Best Practice: How the method worked
for the "Borders" project at Pasadena City College:
Last year I selected "Borders" as a
theme for my architectural design classes. I have established a time
frame based on my experience working with this method. I have discovered
that a period of ten weeks is required to complete the student-driven
process. This period of time is necessary as the architectural design
process has many specific parts that must be addressed in a systematic
way. The first part of the process, the student research and analysis,
takes about two weeks of that time. The remaining eight weeks is the
work on concept development, the "big idea," and designing
of the specific solution.
I assembled the necessary resources several weeks
in advance of the students introduction to the project. In the Borders
case, the resources were as follows:
- a field trip to the physical borderland between
Mexico and America
- speakers who opperated as collaborators on
- carefully selected reading materials.
I selected three team members beside myself: Rosa
Garza Moreno, an Urban Researcher from Mexico City currently working
in Los Angeles; Brock Klein, an ESL Instructor from Pasadena City
College; and Teddy Cruz, born in Guatemala who practices and teaches
architecture in the San Diego/Tijuana area. Teddy specializes in architectural
space along the border and is internationally recognized through his
writings on the subject.
The next step was my own research and orientation
into the project. This began predictably with the idea of the border
as a linear boundary or line between two countries, states or communities.
As I continued my research, the border concept developed much further
from this point and I began to see the idea of borders in a much broader
way, to include issues of individual identity, immigrant identity
and, finally, the notion of space within a border. I discussed these
ideas with my content team over breakfast one morning. We decided
to introduce the semester project with a discussion between Rosa,
Brock, the Architecture 20A+B students and myself on the topic of
Borders. I began with a simple definition of a border as a boundary
between two or more identities. Also, I introduced the idea of a border
as being a space of transition between two identities. Rosa continued
this idea by stating that the first border that we encounter is at
birth with we are separated from our mother's identity and begin living
outside of our mother's wombs. The students were very excited and
began speaking from their own experiences as immigrants, travelers
and observers of the world around them. With this first meeting, I
established our conceptual grounding for the project.
next step of the process was the field trip. It was an important component
of the process. The field trip became a very visceral experience,
which opened the theme both to my students and me. For the borders
project I selected two sites, one for each of my second year architectural
design studios. The first site, on the border between the United States
and Mexico, was where the Tijuana River crosses the border, a place
having all of the emotion and tension of Check Point Charlie
along the Berlin Wall. This site was literally and figuratively the
The second site was removed
from the actual border and was located in a residential site in San
Diego. The students were given a selection of pedestrian bridges at
various sites. The bridges connect the various local residential communities
that are separated by the vast canyons. At this site the theme borders
is seen as two identities being linked by a bridge. The canyon represents
the space within a border, a space composed of two identities simultaneously.
While at the sites, other information
was woven into this learning experience. For example, Brock Klein
assigned a project in which the architecture students were to draw
pictures using words of what they imagined was on the other side of
the wall at the border or what they thought was on the other side
of the bridge. Students begin thinking of text both in terms of a
written, as well as visual language. They were given a total of four
poetry exercises at the site. In addition to the poetry exercises,
the students were given very specific information about the border
from Teddy Cruz. He told them facts, including its length, height
and origin. They learned that the wall was composed of steel panels
that were designed as airport landing strip for the desert in the
Gulf War. They learned to identify the two sides of the border urbanistically.
In other words, they learned how to identify and distinguish between
the urban grid of Tijuana and the open and withdrawn American side
of the border. The students processed this information as they explored
the site themselves through artifacts that they collected on their
trip along the wall from the border crossing at San Yisidro to the
Ocean -- where the wall hits the sea. They felt the ironies of the
border as they attempted to visit Friendship Park, closed to visitors
by the United States Border Patrol. After a day that began way too
early, the students and staff loaded up the vans and headed back to
back at school, the students began to process the information that
they had collected. To begin the creative process, I asked each student
to make a collage using the poetry exercise documentation from the
field trip. The subject for this collage was an imaginary site at
the border. The image to the left is an imaginary site created by
Mariangela Murgula from Architecture 20B.
Next, I asked them to analyze
this research through the artifacts they selected at the site during
our field trip. This phase is called the object transformation. Students
research the scientific aspects of their subjects as well as their
emotional responses to them. They re-characterize them through the
theme "Borders." For example, a student found a bottle cap.
He analyzed it carefully, and after researching it in the Oxford dictionary,
he found several definitions for "cap." One of them appealed
to him and seemed to be suitable for his project. The definition read
thus: "A team captain." The bottle cap now could be understood
as identity. The students do this with nine different subjects. At
the conclusion of this stage, the students make a construction to
house their subjects. "The Container Project" is the final
conceptual phase. It explores the relationships between its contents
or ideas through the actions of opening and revealing each compartmentalized
subject. The project becomes a metaphor of a building with functions,
(i.e. the subjects); a sequence of experience, (i.e. the order and
manner in which the container is opened); and most importantly an
idea which is rooted in its site or context.
The students completed their
semester work by designing a building for the site. The building function
relates to the theme as well. The students working on the US Mexican
Border site designed an educational building that spanned the border.
Their project description was:
Design research station
for the study of the critical relationship between the United States
and Mexico focusing on the theme: "The changing relationship
between the two countries."
The Colegio De La Frontera
Norte is a government supported think tank and graduate school currently
located on the outskirts west of Tijuana. Their US counterpart,
San Diego Dialogue, is a part of the University of California, San
Diego. Both entities are involved in studies that deal with economic
development, immigration and urban growth as it occurs along the
border. Your design proposal will house the research, public information
and administrative areas of both COLDEF and SDD, while not replacing
the existing teaching and outreach facilities that each organization
currently operates. Both organizations deal with similar issues
from different points of appreciation, one being in The North and
one being in The South.
The intent of this project
you are undertaking is to offer a common site where a third kind
of geopolitical field emerges; one where the borderless space of
interaction, dialogue and knowledge occupy the usable air-rights
over the Tijuana river-border, and where the Berlin Wall of North
America is bridged through an architectural intervention. While
symbolic and loaded with all kinds of metaphorical possibilities,
the project should also deal with technology and program, climate
and trans border access as key issues. Youre building concept
and development is to be based upon your transformation of your
container of subjects. Youre building concept and development
is to be based upon your transformation of your container of subjects.
As one can see from the project
description, the building function carries the theme. It connects
and continues the design process from the conceptual phase of "the
container" to the building phase.
The image below is a collage
that I made to illustrate the process followed in the field trip and
post field trip in the classroom. The drawings, imaginary site, and
artifacts illustrate the process followed in the Borders project.
The Diagram of the Method:
- Establish the scope of project.
This depends on the type of work performed in your discipline.
- Choose a theme, one that
bridges the individual to the community.
- Assemble a resource team
to provide the web of content for the project.
- Plan the field trip.
- The students process the
information through group analysis projects and individual analysis
projects. Group work allows the students to form a community that
can evaluate the information for the whole class. The individual
analysis results in individual student big ideas centered
on the theme for the project as outlined
by the instructor.
- Individual student designs