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

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.