"Fictional worlds empower people with the tools to transform their own environments...the craft of making our world, where our knowledge and technology doesn't limit us but rather enables us to turn surreal dreams into inhabitable space. To turn fiction into fact."
- Bjarke Ingels
In this project, haumana (students) have created their own 'piece of the puzzle' of an imagined island. They have been through a rigorous sequence of exercises to help familiarize them with an iterative design process. Over the course of the past 5 weeks, they have been developing skills in precedent research, brainstorming, sketching, hand prototyping, digital fabrication, and diagramming that led them to create their own island craft pieces. Haumana were encouraged to explore wild ideas at any scale; an element of a neighborhood, city, infrastructure, or landscape, man-made or natural... real or imagined.
There’s a couple of pieces here. Working with KS Maui necessitates framing studios in the context of Hawaiian culture. How do we talk about future building and communicate to students that they have agency in constructing this world? Through this studio, they explore topics that are relevant to their world while learning the design process. Looking at where they live and reflecting on what the future of the island could be. These are actual conversations that are happening in politics right now, and the students get a seat at the table. Also worth mentioning, this studio is a modified version of “World Craft”, a studio that was run at another one of our partner schools located in LA. Between the NuVuX network, we can share information and adapt it, no studio should ultimately be generic.
The virtual nature of the studio is a great challenge, as well as kit distribution and the logistics of balancing and supporting hands on-learning with virtual communication. Coordinating laser cut files and getting the materials out to students to build their prototypes was difficult, but we managed to get this accomplished. There are a lot of students and it's important to support them as a group, but also on an individual level. The studio was very successful despite the challenges. It’s also important to recognize the advantages of virtual learning. We were able to schedule times to meet with students for individual desk critiques, and the virtual world allows us to do this with a bit more flexibility. We were able to bring in guest reviewers from other islands like Oahu as well as from Cambridge, MA. With virtual learning, you have the opportunity to bring experts into the class from anywhere. This can make the experience more fruitful and more connected. The virtual studio needed a very rigorous structure. While we lost our in-person communication, students did have a lot of agency to dictate their creative process. Students learn to manage time which is what they are expected to do outside of high school. No one is there constantly telling you what to do, so it is great preparation for their futures.
This studio introduces elements of speculative architectural projects, urban planning, and in general, the idea of embracing wild ideas. In moving past reality, we generate real world innovative solutions. You can always hone it in from there. Freeing them to embrace the fantasy element is difficult because they are often conditioned to create something that already exists with pre-established and safe answers. The fantasy aspect helps them not just to copy, but push beyond what’s already there. It’s the creative process, something hard to teach, but you can coach them to find it on their own. It is hard to get students to not design another solar panel. There’s no prescribed conditions, it is for you to invent! That is daunting for a lot of the students.
Each studio has potential gateways to ground students in real opportunities out in the real world. The prompt was for them to investigate systems and networks. They learn about urban planning as a profession and then find ways to ground them in the context of Maui and its access, distribution and infrastructure of water. They got that, they all face these issues daily in their families and communities. Through this experience, they learn the reason why familiar towns were created the way they are. They begin investigating the placement of certain things in Maui and the reasoning behind them. Everything is designed with a very specific intention. Will you design solutions to accept them as they are or do you want to change it? Learning that all of these infrastructures are designed helps students think across scales and understand how one informs the other.
I feel like for some students it was a very liberating experience to be able to develop and see these ideas through to a point where they can present them. For most of them, the first experience of ever going through this iterative process is challenging. Yet, for those who see it all the way through, the potential for what you can accomplish is revealed. They gain confidence and feel a little less afraid to pursue uncharted territory. They end up proposing innovative solutions that are totally applicable and answer questions that are being asked by the leadership of the state. We can approach complex problems and be able to prototype solutions and have conversations around them. These projects give them agency to provide solutions for the future.
The next studio, "Living Architecture", brings them into the realms of material technology and movement and asks the question: What if our built environment could respond to environmental conditions and anticipate the needs of users? This studio will require the students to be more measured in terms of site-specificity and also really consider the human scale and wellbeing. The "Material Labs" and precedents bring another layer of structured research to the studio that will help them ground their projects cutting edge technologies. We are approaching a hybrid teaching model here where some students will be virtual and others in person. This studio is also longer. They went through a sort of boot camp with "Island Craft", and this studio allows them more time for research, site analysis, and feedback and iteration.