Collaborative approach for socially oriented design in architecture education

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Sunaree Lawanyawatna
Martin Schoch


Working with the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) and several prison-related government organizations, students on a bachelor-level architectural studio assignment related to prison design were assigned a project to improve their socially oriented-design skills and to integrate an open approach to learning and public engagement. The task goal was to provide design solutions to improve living conditions in prisons to inspire inmates to cultivate their social behavior skills and attitudes toward life. A stepwise approach was taken to strengthen the student knowledge base and clarity in the decision-making process to improve social situations related to architectural design. In addition, students were provided with different information sources and learning experiences while in direct contact with professionals, experts, and individuals affected by existing conditions. The analysis was based on design results, related discussions, and student self-reflection. The teaching methodology aimed to integrate the design studio more closely into existing, design-relevant social issues. Results show that proposed designs suggest an increased awareness of social problems and an understanding of people-centered needs linked with goals to improve conditions for prisoners. In addition, public access to the results, coupled with the prevalent public stigma against improving prison conditions, helped students develop critical thinking and reasoning skills when working with others. Improvements for future courses should include exploring a greater variety of relevant, critical, socially-oriented aspects associated with architectural design tasks and extending collaboration and engagement with suitable individuals and/or groups.


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