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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Connecting the Individual to the Collective

Digital media and connectivity has produced promoted hyper individuality. It is important that physical space works to connect the individual to the larger collective and re-establish a sense of civic life and responsibility. The design of public space and schools must make this connection on global, city, neighborhood, and local scale; maintaining the individual nature of all components but understanding them as part of a collective whole.

DC School Program Distribution

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.

Design Strategies

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Concept Model Pics

Concept: Reality TV Reconstructed

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.

An Alternative Plan: School Design Concept: Screenshots

An Alternative Plan: School Design Concept

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.

H-Street Development Plans

Plans for H-street revitalization focus on economic stimulation through new retail and luxury condominiums. The plans notion of public space revolves around the street and its beautification. The existing library has been shut down with the promise that the developer will include a new library on the first floor of its building.

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

The Role of the Architect

The architect must design to re-affirm the value of physical, embodied presence in contemporary interaction and identity construction. He must think in terms of spatial relations which create new adjacencies and new ways of thinking. His challenge is to "develop strategies of articulating the new public domains that connect physical urban spaces and the potential public sphere of the electronic networks. This public sphere will only come into being if there are complex forms of interaction, of participation and learning, that use the technical possibilities of the new networks and that allow for new and creative forms of becoming visible, becoming active, in short, becoming public" (Scott McQuire).

The School Feedback Loop

Research shows that the poorest neighborhoods contain the lowest quality schools, in terms of facilities and resources. The neighborhood affects the outlook and attitude of its students and teachers, who struggle to grow in sub standard learning environments with few resources. Those students who can, often leave the neighborhood to attend stronger schools while few, if any, high performing students come to the neighborhood. These neighborhoods become racially and economically isolated. Revitalization efforts often lead to gentrification which brings an influx of capital and improvements but typically forces existing residents out.

Digital Feedback

Prior to the advent of electrical and digital technologies, physical and spatial boundaries limited the individual's ability to acquire and exchange information. The individual had to navigate the physical world in order to participate in society.

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 Individual and the Internet

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.

The Connected World

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.

The MacArthur Foundation Study: Digital Youth Project: Towards a New Pedagogy

This study, published late in 2008, suggests the continuous always on nature of today's children and teenagers implores us to exploit the potential of learning opportunities available through on-line media in order to circumvent the "digital divide growing between in school and out of school use." We must get rid of the gap between everyday life worlds and the world in school.

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

Schools and Neighborhood Development Policies

In DC many families do not have access to high quality schools and public schools are weak in all but the most affluent neighborhoods.

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.

Washington DC public school failure and reform

This map reflects the location of public schools in Washington DC. The color gradients reflect poverty levels; the darker the orange the greater the poverty.

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

H Street

The H street corridor is a neighborhood in transition - there are many plans to revitalize the area - new commercial and cultural space has begun to develop, but many buildings and lots remain abandoned. The current gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods and future development trends promise gentrification and displacement in the corridor. The Old City Capitol Hill Neighborhood Association suggests that:

"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."

School Pedagogy and organizational structure

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

Site: H Street in Washington DC

After Martin Luther Kings assassination in 1968, huge crowds gathered in the city's African American neighborhoods, leading a campaign of looting and destruction that burned over 1,200 buildings, including 900 stores. Hardest hit were H Street NE, Fourteenth Street NW, and Seventh Street NW. The angry crowds, at times surpassing 20,000, easily overwhelmed the city's police forces, leaving President Lyndon B. Johnson to dispatch 13,600 federal troops, including 1,750 from the D.C. National Guard. When it was all said and done, over 6,100 people had been arrested and damages totalled $27 million.

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

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.