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Teaching About Design

I’ve enjoyed teaching architectural design seminars and studios at various schools, colleges and universities. What follows is a brief summary of my approach to teaching, a seminar called “Seeing Space”.

Introduction: The "Seeing Space" Seminar

“Seeing Space”, the way I see it, is about challenging old preconceptions and developing new concepts about what ‘space’ can be, what it can be made of and how we interact with it in our own personal physical and intellectual processes. This seminar is about heightening and deepening awareness of three-dimensional space. We will also consider space that doesn’t necessarily have and doesn’t need to have, any particular functional program associated with it or rather ‘in it’. We will consider space as a pure experiential or sculptural phenomenon.

Space is also about time, specifically how it can be - literally has to be - revealed and experienced in time. This implies that space without the component of real time is only a two dimensional abstraction. The seminar will stretch the definition of architectural space. In an expanded definition, four-dimensional architectural space/time doesn’t necessarily need walls, floors and ceilings or any matter for that matter.

The seminar will abandon generic distinctions between art and architecture. With this notion we will approach architectural design using the language and spirit of artists. The concept of “Seeing Space” allows one to approach architectural design innocently and subversively.

The seminar will first focus on a number of hands-on exercises to heighten the sensory and mental capacities so as to see space in more refined and subtle ways. These skills will lead to seeing space where before none existed. As the student develops a more alert and focused awareness of his or her surroundings, a greater awareness will emerge of how the individual self and the outside world are tightly bound and interconnected.

One project in the seminar, for example, will be to improve our understanding of color. We will look at it as a physical phenomenon of vibrating energy that enters our retina and continues deeper into the brain as electrical information. We will do a broad search for many variations of a specific color, perhaps RED, from different environments and materials. The reds will be classified and studied and then one of them, with its specific characteristics of ‘redness’ will be used to make space, without any traditional dependence on shape or physical mass.

After studying the five familiar physical senses and using them as tools to design space, we will look at the sixth sense, thought. We will examine intellectual and conceptual ways of perceiving and creating space. These will include symbol and icon, metaphor, choreography, musical notation, fantasy, imagination, memory and chance.

Each week the student will present a design based on a different topic. The presentations can be in any medium - hand drawing, computer drawing or imaging, models, video, dance and musical composition, etc. The class will finally focus on more comprehensive, space making projects using all of our new and heightened sensory and mental awareness. These may include installations within and without the architectural school building.