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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nature of School Design

“Why is it that, in spite of great expenditure and effort, our schools continue to be places that thwart and deny natural use? Perhaps it is because, in the clean world of preplanning and design, we are drawn to concepts of perfection. But perfection exists only when we design for hypothetically static behavior. More realistically (and more humanly) we can only design for natural conflicts that reside in human needs and desires” (Robert Propst in 1972).

Education reform revisited?

I keep thinking of Marika's thesis in looking at the evolution of pedagogy and social structures... Educational theory and facility design of the 1960's and 70's faced many of the same questions which we are facing today. Emphasis was placed on the importance of discovery and exploration in the learning process and communication with other children and adults was regarded as invaluable. The participatory theory of education “sees learning as a mosaic pattern made up of fragments of information from numberless sources, rather than as an unbroken linear development.” This suggests new considerations of how we organize schools – eliminating grades and mixing children, allowing for various sized group learning activities, access to a great range of media, materials, and equipment for self-instruction. This requires a high degree of movement, interaction, and communication. Classrooms were never designed for this; they were designed for uniformity, not diversity. The ‘open plan school’ emerged in the 60's and 70's in response to these alternative theories of education, but as we have seen, its impact did not last. The authoritarian nature of schools has prevailed - standardized tests dominate teaching methods. But now, as advances in technology continue in break neck speed and the learning environment continues to expand, we are facing many of the same, unresolved questions from the 60's and 70's.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Presentation Format

Random thoughts on presentation format, I don't know if this would actually be interesting or not.... In light of the research focus, ideally, I think it'd be interesting if my final presentation was a collage of simultaneous productions, made by third parties, of a live presentation I gave prior to the pin up. This way, there would be a documentary of my presentation, and mediated versions created from other peoples interpretations. In real time the jurors would be presented with multiple representations of the same event, opening up new ways to look at the project and/or undermining/emphasizing the original argument in various ways.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Possible Site: The Highline?

As the meaning and necessity of the 'classroom' diminishes, and the desire to reach out into the community at large for self-directed learning increases - mobile school units could be a possibility. A unit could be deployed from a central school building and the new 'classroom' could connect to industry and institutions along the line for hands on learning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Possible Site in Manhattan - TBD

This area in Manhattan is intriguing as a potential site. It is a node where major infrastructure, civic institutions, housing projects, other residential neighborhoods and business meet. Also looking for sites in Philly, DC, and Boston

Facebook - You've been served

Constructing Identity

Interaction through new media and extraordinary information flows through new technologies have complicated the development and understanding of self-identity in popular culture. Studies show “the growing salience of networked publics in young people’s everyday lives is an important change in what constitutes the social groups and publics that structure young people’s learning and identity.” Participation in the networked publics of new media allows individuals to learn about other cultures, explore interests, and challenge personal ideologies. The availability and accessibility “of multiple forms of media, in diverse contexts of everyday life, means that media content is increasingly central to everyday communication and identity construction. Mizuko Ito uses the term ‘hypersocial’ to define the process through which young people use specific media as tokens of identity, taste, and style to negotiate their sense of self in relation to their peers.”

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.


The contemporary upper school is of particular interest for this investigation:
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.
. 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).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Questioning who the 'student' is in our educational system

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.The school must effectively reaffirm its role in society as a powerful public institution and integral player in shaping urban environments and community life.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Interaction diagrams (in process): The influence of Technology on Information Exchange, Societal Engagement, and Civic Institutions

These diagrams look at how technologies influence interactions between people and their environment. Digital technology has expanded our reach in terms of acquiring information and learning about other cultures and events, but everything is at a distance. We do not have to invest ourselves or critically engage these events, instead we can be mere spectators. The ease and immediacy with which we can access this information does not challenge us to fully consider what that information means.

The role of the civic institution as central to societal engagement and information exchange has drastically diminished. Information is decentralized.
Before the advent of digital technologies, the development of identity was characterized by tactile two way interaction that required in depth involvement between individuals. Digital technology has fostered the transmission of directional (TV) and two-way interaction (the internet), but neither require us to fully engage its information. We can form multiple identities based on our physical presence and our virtual presence. We must investigate how the virtual presence, which is dominated by the visual image and spectatorship, influences our physical presence.