthen the work by backing away from their own authorship of the project. 

In this exercise, students had 90 minutes to create a study model.  This model was to develop, critique, and suggest design alternatives, with the goal of helping each other to develop the work. 

Some years this activity works better than others, as the class dynamic plays a part in the successfulness of the activity.  Students need to buy into the exercise to make it most meaningful.

This year, the post charrettte conversations amongst the students, where they debriefed their partner on the design proposals, seemed to be a rich a fruitful conversation.  I am encouraged that the class this year may have received meaningful suggestions about their work through this studio experiment.  

If nothing else, this got the studio moving again, and forced students to consider the project through a new lens.