Learning London: Enchanting Holland Park and Victorian House Museum

A couple of weekends ago, we visited Holland Park on both Saturday and Sunday. There was too much to see in the area for just one go. We had to spread it out. In fact, we’d also visited a weekend prior, bringing our 2019 total to three days.

In this blog, I’ll show you around the park and give you a peek inside one of the nearby Victorian house museums, 18 Stafford Terrace.

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On all three of our recent our visits to Holland Park, we were en route to the Design Museum. 

Walking Cards

In addition to using the handy walking cards pictures below, I also referenced my guidebooks and the internet to sketch out our trips.

Kyoto Japanese Garden

These beautifully designed and cultivated gardens boast a waterfall and a pride of peacocks.

Holland House

This house was greatly destroyed during the Second World War, but part of it lives on to delight the park’s visitors.

Belvedere Restaurant

There’s a lovely, posh restaurant in the park. We had a splurge.

18 Stafford Terrace

This is one of two Victorian house museums near Holland Park and the Design Museum. This one, on Stafford Terrace which runs parallel to Kensington Hight Street, was once home to an illustrator for Punch magazine, Edward L. Sambourne. It’s a lovely house filled with his artwork. It’s a delight to see how the stately homes on this terrace are laid out and lived in. This one is furnished in the “Aesthetic Movement.”

Learning London: At the lovely Bethnal Green library

img_5776Aongus and I stopped by the public library in Bethnal Green over the weekend since I wanted to show him its glorious architecture. It’s in the park we traverse en route to the Central Line Tube Station. The woodwork and the natural lighting in the reading rooms are superb.

And since Aongus selected a new thriller from the shelf, it freed the copy of “Brooklyn” he was carrying along in his bag. I dug it out of his bag on the Tube and read much of it in the course of over our weekend adventures. Granted, I normally read non-fiction since it’s much less addictive. Once I get started with a novel, I can’t put it down.

img_6125As such, I’m nearly finished reading the novel now. It is, as you probably recall from the contemporary motion picture by the same name, about a young Irish woman who boldly moves, alone, across the Atlantic to start a new life. I empathize with her experiences and I recognize many of the places she describes–both in Brooklyn and around Enniscorthy town and county Wexford, her original home. I’ve enjoyed both the book and the feature film but have learned more about Ireland form the book.

Aongus borrowed the paperback of “Brooklyn” from the Idea Store in Whitechapel–a modern edifice but also lovely. It was designed by architect Sir David Adjaye, who we learned much more about later in the weekend while visiting the Desing Museum. More on his exhibition in a future blog!

In any case, Aongus and I are very lucky to live near great libraries here in London!

Learning London: Enjoying the (bus/fellowship/research) Journey

img_5651When you’re supervising a Ph.D. student, s/he usually comes to you for meetings. In my case, however, I travel over to LSBU twice a month to meet with my supervisee, Thomas, and his primary supervisor, Professor Shushma Patel. I’m doing this for several reasons:

  • It helps ensure Thomas gets effective advice that coincides. That helps since Thomas’ work and his conceptual thinking are very complex and we can work together to make sure all the parts fit together coherently.
  •  As part of my Marie Curie Fellowship, I’m also in training myself. As part of Work Package 4, Training, I’m supervising Thomas. This is an excellent way to build skills supervising students. Once Tomas successfully completes his Ph.D., I’ll be eligible to serve as a primary Ph.D. supervisor at TU Dublin and other institutions. This will surely make my applications for future funding more enticing to grantors, in cases where I’m proposing to “train” others in research.
  • In this case, I get to learn from Professor Patel, Thomas’ primary supervisor, who has impressive experience guiding doc students. I’m the second supervisor.
  • Meeting with Thomas and Shushma is loads of fun!

In advising Thomas, I get to draw from many aspects of my past experience–design creativity, environmental sustainability, engineering teamwork, and higher education (its organization and inner workings).

We usually spend about two hours in each meeting, as there are multiple facets to our work:

  • Most importantly, Thomas is writing a thesis (which in the United States we call a “dissertation”). It will include case studies of innovative engineering production. This is the central focus of our work.
  • Thomas is implementing his background research in designing and delivering The Great Challenge competition for the Design Museum, as I blogged about last week.
  • We’ve had an abstract accepted for a conference on product design education and we are developing it into a full paper, to submit in early March.

These meetings are delightful! We connect lots of synapses and we most definitely grow our brains while discussing complex inter-related issues.

img_5647-1The appetizer for the main-course meeting at LSBU each week is the trip there. I take a different route than I take to work daily and, on these days, I enjoy getting a bit of exercise. The fastest route to their campus is by way of the DLR, which is a 15-minute walk away from our flat

The cake-and-icing of the day? The double-decker-bus trip back to UCL! I love taking the London Bus from LSBU near Elephant and Castle, past Waterloo and the London Eye (the city’s giant Ferris wheel), across the Thames, over Strand Street, past Holburn Station and then straight north, through Bloomsbury, past Russel Square, to Tavistock Square. Then, it’s a short walk to the Engineering Front Building.

img_5672-1All parts of the journey are full of interesting sights!

Today on the big red bus, I got my very favorite seat–right above the bus driver, perched high above the street. The lovely sunlight today helped me overlook the bitter cold, and enticed me to snap even more photos than usual. You can see shots of the trip overall, with a frame-by-frame of some of my favorite areas.

I disembarked at Tavistock Square where a ceremony to commemorate Gandhi, held on the anniversary of his death, was concluding. The Square was magical and I felt Gandhi’s presence and the sense of peace he cherished–until I slipped on some black ice and nearly took a fall. Thankfully, I–or perhaps the spirit of Gandhi–caught me on the way down. I escaped injury.

img_5680Lessons of the day:

  • Completing a Ph.D. is a journey, best done with a collegial group of curious, knowledgeable, creative, and good-natured people.
  • A Fellowship also provides a gateway from the ordinary day-to-day routine and facilitates journey into the unknown.
  • There’s no better way to traverse the city on such a day than London Bus.
  • Seize the day and enjoy the journey. Make the very best of it you can.

AND:

BE THE CHANGE YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE WORLD! –Mahatma Gandhi

 

Open House Dublin: An architect’s delight

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 6.38.27 PMI have several blogs in my files that I’ve not yet shared. The info below is no longer “news” but it should be interesting and helpful to some, so I’m posting it for you today. Happy holidays!

The Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) does an outstanding job organizing its annual Open House event. In 2018, they held it October 12–14. Open House spans three days and allows thousands of citizens to visit architectural wonders that are usually not accessible to the public. Over 170 tours and events were open to the public–all for free and most with architects, trained historians, or other experts as guides.

Although this happened six weeks ago, I’m posting it now since I like to have a record of what I’ve seen. I’ve attended five of these Open Houses, I believe, and you can find photos from other years by running a search for “Open House” on this site.

Despite the dreary rain on Saturday the IAF army of volunteers opened sites all across Dublin. Aongus and I benefitted, as lines were shorter. We took advantage of having Aongus’ car to stay dryer and see more sites than we could by foot. This means we visited more outlying areas than I’d originally planned. We normally walk or take Dublin Bikes.

On Sunday the sun came out, but not until after a cold wait for the opening of 14 Henrietta Street. The crowds were fierce on Sunday, and I even encountered a few grouchy folks with a sense of entitlement. I tried to cheerfully point out that the long wait times were due to the popularity and success of the event and that all the people organizing the events and running the sites were volunteering their time. That sense of entitlement is an ugly thing. Putting that aside, I really enjoyed myself and have provided photos of the seven sites I managed to visit.

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.43.27 PMBelvedere House

The first site we went to was Belvedere House, which used ot house the boys’ school that was the rival of the one Aongus attended for secondary school. The tour was full, so we actually just saw the lobby in our initial visit, but we returned later and got the tour and more photos.

The House was constructed in 1786 at 6 Denmark St Great, Dublin 1. According to the Open House website, “The construction of what is now Belvedere College began under the 1st Earl of Belvedere, and was later finished and occupied by the 2nd Earl of Belvedere. Built to the designs of architect Robert West, it features the work of renowned stuccodore Michael Stapleton. After the 2nd Earl’s death in 1814, the townhouse was left unoccupied and fell into disrepair. The house was eventually procured by the Society of Jesus Religious Order in 1841 and has since been occupied as part of their educational facility. James Joyce, Austin Clarke, Harry Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Donagh MacDonagh and Kevin Barry are amongst some of the great past alumni who roamed the corridors and were educated here. RKD Architects were appointed in 2014 by Belvedere College to restore the 18th Century house and one of the most powerful features of the house today is the stucco work in the hall and first floor reception rooms.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.43.43 PMCroke Park Villas

This is a social housing community with an iconic design that was replicated in many other parts of Dublin. As it is so stylized, it seems to many people to be outdated. This particular set of Villas is being torn down and new housing built. There was a photographic exhibition in one of the flats, documenting families who used to live here. A few of the flats still have residents, who await new homes in the construction underway nearby.

The complex was designed by Daithi P. Hanley and constructed in the 1960s at Sackville Avenue, Ballybough Road, Dublin 3. Open House’s website noted that “In 1956 Dublin Corporation approved a Compulsorily Purchase Order on a series of derelict and condemned cottages in Ballybough in order to construct modern single and duplex flats between Love Lane and Sackville Avenue. Named Croke Villas due to its proximity to the GAA HQ, Croke Park, it was the first stage of an extensive plan to regenerate the Ballybough/North Strand area much of which still bore the scars of the 1941 North Strand Bombings. At present the complex is undergoing renovation and three blocks have been demolished along with a number of derelict cottages on Sackville Avenue. This new development with provide a mix of houses and duplex apartments. The flats were designed by Daithi P. Hanley when he re-joined Dublin Corporation in 1956 as housing Architect. He designed a series of 4 and 5 storey blocks of Flats which used standardised components resulting in significant savings in construction costs and building maintenance of which Croke Villas was part. There were many others of these flats built across the city. Hanley also designed the Garden of Remembrance, Simmonscourt Pavilion, the memorial monument at the Customs House, the Basilica of Our Lady, Knock, among quite a number of interesting projects.As part of Open House 2018 number 45 Croke Villas will be open to the public and will have an exhibition of photographs taken prior to and during the demolition by photographic artist Jeanette Lowe. Number 45 Croke Villas is in the last remaining block of flats, due to be demolished early in 2019. The finished development with form a processional boulevard into the Croke Park Stadium.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.44.38 PMAsh Street

This project was designed by de Siún Architects and constructed in 2018 at 25 Ash St., Merchants Quay, Dublin 8. Michael de Siún has shown his own home before, very near to this one, and it is an architectural gem. Such clever detailing to make small spaces feel spacious and appealing. I felt that a product Aongus and I had seen at the London Building Centre might be usefully applied to the project, and I forwarded information on it to the architectural design team by email.

The Open House website explains, “The refurbishment of no. 25 Ash St. introduces a double-height light well into a small 100 year old house. The previously tight rooms have been opened up to create a spacious continuous flow from entrance to rear garden. A feature staircase with strong vertical elements emphasizes the connection between the floors. A simple palette of oak, concrete, and brick unite the whole, culminating in an intricate brick façade to the rear of the building.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.44.52 PMWeaver Park

This city park was designed by Áit Urbanism + Landscape / DCC Parks & Landscape Services and constructed in 2017 on Cork St, in Dublin 8. Despite the rain, we found the park design to be fun and festive. There were even some kids besides Aongus out playing. We rounded off our day with dinner on Camden Street, at Damascus Gate.

According to the Open House website, “Weaver Park represents one of the primary objectives arising from Dublin City Council’s “The Liberties Greening Strategy”. This strategy identified a derelict site, formerly occupied by the Chamber Court Flats, which offered a significant opportunity for the provision of a landmark public amenity. In making the site available for redevelopment, Dublin City Council was responding to the campaigns of local community groups who had long seen the potential in this space. The brief given to Áit Urbanism + Landscape underlined the importance of a participative process that engaged with these local groups, so that the community’s requirements could be understood and delivered through an informed design. Weaver Park is therefore a distillation of the community’s aspirations with inclusivity at its core. The design delivers a hive of activity within a context that will be sylvanic and ecologically functional in time. The fulcrum of the park is a 40-year-old Quercus palustris; this beautiful Oak tree now provides an instant maturity and a new focal point on the Cork Street landscape. It is an icon for the greening of The Liberties.

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.46.18 PM14 Henrietta Street

This building was a stately-home-turned-tenement. From housing one wealthy family at its prime, this home eventually held a hundred people at once. I shutter to imagine.

Watching “Call the Midwife” during my subsequent writing retreat gave me a glimpse into what such urban density would have looked like. It’s an excellent series that illustrates history as well as truest loving people. So seldom can I bear to watch television, and particularly Netflix, due to its grim and gritty culture. This show, however, is a true delight despite drawing tears.

Back to the house in Dublin, though, where you can see for yourself most any day by paying an admission fee. For Open House Sunday, entry was free but the tour abbreviated. And there was a line around the block when it opened Sunday morning!

It was originally built in the 1740s at 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1. The renovation that has just been opened was designed by Shaffrey Architects. This work converted the house into a museum that now showcases how the spaces would have looked both at the building’s prime and high and when it was packed to the gills. The house is in eyeshot of Linenhall, where my DIT staff office is located and I had a bird’s eye view of the renovations as they progressed. I kept a keen eye as the roof was repaired, a fire stair added, and the brick on rear of the house repointed.

The Open House website provides a detailed description: “Dating from the 1720s, Henrietta Street in Dublin’s North inner city is the most intact collection of early to mid-18th Century houses in Ireland. Built as a townhouse for the elite of Dublin, 14 Henrietta Street was split into tenements in the 1880s as the need for working class housing in Dublin grew, with some 100 people living there by 1911. It remained a tenement house until the last families left in the last 1970s. It’s been a 10-year project for Dublin City Council to rescue, stabilise, conserve and adapt 14 Henrietta Street. The house is the primary artefact of a new museum – the walls, floors, banisters, old gas pipes, fireplaces, and fragments of linoleum and wallpaper have many stories to tell. Shaffrey Architects planned and created new spaces to discretely integrate essential services and fire protection, using wireless technology to minimise loss of finishes and fabric. The tours will showcase the reception, selected rooms, basement and garden area to see the connections between the old and new. This year’s winner for the RIAI Award for Conservation / Restoration and Awarded The Special Jury Award.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.44.10 PMNew Garda (Police) Headquarters

Designed by the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW) and built in 2017, this build graces the Corner of Kevin St and Bride St, Dublin 8. This building is in the line-of-sight from Kevin Street DIT, where I frequently teach RoboSlam workshops and the RoboSumo design project, with Ted Burke and often Damon Berry and Frank Duignan. I was delighted that one of the architects who worked on this project delivered our tour. He was quite a young lad–leading me to feel a bit aged! (Like a fine wine? Perhaps….)

The Open House website explains, “The new Kevin Street Garda Divisional Headquarters was designed by the OPW. It is designed as a civic quality building responding to the specific site context of its historic surroundings. The building is energy efficient and sustainable with universal access for all. The building is arranged in linear blocks of accommodation either side of an atrium space. It reinstates the street line along Bride Street with a five-storey building opposite the seven-storey National Archive building. The five-storey curved block steps down in a series of steps to become two storey adjacent to the former medieval Archbishops Palace, thereby responding in scale to these important historic buildings. The important Kevin Street junction is acknowledged by expressing the central atrium space on that façade. The public entrance is located at this point. The atrium serves as the main vertical and horizontal circulation space within the building and provides for natural ventilation to all offices along with natural air extraction and allows daylight to penetrate into the building.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 5.42.54 PMThe Old Richmond Surgical Hospital

Just one block from my apartment in Dublin, this stately brick building gleams with love and civic pride. Originally designed by Carroll and Batchelor 1901 and built in 1901, The Richmond was refurbished in 2016 by Kavanagh Tuite. It is located near my own flat, at No. 1 North Brunswick St, Dublin 7. This was not my first tour of the building, but I learn new things each time.

The Open House website explains, “The Richmond Education & Event Centre was opened on the 20th April 2018, following an extensive refurbishment, following its purchase by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in 2013. The building was originally opened on the 20th April 1901 as The Richmond Surgical Hospital and remained open as a hospital until 1987, when patients from The Richmond and Jervis Street were moved to Beaumont Hospital. It after became a business centre and then a Court House for a number of years, there are still 3 cells in the basement. This red brick english renaissance style building has three floors and is U-shaped overlooking a central courtyard and fountain. It is built on the site of benedictine convent dating back to 1688. The building has meeting rooms, offices, four large former wards (auditorium, lecture room, banqueting room, victorian tea room). The tour will include the ground floor, first floor (except offices) and part of the basement.”

smc

Meeting Grafton Architects: Irish Ladies Leading the Way!

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Shannon Chance with Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Dublin-based Grafton Architects.

I finally got to meet Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell, founders of Grafton Architects and designers of my home here in Dublin.

You may recall blogs I posted in October 2012 titled Hats off to Grafton Architects, a post about sun angles in winter, and a video clip I made shortly after moving into “my Dublin Castle.” I have attached my apartment tour which is quite goofy. In it, explained features unique to Ireland and the EU, but I called the water tank “electric storage.” That’s factually true, but here they use the term just for the wall heaters that heat bricks in the night, when electricity costs less, and radiate that heat our during the day.

I learned more about electric storage heat from my maintenance guy, Keith Brown. I posted a blog where he showed me how they work. I sure do miss Keith as he was able to fix anything, usually the way my grandpa would have! Pa grew up during the Great Depression and was quite thrifty! Keith, on the other hand, moved to Spain.

I, on the other hand, am not moving to Spain any time soon. But this flat is plenty warm and sunny.

I love every minute in this place, perched high in the Smithfield Lofts that Yvonne and Shelley designed back in 2006. Last night, I got to tell them how much I enjoy living here.

Grafton Architects

Covers from “Totally Dublin”

I had braved the lashing rain, trotting across town to pick up new specs at Ace and Tate and then over to Fumbally for an event produced by the magazine Totally Dublin, which ran a feature on them in January 2018 that I still have on my coffee table.

The talks weren’t starting on time. Or rather, Irish evening-time tends to run quite behind what the clock face shows. This event ran 8-10 PM, rather than the 7-8:30 PM published. In any case, I had time to grab a slice of cake and get psyched up to hear these amazing architects talk.

In the interim, I decided to hop across the room to tell Yvonne and Shelley that I’m a big fan and I love my home.

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A Dickens Christmas in cozy Smithfield

I showed them the photo I took last week from my balcony, which I’d posted in an earlier blog.

They seemed delighted to hear their building was loved, as that construction process was rough, with the developer cutting corners and ultimately going out of business when the economy crashed. I’d been told that unfortunate story by my colleagues when I moved in and was glad to help these architects reconnect with their creation. Incidentally, any criticisms I’ve ever had of this building are due to poor workmanship and Ireland’s very strange fire codes.

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Shelley McNamara sharing insights

These architects are now world-famous. They curated the Venice Biennale this year, bringing Irish architecture and Irish design to the fore of the world stage. They dedicated the 2018 Biennale to “Freespace,” which I might describe as third-space, public space where everyone is welcome and treated with equal dignity and respect.

Last night, Shelley and Yvonne discussed their role in the Biennale and working together since they first met in architecture school at UCD where they graduated in 1974. Imagine, they entered in a class that was gender balanced at the end of the 1960s!

Consider that the year Shelley and Yvonne entered architecture school, women were not allowed to study this subject in many universities in the USA, including the University of Virginia (a place Yvonne and Shelley mentioned to me last night). UVA began admitting women in the year 1970. The institution had admitted a few women before this date because they had a medical school that needed nurses; my mom earned a Bachelors in Nursing there at UVA in the mid-60s.

What a revelation, to learn there was gender balance in architecture admissions here in Ireland at the same time there were 0% women and 100% men in architecture at UVA!

Yvonne and Shelley said they’d never experienced gender discrimination in their lifetimes as architects, designing buildings in Ireland, Peru, Italy, Spain, France…. That was quite inspiring to hear!

Yesterday evening also featured discussions with the photographer and artistic director of the magazine’s October cover piece on “The Bumbles” and discussion and performance by busker NC Lawlor, an Irish man reared in Manchester and now living and performing in many types of venues in Dublin. You’ll have to find him busking on Grafton Street if you want to hear him first hand!

Below are photos of the evening, along with pics I’ve snapped over time of my cozy flat.

Maria Carreira’s PhD viva on Learning Spaces in the University Context

Maria's viva 5What an honor to be part of the day a young scholar gets her wings, so to speak, by earning her PhD! Last week I travelled to Lisbon to attend the viva (i.e., PhD defense) of Maria Alexandre Bacharel Oliveira Carreira. I had met with Maria on both of my two prior visits to the Instituto Superior Técnico at the Universidade de Lisboa. I really enjoyed watching her work unfold.

This time, I was a member of her evaluation panel. I curled up with her thesis each night while I was in Brussels. Preparing for this panel event took many hours for me–but it took five years for Maria! During that time Maria gave birth to two children, but that didn’t slow her down much. She kept plugging away at her research.

She conducted extensive analysis of spaces that support teaching and learning. The title of her dissertation (which in Europe is called a thesis) is In-between Formality and Informality: Learning Spaces in University Context. The European term “viva voice” (meaning “live voice”) is so much nicer than the term “dissertation defense” used in the States.

Maria's viva 00After 2.5 hours of presenting her work and answering questions–posed by the panel of 6 experts (I myself had 40 minutes to talk about her work and ask questions of her)–Maria and her many family members and friends who had come to the event left the room. The panel discussed the merits of the work, deliberated, then invited Maria and the crowd back into the presentation room to pronounce her a PhD with distinction. We all went for a celebratory luncheon in the afternoon.

Once Maria has submitted the final version of her thesis, I’ll try to post a link. In the meantime, you may be interested to read two of the articles I have written that have to do with topics in her thesis.

The first is about how the design of school buildings can enhance learning and help us achieve environmental sustainability:

 

Chance, S. and Cole, J. T. (2014) “Enhancing Building Performance and Environmental Learning: A Case Study of Virginia Beach Public Schools ” City Public Schools. Book chapter from the book entitled “Marketing the green school: form, function and the future.

The second is about university buildings. It also discusses how buildings can promote learning, by serving as examples, modeling values, and getting people engaged. It’s about environmental sustainability and how LEED has become an example of organizational learning (i.e., a big organization that effectively learns from past experience, using it to improve future performance):

Chance, S. (2012) Planning for Environmental Sustainability : Learning from LEED and the USGBCPlanning for Higher Education, Vol. 41, No. 1, Oct-Dec, 2012.

Culture Night Dublin with Fulbright-ing Friends

Culture Night Dublin 2105 1Dublin Culture Night happens once a year, offering a glimpse into many cultural treasures this city has to offer. This year, I got to attend the event with my friends Amanda Wagstaff and Frank Daly.

Amanda recently moved to Dublin as a Fulbright student for the 2015-16 academic year. She and I actually graduated from the College of William and Mary on the very same day in 2010–she with a Bachelor of Arts and I with a PhD in Higher Ed. Amanda is a studio artist who is using the archives at the Chester Beatty Library to generate inspiration for her own contemporary artwork. You can see Amanda’s past work on her website, Traipse.

Frank’s art and photography is viable on his website and his many Google+ photo albums.

The there of us kicked off our Culture Night explorations at Christchurch Cathedral, not far from my Smithfield residence, and then proceeded eastward to see several more sights. We took in dinner at the Queen of Tarts, Dublin’s stately Customs House, and a guitar concert at the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen’s Green.

Culture Night is just one of many ways to learn history in Dublin. I’ve included photos in the gallery below of several cultural events that happened around the same time:

  • a lecture on the Irish Civil War (hosted by the Smithfield-Stoneybatter People’s History club and held at in the backroom of the Cobblestone Pub)
  • a man in Smithfield preparing his horses and carriage for the All Ireland football match
  • the best places I know to sit and read about history (my friends seem to enjoy reading in these places, too!)

Expanding the Engineers’ Box

Fergus Whelan commented that I need to think outside this box....  Thanks to Frank Daly for the fabulous photo.

Fergus Whelan commented on this image that I need to think outside this box!  Many thanks to Frank Daly for the fabulous photo. My students, having sent his look many times before, certainly empathize with you!

In all corners of the globe today, companies are clamoring for skilled engineers. They want a larger pool of applicants who are creative, flexible thinkers prepared to address complex, emerging questions riddled with interrelated unknowns. Like industry, the sectors of healthcare, education, and government also have great need for well-rounded thinkers with strong engineering acumen.

Simply put: the world needs more people who can think across systems and see how things relate at multiple scales. We need people who can identify problems and create new solutions from the ground up. People who aren’t so closely bound to existing systems, ideas, and protocols that they can’t construct entirely new schemes for thinking and behaving.

Today, governmental organizations (like Science Foundation Ireland and the National Science Foundation in the USA) are working hard to address the shortfall in the number of engineers by generously funding education of, as well as research by, engineers and scientists. They seek better ways to teach and think about engineering and science.

The blogs I will be posting in the near future have to do with:

  • the way we think about and conceptualize engineering
  • how I think this needs to change
  • how architects and education researchers can help

Please note: I’m going to be explaining things that I’m trying to work out in my head and do this as if I’m speaking to a friend or relative who knows little about research. That means I may not be “100% right” in every explanation. But as you’ll see, that is a risk that must be taken for the sake of building knowledge. (It’s all part of this new “paradigm” for working and thinking that engineering needs to implement more widely… more on that to come!)

I do hope you’ll follow along on this research adventure, where I’m working to bring qualitative, social science research and design thinking into more facets of engineering education.  Yes, these are gutsy claims I’m making — particularly since I’m new to research and new to engineering.  Let’s see if I can live up to such promises….

Ecology Rocks! (Especially in a Flipped Classroom)

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their "Roman Travertine" tile sample.

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their “Roman Travertine” tile sample.

Today we discussed “natural factors” that affect architectural design, such as rock and soil composition. This tied directly to yesterday’s studio class on the HU Point. Today, I was using a technique known as the “flipped classroom” to teach Architectural Ecology. I learned about this technique during my Fulbright fellowship at DIT.

I had assigned my students to read a chapter before class. When they arrived, we started class with ten minutes of journaling.  I asked them to write about the aspect of the chapter they thought was most important to them regarding our site at the Hampton University Point, and to explain why.  I also asked them to identify a topic in the chapter that they didn’t fully understand and explain why/what they didn’t understand about it.

Journaling is my own way of assessing students’ level of understanding of the content.  After ten minutes, I collected journal papers then “flipped the classroom”.  Each student joined the other members of his/her learning group, discussed the issues of confusion they’d each identified, explained to each other what they understood (this is known as “peer teaching”), and researched information on line using their laptops and smart phones.

I circulated around the room, listening, observing,  pointing them in the right direction where necessary,  and making sure they were achieving accurate interpretations.

It became clear that soil and rock composition was the major topic of confusion, so I went ahead and distributed the rock samples I have on hand.  Each group got their own unique rock type to analyze, research, and introduce to the rest of the class. The students did a great job of staying on topic in their discussions, learning, and teaching leach other.

They made sense of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. They began to understand issues of texture, particle size, expandability, drainage, and bearing capacity while they were talking among themselves with my guidance.

A member of each group presented findings to the class and we discussed overarching issues.

Then I projected the Prezi file on the screen, which I’d formatted using a table of contents so we could zoom directly into whichever specific issues were causing confusion. In this case, we needed to go over the soil classification pyramid a bit, but they had already developed pretty strong understanding through the group discussions and rock presentations.

Amazingly, everyone stayed engaged for 1.25 hours!

I didn’t have to nag students to pay attention.

By the end, they seemed to have very good understanding of all the content of the chapter.  I found I had ten minutes to spare at the end to bush on topics of my choice (ones I thought a student or two might still have misconceptions about).

I am loving this new, more interactive, way of teaching.

It’s called “flipping the classroom” because the content is delivered before class (in this case, through a reading), and class time is used to gauge accuracy and depth of understanding and to build upon that base.  It seems to be a much better us of time than presenting everything with equal emphasis, before assessing if the students already understand it!

Not everyone came into the class having read, unfortunately. This problem should correct itself in the future because each student gets a grade for each journal entry. They have to show basic understanding of the reading in order to earn points. They generally start seeing the importance of this after a day or two.

Constructing a Student-Centered Studio

The incoming second year architecture studio cohort at Hampton University.

The incoming second year architecture studio cohort at Hampton University.

Today I applyed what I learned about problem-based learning (PBL), group learning, and student-centered pedagogies while I was on my Fulbright fellowship at Dublin Institute of Technology. I met the students in my second year architecture studio for the first time. Studio looked unlike Day One of this class (ARC201) ever looked before!

We started outside, with team building activities and a name game. Then we formed the teams (i.e., learning groups) that we’ll use for the first five weeks of this semester.

Next, we conducted initial site analysis in a way that was much more engaging than normal. We held a “scavenger hunt” to identify qualities of our project site (the Hampton University Point) that have to do with water.  The students managed to generate a much more interesting list of factors than I’ve ever been able to get them to achieve before; 63 about water alone!

For Friday, each team (of three students) has two assignments due.

Assignment 1 is to draw a plan of our project site to an architectural scale to fill an 18″x24″ sheet of paper.

This problem prompt is pretty specific (close-ended), but it still leaves a number of variables for students to consider and make choices about.  I hope they’ll get a bit competitive and prove they have pride in their work!  I asked the groups to follow a standard PBL format in starting work on this assignment. I asked them to figure out:

  1. What is this assignment asking?
  2. What will we need to know to do this?
  3. What do we already know about this?
  4. What will we need to learn/find out?
  5. What resources will we need?
  6. Who will do what and when?
  7. How will we check for accuracy before it’s due?

Assignment 1 is more straightforward than you might expect for an architecture studio. However, it will lay groundwork for upcoming activities, and it will help me assess where the students are skills-wise and with regard to collaboration. The second assignment is much more open-ended.

Assignment 2 is to make a beautiful object that reveals the essence of water.

I asked the groups to start by watching one of the YouTube videos listed below, and assume that the astronaut/scientist had made the video in response to this assignment. I asked the students to consider the questions above (which are intended to foster “self-direcetd learning”) and to bring to our next studio meeting a final, beautiful object as well as at least three study models that investigating the “essence of water”.  I’ve got my fingers crossed!

The students were more  active, engaged, and enthusiastic about learning than is typical on Day One of this course and I have high hopes for this new method of teaching.

NASA: Amazing Experiments with Water in Zero Gravity – YouTube

NASA: Amazing Experiments with Water Balloons in  – YouTube