DISRUPTING THE FEEDBACK LOOP: RETHINKING THE CONTEMPORARY SCHOOL
In its broadest sense, this research investigates how one should design the physical environment for the contemporary subject of the Digital Era. The ease and immediacy with which one can access the preponderance of information available through digital and electronic media has complicated the development and understanding of self-identity in popular culture, and by correlation how one engages with society. The significance of the public institution as a center for information exchange and civic engagement has diminished in favor of new media , which has become a staple at home and is trending increasingly mobile.
While architectural investigations of the past two decades contemplate the formal possibilities of digital technology and the affects of new media on physical objects, few architectural proposals consider how the proliferation of these media and technologies directly affect the subject in society. This project rethinks the design of the contemporary upper school as a model for considering the affects of new media on individual and community interaction, the dissemination of information and the evolution (dissolution?) of public institutions.
This thesis challenges contemporary formulations of identity and societal engagement in an age increasingly dominated by the proliferation of digital and electronic information and interaction through the proposition of an architecture which fosters critical awareness of the (re)presentations of actuality in new media and directs critical engagement between the new subject of the digital era and the public sphere.
My complete thesis preparation document can be viewed here: Rethinking the Contemporary School
- Scheme Development Screenshots
- Connecting the Individual to the Collective
- DC School Program Distribution
- Design Strategies
- Concept Plans - Programming
- Design Strategy: Pixelation
- Active Facade: Empowering Students
- Concept Model Pics
- Concept: Reality TV Reconstructed
- An Alternative Plan: School Design Concept: Screen...
- An Alternative Plan: School Design Concept
- H-Street Development Plans
- The Role of the Architect
- The School Feedback Loop
- Digital Feedback
- The Individual and the Internet
- The Connected World
- The MacArthur Foundation Study: Digital Youth Proj...
- Schools and Neighborhood Development Policies
- Washington DC public school failure and reform
- ▼ March (20)
Friday, March 20, 2009
Circulation space makes up close to 35% of the built space in typical DC schools. By breaking the school down into components, programs can be distributed more efficiently and drastically reduce the amount of circulation - the urban space itself becomes the main circulation arteries. The space gained from decreased circulation can be re-configured for more resources such as libraries and other media centers.
Flexible small and large group breakout space can be located next to traditional classroom spaces and support a more self-directed, creative learning environment.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
In order to ensure security in a decentralized school with varying degrees of public and private, cctv cameras can thoroughly cover the spaces. Students can be given access to these feeds and combine them with other feeds in the neighborhood and city, recomposing them to project a vision/interpretation of the school, community and city.
The school becomes a community center with components centered around a public plaza/park with shared spaces for each of the components, including a public library, gymnasiums, cafeterias, gathering spaces etc. The private spaces of the high school are a vertical continuation of the public plaza - the students project content into the public space, creating an interactive environment which they have some control in. Students use digital and electrical technologies to create a larger dialogue with the neighborhood.
The construction of each of the components and public space will build upon smaller, flexible modules which form a cohesive whole. Facades can become interactive screens controlled by the students/community.
Each of the building's height can allow for views into the neighborhood and its surrounds, as well as a view corridor to the capital. Connecting the school to the local community, the city, and the idea of the nation.
Luxury condominiums just east of the railyard (Senate Square) are complete, construction of Station Place (government and institutional space) on 2nd street below H Street is underway, revitalization of the Atlas Performing Arts Theater finished in 2005. The economic depression has put many of the proposed luxury condos and retail on hold.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Digital media eradicated physical and spatial boundaries in terms of information exchange, promising the decentralization of power and the democratization of information. However, digital technologies also allow for enhanced control of environments.
New media devices allow us to interact in society without physically engaging it. They haven't replaced physical contact, but surely that have altered its nature. Confrontation in the world is inevitable, but new media allows us to engage it at a distance with no real personal investment.
As television and new media become central components in our social world, individuals increasingly turn to them to compare, evaluate and validate their own experiences. Formulations of cultural and individual identity through these media reflexively influence one another.
The internet expands our reach for information which holds the promise for developing new experiences and knowledge. Digital applications, however, are increasingly deployed to leverage use patterns and preferences in order to provide instant gratification. Instead of increasing diversity and the expansion of culture, digital networks might be more self-reinforcing than ever.
Digital media has facilitated globalization in our networked world. While technologies allowed for more direct, physical connections between nations, cities and communities, the exchange of information and culture occurs predominantly through digital and electronic media that is filtered according to national and local preferences.
New media has taken over hang out spaces formally occupied by the physical spaces of the school, mall, home, and street.
Teens explore interests in online groups, learning in a virtual environment of peer based reciprocity - one gains status and reputation but doesn't hold evaluative authority over the others (unlike teachers).
Public education should be though of as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions, rather than from one central school facility. Learning is a continuous process that occurs at home, in the community, and through private enterprise.
Shcools must become interdisciplinary not only in their curricula, but also in how they engage the community at large. Perhaps teachers should not focus on developing skills so much, but guide youths' participation in public life more generally, which includes social, recreational, and civic engagement.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
A policy report suggests in order to reverse the declining enrollment in public schools and attract new students, the city must strategically link education policy and investments with the development of affordable housing and neighborhoods to better serve the families already living their. Specifically, policies should
1. Target increased educational and out of school time investment to neighborhoods of greatest needs, where many families already live and do not have high quality school options;
2. move quickly to expand affordable housing in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.
Recommendations for underserved neighborhoods:
1. Partner with local colleges and universities, cultural and professional organizations and non profits;
2. Build or renovate community centers, recreation facilities and playgrounds within or adjacent to school facilities;
3. Increase out of school program times;
4. Ensure neighborhood development plans include school improvement as a major component.
Condominiums dominate new housing construction and they haven't attracted families. Families facing displacement should be allowed to stay in their neighborhoods and allow their children to attend high quality schools.
More than half of DC public school children attend a school other than their in boundary school.
DC has one of the worst public school systems in America according to national standards and statistics.
While the Population of the District is increasing, the number of students enrolled in its public schools has decreased over the past five years as parents have explored alternative options for their children, including a growing publicly funded charter school system.
DC Mayor Adrian Fenty took control of the public school system from the powerful school board and placed iit in the hands of a newly appointed education chancellor in 2007, Michelle Rhee, who has employed non traditional reform methods to clean up the system, including closing 23 elementary and middle schools and puhsing for performance based compensation contracts for principals and teachers.
The major Vision of the master education plan is to eliminate the achievement gap among all subgroups of the student population. To achieve this, schools are to dynamically engage parents and the community in the lives of their students and schools.
This includes implementing full service "community schools" providing integrated services for studens and their family, and encourages neighborhood schools to build strong partnerships with local and national businesses and organizations. More extensive use of schools is a high priority for many city leaders. The design challenge is to ensure safety and creat equitable access to school space.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
"A healthy H Street can be the seam that brings the new developments into harmony with the existing neighborhood. The strengths of H Street, once the 3rd busiest commercial area in Washington, DC, must be acted upon to ensure that Near Northeast rides the crest of this new influx of development."
Schools have traditionally organized around authoritarian, top down principles of direction and learning, placing emphasis on the processes of ordering and forbidding to insure adequate performance. The social crises in the 1960’s catalyzed development towards new participatory theories that suggested everyone should participate in the establishment of goals and objectives to develop a sense of purpose. One of the social shifts at this time was the development of a new kind of student who matures earlier and demands a stronger voice in his own destiny, paralleling the development of new materials, equipment, and systems that provide means for greater independence in learning. The new students were ‘information territorialists’ who engaged the street and modern media, which offered more rich information than the outdated, antiquated school building [Robert Probst, High School] These participatory theories did not endure, however, and the authoritarian model prevails in our nation’s public schools even though advances in technology continue to promote new self-directed modes of learning.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Today the three corridors are at different stages of rebirth. Fourteenth Street NW is more and more lined with bars, condos, and coffee shops, while Seventh Street NW runs alongside the massive Walter E. Washington Convention Center (named after the man who was mayor of the District at the time of the riots, no less). And though it lags behind, H Street NE is home to the up-and-coming Atlas District, and city officials see promise in the commercial corridor. But the renaissance of the three isn't without difficulty. The District remains starkly divided -- a segregation of sorts -- and these three corridors have seen pitched battles over gentrification, displacement and development. While it's easy to look down Fourteenth Street and celebrate its improvements, it's hard not to recognize that while the riots may have helped kill the original African American commercial presence, government policy since and our own individual actions have helped bury it. This history sited from By Martin Austermuhle in News on April 4, 2008 (http://dcist.com/2008/04/forty_years_lat.php).
The site, located between 3rd and 4th streets on H-Street, is only blocks from the national mall. It serves as a divide between gentrified, middle to upper class white neighborhoods directly to the south and middle-lower class African American neighborhoods to the North. Many of the H street commercial properties remain abandoned. The site is also at a boundary between building typologies - large scale private and civic institutions sit to the east while predominantly smaller scale residential and commercial buildings are located to the west.
Washington DC has a reputation for having one of the worst public school systems in the United States, and consequently it has a declining public school enrollment. “Many families do not have access to high-quality schools, and the relationships among students, families and their public schools are weak in all but the most affluent neighborhoods.”4 Over the past decade, the city has taken bold steps to improve public education, including changes in governance and leadership and increased public investment, but many challenges must be overcome in order to rectify the system. The policy report Quality Schools, Healthy Neighborhoods, and the Future of DC suggests “even the boldest, most well-meaning efforts to improve our city and public schools will fail unless we also find ways to leverage the power of communities to improve schools and the power of schools to improve communities.”5
The 6th Ward of Washington DC is of particular interest because it contains some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods as well as some of the city’s poorest with almost no physical seperation between them. As such, the ward has relatively high shares of both high resource and low resource schools.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
New media, especially web based applications, offers unconstrained access to information and encourages discussion amongst citizens as the foundation for political opinion formation. However, the abundance of information and the ability of anyone to contribute it makes different scenarios of ‘truth’ plausible; “details can be reconfigured, reinstalled in settings to produce any number of virtual realities. Statistics can be offered to support most anything we like.” If we are looking for it we can find it. Applications are increasingly deployed to leverage user profiles and usage patterns in order to help individuals ‘navigate’ towards similar types of information. Consequently, existing ideologies and interests can be solidified without ever being questioned. Although such applications creates an ease and immediacy to acquiring information that most users enjoy, they perpetuates a reflexive process of information gathering which effectively narrows the construction of individual and collective identity.
The instant speed of information flows and the contemporary generations ‘always on’ attitude leaves little time for self-reflection and doubt. Interaction characterized by physical contact, before the advent of electric and digital technologies, was slow and inherently limited by local boundaries that were difficult to reach beyond; therefore, interaction was generally self-reinforcing. The development of new technology and media has eradicated those boundaries and creates the opportunity for individuals to follow new interests and learn about different cultures. The instantaneous nature of information acquisition through new media, however, makes it much easier to pursue personal gratification without examining the consequences, which can diminish the opportunity for chance encounters. The orientation of digital technology towards transparency and immediacy might produce a social space of perpetual customization and hyper-commodification rather than one of informative contact and contradiction. While digital technology might promise diverse information flows, the manner in which the uncritical user accesses that information might be leading him down a more specific, homogenous road.
The new generation growing up with the television and new media “becomes a new kind of citizen, a citizen of the global village in which social responsibility and involvement in everyone else’s life is both necessary and unavoidable because of the disseminating effects of global media systems.” Whereas children used to learn things through physical interaction in parks and other public spaces, they are now gaining “knowledge and experience” through encounters mediated by digital and electronic technology. “Information and ideas from the media do not merely reflect the social world… but contribute to its shape and are central to modern reflexivity.” The television news media in particular, establishes a distance, yet closeness between the viewer, the commentator and the events, because it only transmits information in one direction. The television commentator ‘educates’ the viewer but deprives him the opportunity to say something and disagree. In this sense, the viewing audience become ‘armchair imperialists;’ they sit back and watch (represented) history free from necessary response or responsibility, and often take pleasure in the ‘knowledge’ they obtain and in their sense of becoming ‘knowledgeable.’
New media provide platforms for individuals to construct unique, personal identities, and continue social relations with intimate friends and new acquaintances all hours of the day. Results from the MacArthur Foundation’s Living and Learning with New Media study suggests that “Youths’ on-line activity largely replicates their existing practices of hanging out and communicating with friends, but the characteristics of networked publics do create new kinds of opportunities for youth to connect, communicate, and develop their public identities… Through participation in social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo (among others) as well as instant and text messaging, young people are constructing new social norms and forms of media literacy in networked public culture that reflect the enhanced role of media in their lives… The ability to download videos and browse sites such as YouTube means that youth can view media at times and in locations that are convenient and social, providing they have access to high-speed Internet. These practices have become part and parcel of sociability in youth culture and, in turn, central to identity for-mation among youth.”
While these media applications promote self-exploration through social activity online, the virtual identities participants construct are always dictated by the structure and confines of the medium itself. While the identities individuals construct in the physical world are dictated by similar contextual structures, the digital interface allows for enhanced control by the media, and the applications’ tools for describing these identities are much more limiting. We construct narratives of the self, and the media helps us to formulate these narratives, in terms of both media content and structure. It is rare, however, that people question the structures whereby these media control identity construction. Contemporary individuals create multiple identities, virtual and physical, through platforms that allow them at any given moment to be how they would like to appear to others. New media blur the boundaries between real and virtual, fact and fiction, private and public. “In place of the unexpected and the unanticipated is the highly controlled vision imposed by a master director… This contrast highlights the tension which has shadowed the roll-out of digital technology from the beginning in all domains, as its capacity for decentralization is matched at every step by capacity for enhanced control.”
Consumers demand the latest digital products without considering the larger implications of how they dictate interaction in society. “In an era in which media have become mobile, ubiquitous and personalized, technology and person have merged, and this merging is fast becoming taken for granted.” Individuals in contemporary society are increasingly communicating through digital devices rather than physical interaction. We must examine the effects this has on the individual’s understanding of emotion and confrontation, and how he situates himself within the world and its events. As Nicholas Negroponte describes, the digital age has very powerful characteristics of decentralization, globalization, harmonization, and empowerment. These characteristics, however, are not grounds for replacing the physical environment with digital environments. The physical world is not going away anytime soon. We must be more critical of how both environments effect interaction in contemporary society, and designers must learn how to strategically and intelligently leverage new media in the physical world.
FACTOR 1. At a time when information can be accessed from anywhere regarding anything, the influence of the civic institution in society, especially the public library, has diminished. The school however, is a public institution that remains a key component in directing individual and community development; although, in many instances its design is still based on the agrarian values from which it originated in the United States.
FACTOR 2. There is currently a reappraisal of what the school should or could be. The proliferation of information through new media has dramatically altered learning environments, which can no longer be isolated within the confines of a specific space. The learning process is continuous and does not begin and end with the school building; therefore, the school must be rethought and resituated within the urban environment where the learning process continues to unfold.
FACTOR 3. Considering the proliferation of information through new media and the expansion of the learning environment, we must question the notion of ‘who’ the student is in the digital era.
FACTOR 4. All people are required to attend school to learn, to process information and acquire knowledge, a process that has dramatically changed with new media. Unlike other civic institutions that might privilege or discriminate against certain constituencies because of their use and program, the public school must embrace all young people regardless of race and class.
FACTOR 5. The school is a crucial site for the development and maturation of personal and collective identity. It must embrace contemporary digital technologies and virtual identities, but must teach its students to be critical of both.
FACTOR 6. Questions of security and precautions intended to prevent vandalism and violence present an intriguing problem that challenges designers to create interactive environments while ensuring students’ safety and the integrity of the school building.
FACTOR 7. Schools must exhibit stability, but they also must be agents of change directing contemporary society.
FACTOR 8. In many jurisdictions, public policies affecting the size and location of schools and community interaction are at odds with practical, intelligent solutions.
FACTOR 9. Investment in education is currently a hotly promoted item on the current political agenda. The next US administration promises an overhaul of the system and a dedication to improving the quality of American education.
Historically, the school has focused around the classroom as a place for disciplined learning. In many ways the fundamental teaching system is still based on societal values that are centuries old. It has increasingly turned its focus inward, protecting itself against the exterior world in contemporary times even though the learning process has becomes a continuous cycle because of the abundance of information available for consumption.
The school must effectively reaffirm its role in society as a powerful public institution and integral player in shaping urban environments and community life.
The school should become more transparent and engaged with society, instead of turning away from it, especially in light of the fact that information is everywhere and can be accessed from anywhere. The learning process is continuous within the environment of new media; the school must take on a much greater role in teaching its students to be critical of information deriving from this environment. The school must embrace digital technologies but teach students to critically engage them, utilizing these technologies to foster a greater understanding that all citizens can have a powerful voice in society. It must challenge students to move away from homogenous views by immersing them in the diverse world.
SPECULATION 1. The school should not be an object in the urban environment; it should trend towards becoming seamless within the urban environment. Contemporary students must learn to critically analyze the mediated environment, which is everywhere. Physical interaction in diverse environments can emphasize the importance of tactile interaction, and help create greater awareness and understanding of notions of public.
I. This might suggest decentralization of the school in order to encourage students to actively participate in the terrain of the urban environment.
II. Alternatively, it might suggest that the school building envelop other public institutions in order to interact with the public at large. School facilities such as libraries, auditoriums, gymnasiums, and theaters could be opened up for public use. Public financing could be leveraged in this way to produce better programs and facilities while creating diverse interactions.
SPECULATION 2. We must expand our definition of student to include the community at large. The evolution of technology has created generational disjunctions between adults and youth, which will continue to grow unless our educational system actively engages the community at large. Everyone must learn to negotiate and question new media and the new infrastructure of information.
SPECULATION 3. The school must embrace new media and provide students a forum to utilize these media in public and private, challenging them to be critical of their advantages and disadvantages. Projecting digital technologies into the urban community can empower students and teach them to understand the value of an active public voice. Education should be a process guiding participation in public life, which includes social, recreational, and civic engagements.
SPECULATION 4. Students could operate on two levels within the school with a physical and digital presence, therefore learning the values and discrepancy between the two, and forcing them to critically engage both in a manner that becomes productive in leveraging one to push the other.
SPECULATION 5. Schools should investigate the possibility of public/private partnerships, which seem inevitable in today’s society. If properly conceived, private business can be an outlet to enhance school programs but also provide alternative after school activities and professional development.
1)New Media will be used to describe a ‘media ecology where more traditional media, such as books television, and radio, are ‘converging with digital media, specifically interactive media and media for social communication,’ as described in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Report on Digital Media and Learning: Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (2008).