Research

The evolving role of education and the future urban campus.

April 18, 2023

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For many academic institutions, particularly elite establishments likeHarvard, Yale, and in Spain, IE University, among others, socialisation is key.Attendance, whether as teacher or student, has traditionally provided a means to create a network of colleagues we can build mutual trust with. I believe this is a very important part of career development. That said, a sense of belonging is important within any type of academic institution.

Broadly speaking, students in higher education centres have enjoyed regular curricular academic activity: lectures, workshops, seminars, discussions groups and of course, visits to offices or sites, and in my field, architecture and design, to see what goes on behind the scenes at construction projects.

Extracurricular activities have traditionally been regarded as a value-added extension to the curriculum, involving study trips to conferences and world events, site visits, exhibitions, lecture series and internships, which extended the value of the syllabus by allowing students to rub shoulders and share their concerns with internationally recognised figures.

Prior to the advent of COVID-19, campuses around the world were heaving with life, exciting physical and symbolic spaces where the sheer fact of proximity compelled people to engage with each other (studios, lecture halls, libraries, but also in between spaces such as the canteen, benches, and the many other public places we use to relax and recharge our batteries with other people) . Chance and serendipitous encounters sparked new opportunities for discovery and creativity: collaboration, networking and learning from each other and the outside community. They were the equivalent to what garages represented in the early days of Silicon Valley.

The way we interact on campus changed suddenly with Covid, and consequently, our role as educators did too. We had to ask ourselves how higher education institutions can remain effective? Do we need to redesign our campuses, and by the same token, our role as educators? What was our new role going to be?

In this article, I want to focus on architectural education, as it is where my experience lies. Here one often talks about campus life, or studio life, or about the unique nature of the architecture & design programs, as rich discursive, collaborative, and interdisciplinary. This experience has been largely built upon a spatial strategy and a unique mode of interaction, based on the 24 hour culture around the design studio, and the design critique. A physical and at the same time, symbolic place, where students and peers spend time developing their projects, discussing with each other, in an ongoing iteration, which involves analysis, testing, refining, innovation and retesting. Indeed, the design studio is in our School at IE School of Architecture and Design, open for students 24 hours a day. This is also complemented by the existence of the fab lab, a digital fabrication space, with a compatible timetable to undergraduate students, to allow them to experiment with ideas and prototypes, explore the possibilities of new and traditional materials, and develop a culture of making. If one was to talk about architectural and design education most institutions, the design studio and the studio life, plus the fab lab, are quintessential. In addition, students enjoy “regular” academic activity with a focus on real-world experiences. At master level, they hold lectures, workshops, seminars and discussions groups, and of course, there are site visits to see real estate projects, office visits to know the backstage of projects in design and architecture, attendance to festivals and conferences.

THE EXTRACURRICULAR MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF THE CURRICULAR

During the global lockdown it became apparent that a new, anytime-anywhere approach had created the opportunity to create new shared spaces with the involvement of everyone who was part of the community, and had contributed to solving the problems at hand with a sense of social responsibility. By and large, educators felt the need to contribute by helping with the immediate and most urgent tasks. There were plenty of bottom-up initiatives in support of local hospitals, while local communities shared a commitment to a culture of active partnership with institutions. Universities improved their status and felt integrated with the stakeholders in the communities they were based in.

At the same time, it was noticeable that once curriculums were removed from the constraints of time and place (sessions were online and often recorded to allow access to those in different time zones),the extracurricular took on a heightened importance.

Whereas traditionally, the curriculum largely dictated what happened on and off campus, with downtime to relax and connect, taking place in those in-between spaces, all this was now happening in the virtual world, through Whatsapp, Teams, Instagram or Twitter. These were the spaces where people had the opportunity to connect, share and also learn, blurring the lines between what curricular and extracurricular has traditionally meant.

Itsoon became evident that those involved in education were not only adapting content, but also developing new ways of interaction for the in-between, forthe new, anywhere-any time framework.

Stemming from the learning during the lockdown, projects happen now anytime, anywhere, and academic sessions are comprised of synchronous on-site and remote sessions, and asynchronous learning experiences. The learning-by-doing teaching strategy used before, become further enhanced by flexibility to build a highly personalised educational and professional journey, and above all, an ability to focus on building opportunities for people to trust and feel safe, and belong to a community.This has now become further enhanced by the increasing use of AI.  We in IE for instance, see the arrival of generative AI as an immense opportunity to enhance  our pedagogy, and mediate its impact through  the use  of critical  thinking.

From the Covid learning, seems clear that site visits and exhibitions, required expanding academic content and creating community links with outside partners, and expanding academic, professional, stakeholder networks, (institutional and well as private). This has happened as well with our approach to our relationship with the local communities, in particular through the D Lab (the Design Lab), which has usually engaged withCity Councils and NGO´s to develop projects of social interest for the local community: it has agreements with Fundación Resilis / Plataforma Educativa (Cataluña) and Pronisa Plena Inclusión (Ávila) and Segovia CityCouncil, to provide design solutions.

We also identified that there was no need to rely on a network of leading professionals, bound to the place where the host institution resides. This not only supports an interdisciplinary discourse further, but also builds stronger academic, professional, and stakeholder networks.

In 1989, US Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third space,” to refer to a place that is neither the home (the first space), or work (the second space). It is a space where people gather and interact, neutral and welcoming, to which people tend to return and for which they develop a natural sense of belonging. Similarly, social theorists Edward Soja (1996) and Homi K. Bhabha (1990) described the third space as one of transition, a non-physical place, where hybrid identifications are possible and where cultural transformations can happen during the course of everyday activities.

This concept becomes useful to define the new role of academic instituions, and the role of the campus.

UNIVERSITIES AS COMMUNITY ENABLERS

In the COVID-19 age, universities need to become third spaces that can enhance human interaction and build a sense of belonging.

The idea of turning campuses into third spaces is nothing new. Architecture firms have already worked on designing the so-called campus of the future UNStudio has designed the TU Delft, University of Technology in the Netherlands. Its principle stated objectives are to offer flexible ways of learning and to emphasise in-between spaces.

The truth is that for the 5G generation, which already lives according to anywhere-anytime, disruption has come not from moving classes to virtual environments, but from moving the physical campus asa symbolic place to interact and belong to a virtual, informal context, questioning traditional links with peers, faculty and staff and alumni (their community to be).

Perhaps there are other experiences that architecture and design schools can share with their peers in other academic institutions. I hope that the studio environment described above, that was already taking on the role of a third space can also provide a critical cohesive element beyond architectural programs, offering an opportunity for interaction, discussion and belonging to faculty, students and staff in other schools.

The idea of a third space expands the role of university education and recognises its ability to build a resilient community comprised by students, faculty, staff, and alumni and the outside world, a diverse network/community of actors engaged in the domains of shared interests and a sense of belonging. This requires developing ties beyond the physical context, and thinking also about virtual communities, expanding academic, professional and stakeholder networks, (institutional and well as private), such as city councils, NGOs, private partners, thinking beyond the host city and the local community, but without forgetting about them.

In the case of IE University and the School ofArchitecture and Design, this will require addressing our ability to build a resilient community, and guide us in the exchange of ideas between students, faculty, staff and alumni of the school; with those of other schools within IE; and above all, with the outside world, a diverse network / community of actors engaged in the domains of our interest, broadly speaking: architecture, design, real estate, the built environment, the city, and the creative industries:Fashion Design, Video game and Digital Simulation Design, Interior Design,Digital Fabrication and Sustainability… whilst building a culture of public impact in the life of Madrid and their unique university settings, such as theIE Paper Pavilion, the only building in Spain by Pritzker winner, Shigeru Ban, or the IE Tower, new building in the Northern part of Madrid, in the heart of the greatest regeneration Project: Crea Madrid Nuevo Norte, and the historic campus in Segovia (a UNESCO heritage city).

Indeed, this will involve having more flexible shared spaces dedicated to the creative pursuits and turning into a point of connection to a larger community, and a key point in the cultural landscape and cultural agenda of Madrid, Segovia, and beyond, taking advantage of the opportunities of the virtual networks. We will have aim at being a true community enabler.

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