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Article by Jiyoo Jye

What is the studio brief for the Island Craft Studio?

In this unique studio, 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.

How did you approach the framing and development of this studio for the KS school?

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.

What were some of the surprises and challenges you faced in regards to the studio?

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 work them 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. 1. We were able to schedule times to meet with students for individual desk crits, and the virtual world allows us to do this with a bit more flexibility. 2. We were able to bring in guest reviewers from other islands- Oahu for instance, as well as from the mainland- for instance Cambridge. With virtual learning you have the opportunity to bring experts into the class from anywhere, and this can make the experience more fruitful- more connected. The virtual studio needed a very rigorous structure. While we lost 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 Highschool. Noone is there constantly telling you what to do, so it is great preparation for their futures.

What is the best way to inform students through the creative process “where fantasy meets reality”?

This studio introduces elements of speculative architectural projects, urban planning, and in general the idea of embracing wild ideas, because that’s where innovation comes from. 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 on their own.  It is hard to get them to not design another solar panel. There’s no prescribed conditions, it is for you to invent! And that is daunting for a lot of the students.

In the initial stages of the studio, students are introduced to urban planners and their role in the built environment. Can you describe how the students were able to simulate or experience this profession in their work?

Each studio has potential gateways to ground students into real opportunities that are out in the real world. The prompt was for them to investigate systems and networks - so urban planning as a profession and grounding them in the context of Maui and its access, distribution and infrastructure of water was key. They got that, they all face these issues daily in their families and communities.  Through this, they learn the reason how towns were created where they were and have access to different resources. 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.

How does experiencing hands-on design education impact students in your studio?

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. And this was all them. They gained confidence and felt a little less afraid to pursue uncharted territory. They ended up proposing innovative solutions that are totally applicable and answering 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 about those. These projects gave them agency to provide solutions for the future.

Tell us about the next studio that you’re teaching and how students will progress from their previous experiences. What are some new milestones that are set for them?

This 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. What if could be empathetic, and have actuated outputs. 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. Always with these studios we are prototyping as coaches, always going through the iterative process along with the students. 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 more time for feedback and iteration.

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