Studio Reports

These Studio Reports are the result of a call to collect current coursework from any level of the curriculum, in any program, on any topic—studio, seminar, or lecture; design or research; foreign or domestic study. The aim is to explore the diversity of current syllabi and pedagogies, share curricular priorities, and track emerging patterns of interests and topics across our community. Visit Submit Resources to contribute to this growing list.

Boston Architectural College

Thesis Course Sequence: TS7100/TS7229 Thesis Prep Studio/Research and Writing + TS 7610 Distance Thesis 1/ TS 7615 Distance Thesis 2
Michael Wolfson and Denise Dea

The Thesis Curriculum in the Distance M.Arch program at the Boston Architectural College spans three courses over three semesters: Thesis Prep, Thesis 1 and Thesis II.  Our program is different from other M.Arch programs in that our virtual studio environment integrates aspects of traditional “face-to-face” studios, as well as some aspects of on-line programs.  We have drawn heavily on the emerging body of knowledge that spans academic disciplines in regards to the mechanisms of on-line learning.  In our curriculum, design becomes an ideal vehicle for testing, making, and thinking on-line because it allows students to actively engage in learning that transforms the passive activities of reading or responding to digital content into a synthesized form that changes a student’s relationship to the academic content.

The pedagogy encapsulated by our thesis course has a dual emphasis: (1) on the physical act of making and (2) the more cerebral aspects of research and writing. There is nothing new to the mind/body dualism within architecture. However, distance learning requires that we constantly challenge students to test their ideas physically in order to engage and remain in dialogue with their advisors and peers. At the very core of our pedagogy is Making + Thinking = Dialogue.

The emphasis on making artifacts comes out of a direct need for students to create an individual process that is clearly anchored in material reality.  By focusing on design, we push them to demonstrate in form making and therefore, ground and contextualize the spatial possibilities they imagine.  Pointing to a model or drawing suddenly creates a realistic immediacy to the dialogue.  The challenge is to carefully construct a series of sketch problems that elucidate the issues for students while opening the door to further research.

Making as an initial output of the conceptual idea is paramount to methods of inquiry. This is encouraged at many levels through a variety of modes: drawing, model and words. We recognize that there are different kinds of drawings and models that serve a variety of purposes. Diagrams can convey abstract or partially developed ideas and values, as well as having an analytic or interpretive purpose. Representations such as perspectives, collages or sketches can reveal many aspects of the qualities of space. Models that exhibit exquisiteness in quality of “craft in process” are favored over finely finished ones. In general, sectional spatial relationships are favored over plan or program development. Words and text have a specialized function within the pedagogy – they can be used as a supplement to drawings and models, because often, they fall short of being able to express the full intention of the designer. Therefore, text is used as a supplement to the process of making. It is intended that words can take a position of inquiry, annotation, argument or documentation – all important and crucial aspects within the thesis process. Modulation of these working methods are balanced through careful discussion with each individual student through the development of a series sketch problems and assignments.

The NewSchool

Interactive façade of a children’s toy magic shop

AR331/AR731 Environmental Psychology
DAK Kopec, Ph.D., CHES, CMI 

At NewSchool of Architecture & Design (NSAD) AR331 and AR731 Environmental Psychology is a required course for students receiving the B.Arch. and M.Arch. Environmental Psychology fits into the NSAD curriculum by addressing human and behavioral responses to the built environment. It covers diverse topics related to architecture and design such as human developmental and life span changes, specific design elements that influence individual, group, and societal perceptions and cognitions, and the effects of diseases and disabilities on the interpretation of and interaction with space.

Because of the diversity found within humanity and the ways in which we interact with the environment, this is much to be discussed. To maximize the use of class time, students are broken into groups of 2 or 3 and then given a situation that relates to a human condition. This is then applied to the design of a specific building type. One completed, the students present their situation and design solution to the class. This process thus allows for myriad of diverse topics and situations to be introduced to the entire class in a more meaningful way.

The situation highlighted here was the development of an interactive exterior for a toy store along one of America’s main streets. Students were required to develop a design that would be attractive and enticing to multiple population groups (toddlers, children, and teens). In addition, specific design considerations included: the effects of weather on the design, maintenance of public safety, and methods to minimize vandalism. The group also had to consider the building’s position and its environmental context from a perceptual perspective.

This is only one of over 35 situations from which students could select. Other assignments include, but are not limited to, the development of a bakery that utilized each of the Gestalt principles, methods to reduce the production of adrenaline and prevent the onset of fight or flight responses while escaping a burning building, the design of a preschool based on Kaplan and Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory, and the development of a fun house that causes flicker vertigo, stimulation of lateral inhibitions, sensory overload, as well as other perceptual factors.

Project grading is determined by peer evaluations, in which all students are required to complete an evaluation form on each project. The evaluation form asks questions intended to assess: degree of innovation, the use of supporting research for the design solution, aesthetic qualities of the presentation, spelling, grammar, and formatting, ability to keep the presentation to ten minutes, durability of the prototype, and overall impression of the presentation and prototype. All of the evaluations are compiled and aggregated. The final results along with comments are then given back to the each group. As the instructor, I take notes on shortcomings identified in the projects, such as health and safety concerns, inaccurate interpretations of research, or the overgeneralization of research. I then develop a lecture on those points, which I present to the class at the next meeting.

Washington University in St. Louis

“Swift” – Cahyo Candrawan, Pierre Hoppenot, and Evan Sokofsky, Spring 2010

A46 ARCH 336C Sec 01 Biomimicry: Towards a Sustainable Design
Catalina Freixas, Senior Lecturer 

Since Bruce Lindsey’s appointment as dean in September 2006, Washington University in St. Louis has been committed to develop a curriculum based on design with roots in sustainability and technology.

Biomimicry involves the study of nature’s design and processes as a tool to bring solutions to architectural problems that can push technology forward while helping us minimize our environmental impact. The course encourages the research and study of the structure, function, and movement of biological systems as models for the design and engineering of buildings. Students select a natural process and investigate its components, its connections and physical movement through a series of diagrams. They are asked to question: What are the defining characteristics? How do they affect its performance abilities? What natural process allows this organism to be kinetic? Are there alternative solutions? How does it affect its community or ecosystem? What happens at a macro scale? What happens at a micro scale? Through systematic dissection and documentation, students investigate the components and connections of the particular natural process in terms of its mechanical performance at a macro and micro scale. They are asked to question: What is surface vs. what is structure? What is muscle vs. what is bone? What is rigid vs. what is flexible? How do components and connections generate specific movements? They produce physical and digital models as simulations of the mechanical performance and form of the initial study. They are asked to question: How does this organism’s mechanical performance help an ecosystem? What is its main purpose? Finally they are asked to propagate their initial study to create a tectonic surface or spatial system that can respond to an architectural problem. The problem and the solution are related to the biological system within an ecosystem. Physical models at full scale, animations and diagrams help the students present their work to a panel of critics at their final presentation.

Biomimicry engages learning outcomes from other sustainability related seminars at the Sam Fox School offering design answers. The seminar is presented as a collaborative studio that welcomes students from disciplines such as Biology, Engineering, and Architecture, among others.

The course is structured through a series of lectures that introduced the students to the assignments. Among the guest lecturers, Taryn Mead, from the Biomimicry Guild, introduces the students to Nature as a model, measure, and mentor. In addition to the lectures, students will want to continually peruse outside sources for ideas and opinions on the course discussions and assignment. Among the sources that can yield useful information, the course lists material as Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus, Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth by Wes Jackson, Designing With nature: The Ecological Basis for Architectural Design by Ken Yeang, and Farming in Nature’s Image: An Ecological Approach to Agriculture by Judith D. Soule and Jon K. Piper.

Bowling Green State University

ARCH 6210, Graduate Design Studio 1 (Download PDF
Salim Elwazani, PhD, AIA 

This course deals with architectural programming and pre-design activities for a multi-use scheme on a three blocks in Toledo Uptown District with a focus on housing typologies and building design resolutions. Being a brainchild of a partnership of the Bowling Green State University Department of Architecture and Environmental Design Department with the Toledo Uptown Association and the Toledo Design Center, the project enhances the opportunity for students to engage in client/users programming and in a myriad of pre-design studies, all in alignment with the course objectives and learning outcomes.

Essay Intent
Within the context of Fall Semester 2015, this essay describes the interplay of course design attributes in developing the course plan (syllabus) with a particular reference to defining learning outcomes and assessment of the defined learning outcomes. This 6 credit hours course plan encompassed the following phases of action: a) isolating the NAAB Student Performance Criteria (SPC) allocated for the course, b) identifying course areas of content, c) extracting course purpose (goal, objectives, sub-objectives), d) developing learning outcomes, and e) devising instructional strategies (projects, activities, etc. ).

Juxtaposing Purpose and Learning Outcome resulted in the dual interplay depicted in the diagram below, left.

Instructional Strategies & Activities
The scope and complexity of the design problem dictated a focus on one project for the 15-week semester. The project location was scouted and documented by students directly on-site. A myriad of verbal, graphic, and photographic data were extracted from the 2013 Uptown Toledo Plan, City of Toledo data hub, and other sources. In line of requirements for the partnership described above an initiative for a “Project Advisory Committee” emerged. This seven-member committee representing primarily the Uptown community emerged to meet with students to discuss work progress and respond to students inquiries. Members of this committee consummated two advising meeting events, but also participated in the three formal design reviews throughout the semester. The final design review was conducted at the premises of the Toledo Design Center in Downtown Toledo permitting wider participation of the intended audience. The two Advisory Committee meetings and the three formal design reviews included architects and planners.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes
Students’ submissions and presentations in the design reviews reflect student learning. However, student learning assessment for this course reached out to more holistic and contextual strategies to “measure” the learning. The table below defines six strategies (also depicted in diagram above, right), explains the timing and frequency of activating the strategies, and most importantly, delineates what was achieved from applying each strategy.

Concluding Remarks
This essay shows that the course plan has capitalized on the interplay of different course design attributes leading, in the end, to satisfying level of student learning. Clear understanding of individual attributes (NAAB SPC, Course Content, Purpose, Learning Outcomes, and Instructional Strategies) and comprehension of the dual-collective relationship of these attributes are bases for arriving at credible assessment of learning outcomes.


Kendall Nicholson
Director of Research + Information