Blog: Active Doing and Making – Andy Campbell, Dress for the Weather

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The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Andy Campbell, Director, Dress for the Weather writes about engaging people with the active practice of architecture and design. 

Our involvement in the Test of Change project for Architecture and Design Scotland project comes from our approach in engaging non-architect audiences in the practice of architecture and design. As a practice we do this through typology studies of everyday buildings that are self published in newspaper format as well as guiding city walks through Glasgow and Edinburgh. We enjoy looking at and reading buildings and this interrogation is vital to our design process.

Active Learning

When considering the Test of Change workshops for teachers at Craigbank Primary School in Clackmannanshire we focussed strongly on how teaching pedagogies can link with co-designing new learning environments with teachers.  Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Theory’ and Learning Cycle is something we closely relate to through our own teaching practice in architecture school and seems perfect to introduce as a structure for engaging teachers.

This type of ‘Active Learning’ encourages problem solving and in his blog post  Chris Malcolm discusses the importance of designing schools that promote this way of learning. Here, Chris describes how the ‘information era’ has made information instantly accessible for pupils and as such “skills and originality” are clearly more essential than the retention and recital of information.

Doing and Making

The benefits of ‘doing and making’ rather than only ‘listening and responding’ are a key element to all of our engagement work in architecture. We want teachers and pupils to build their confidence and range of reference when talking about design and more specifically re-design.  Herman Hertzberger (1932), an architect and theorist renowned for bringing the human element to school design and architectural education argues that one’s capacity to solve a design problem can be compared to language in that a person’s “expressive potential” cannot transcend the vocabulary they hold.

With this in mind we introduced ‘ice breaker’ exercises that focussed on dissecting an existing, familiar environment where a common, everyday vocabulary can be used. This reflective observation kick started the learning cycle while also instilling confidence, and new vocabulary, in teachers to think visually and spatially when discussing change in their learning environments.

Familiar Spaces

The conclusions from this study of specific, familiar spaces such as classroom, cloakroom, kitchen and corridor were then placed in a school-wide context with the beginning concepts of how the various changes could co-exist when mapped out on a large-scale plan. This stage was important in terms of abstracting the information gathered (negative and positive) about specific environments into strategic changes across the school.

In another blog post for Architecture and Design Scotland, Paul Stallan describes the impact of technology in “exploding” the classroom typology and his practice’s aim to deconstruct departmental silos commonly found in current primary and secondary schools. To test the possibilities of ‘exploding’ the classroom within existing confines of the current school we made a 1:20 scale model of an existing section of the school. We encouraged teachers to ‘attack’ this model – crudely cutting and reforming elements to allow for more varied configurations that had been identified through earlier discussion.  This resulted in a desire for more types of spaces for learning and there was an interesting debate between the need for this openness and the acoustic and atmospheric definition between each space.

Experimentation

We structured this session by encouraging teachers to synthesise and converge their conclusions from the previous exercises. This experimentation seemed to be highly successful in giving teachers greater confidence to affect change in their environments. They asked to keep the model because they were not yet through with it!

A common theme running between Chris and Paul’s blog post was the term ‘civic’ and it’s relation to ‘wellbeing’.  We believe our methodology for the workshops has a strong ‘civic’ foundation by giving a forum for individual views, processing these through group decision-making and then creating proposals for debate. By creating 1:1 prototype spaces we hope to complete the learning cycle with a concrete experience of the changed environment. Further to this we aim to provide a tool set for teachers to both pass the workshop on to pupils and also to continue future learning cycles that use space and design to encourage problem solving and creativity in education.

 

Andy Campbell, Director, Dress for the Weather

 

Image (detail): Test of Change workshops at Craigbank Primary School

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