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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


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).

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