Design Thinking at the Sam Fox School
This spring I have had the pleasure of assistant teaching the Design Thinking course at the Graduate School of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. This is a research and design exploration class in which students establish the premise, site and program of what will be their capstone studio project (called the Degree Project) in their final semester. Students compile a book that graphically presents their design idea and the data/ thought processes that inspired it. Final books went on display in Givens Hall this week.
There are two aspects of the course that I find most compelling. First, all students are required to locate their project in the St. Louis region. In contrast to other semesters when studio sites range from New York to Shanghai, this encourages them to engage in the issues most relevant to St. Louis and (as simple as it sounds) enables them to physically observe and experience their site. Secondly, students are challenged to overturn any underlying assumptions related to the way we design, the way society operates, and the way we interact with the environment.
The result? A range of unique design ideas representing the particular interests of each student, and suggesting architectures quite unlike those we see in St. Louis today. Here are a few examples of the proposals that came from my group of students:
– The use of temporary architecture in the Loop to experiment with unconventional building programs before investing in more permanent facilities.
– A center for community engagement that seeks to improve Wash U’s relationship with the communities it serves by creating an interface for students and St. Louisans to interact. The intent is to find ways for student initiatives and research to result in tangible and lasting benefits for the city’s neighborhoods.
– The design of a new residential-recreational-industrial-commercial typology that can inhabit abandoned shopping malls and offer a more densified version of suburban life. The proposed site is the Chesterfield Bottoms outlet mall.
– A relaxation center at the Columbia River Bottoms that uses architectural interventions along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to create a variety of “soundscapes” that capitalize on the calming effects of water sounds.
Having graduated from the Wash U program myself one year ago, I have greatly enjoyed this chance to get back on campus and discuss “big ideas” with passionate students excited about the future of architecture and what it can achieve.