Best Practices Repository

Aktan Acar: From Minecraft to Mindcraft (RTW1 – Remote Entry)

From mınecraft to Mındcraft

A Learning Environment for Basic Design Studio

Aktan Acar* **

*TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Department of Architecture


ABSTRACT: Minecraft Education Edition is an online sandbox construction game-based learning platform. It initiates high levels of motivation and persistence to complete assigned activities while encouraging critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, and promote knowledge and skills acquisition. It has been widely and extensively used in elementary and high schools for long. However, it is hardly possible to find any example of use in Basic Design Studio. 

The expected learning outcomes of the Basic Design Studio are creative problem solving, self-efficacy especially in teamwork, visuospatial thinking and expression, awareness and knowledge of scale, proportion, spatial thinking and production in 2D-3D. The main objective is to prepare students for thinking and acting spatially by means of design. Furthermore, I am concerning the readiness, individual differences, internal motivation, previous learnings of the students as the key factors of learning and development. 

To achieve those goals, I conducted Basic Design Studio within Minecraft Education Edition, where students have certain a level of readiness and strong motivation to play, utilized previous learnings, taught each other, collaborated and communicated creatively, experience diversity and inclusivity, welcome graceful failures, and had fun. 

It uses a first-person perspective helping students to explore scale and feeling-of-being-there. Its worldwide interactive environment with a massive player community, forums, blogs, wiki pages, YouTube tutorials enables active knowledge construction and participation for the studio practices.

It was way better and productive than struggling to communicate and collaborate within Zoom windows.

It is “learning by playing, building and failing”.

KEYWORDS: Basic Design Studio, Remote Learning, Minecraft Education Edition


The purpose of the study is to share an online basic design studio experience in the Fall 2020-2021 academic year. The studio was held in online game-based learning platform Minecraft Education Edition. The utmost concern of the studio was a joyful learning environment for creative thinking, communication, and problem-solving.

Architectural education had ignored “remote” as a problem of other fields and professions. On the other hand, investment, design, collaboration, and production have already been carried out online for long. The is no need for the physical presence of an expert thanks to the video conferencing tools, online file sharing, manufacturing, and management over the cloud through virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies. 

Now, remote learning is the urgent agenda of architectural education. The Covid-19 pandemic has been forcing us out of our comfort zones. In-face collaboration, creative sketching, improvisations on cardboard models, instant studio discussions, occasional brainstorming are no more.  

Now we are acquiring new skills to manage Whatsapp groups, Drive folders, Zoom sessions, Skype conversations, Meet organizations, Mural or Miro boards. Our homes have become our classes, virtual co-working spaces synchronized to Outlook, Thunderbird, or iCal tasks. On many occasions, the transformation was welcomed with great enthusiasm. Applications were googled. Youtube videos were watched and subscribed to the channels. While complaining about the students not working with sketch paper, we found ourselves recommending Adobe, Autodesk, or Morpholio apps.

On the other hand, not all newcomers are digital natives. Moreover, proficiency in the digital environment may not ensure creative and analytical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, collaboration, and expression, all of which are the elementals of a first-year design studio experience. First-year tutors were supposed to confront all these challenges before a camera, even without seeing either the student or the physical model or was our challenge to facilitate and ensure the students’ presence and achievements in the online studio mentally, visually, and emotionally.

In this context, game-based learning (GBL) was a promising, complementary learning atmosphere and instructional method. GBL benefits games for to achieve learning outcomes. It respects and recognizes the previous learnings. Individual differences and readiness of the students can be monitored and supported within GBL. It has its own rewarding mechanism, encouragement for graceful failure, and facilitated challenges and feedbacks. It keeps the students engaged, and active mostly by means of internal motivation. GBL initiates and helps to sustain peer learning.

Minecraft Education Edition (M:EE) is among the most successful and popular GBL platforms. It is multiplayer online learning platform and based on Minecraft game which is a sandbox construction game created by Mojang Studios. Players collect, place, break blocks to build anything they wish or requested in a randomly generated 3D environment. M:EE has been released in 2016. It has been developed specifically for classroom use by Mojang Studios and Xbox Game Studios of Microsoft (GamePedia 2021). M:EE is popular in K-12 and higher education. There is, however, no example of Basic Design Studio practice within the M:EE world. 

M:EE has real-time rendering feature. It offers first-person perspective option. It is possible to access various content through non-player characters’ interface which can include text, links to online sources, or executable commands. M:EE offers great help in investigating and discussing solid-void relations, light and shadow, proportion and scale which are manipulated by the students in game. It is of importance to underline that M:EE was not considered as modelling or drafting platform. In fact, it is possible to develop spatial constructions with design objectives. But its famous and very characteristic voxel-based cubic blocks introduce particular and practical limitations.

We have welcomed the students in Minecraft twin of our faculty building, reinforced with dynamic architectural content delivered through architect-figures including Leman Tomsu the first woman architect of Turkey, Louis Kahn, Vitruvius, Alberto Manguel, Picasso, Einstein, Plato, and Gombrich.

The first exercise was as an icebreaking activity. Randomly formed groups of 7-8 students were asked to design and build a maze. They developed drawings, sketches, and physical models as well. The second exercise was about discovering the potentials of material, to explore the different representation and expression tools and techniques in design thinking and communication. They were expected to develop a 1/1 scale pop-up door which was going to be built in M:EE by using coding features of the game.

For the third exercise, students were asked to use M: EE as an exploratory tool and to study the architectural qualities of the iconic buildings of Ankara. Physical models, drawings and M:EE construction had fed each other in discovering the solid-void relations, light and shadow qualities, parts in relation to whole, proportions, and scale qualities of the buildings.

For the semester final, they were asked to read, discuss, interpret, imagine, and realize the architectural – spatial atmosphere of “The Caves of Steel”, a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov. They submitted 3 min. videos presenting their studies. Student works are accessible 

on Instagram @mindcraft_architecture, 

and on the Youtube channel

At the beginning of the semester, students were asked to build a shelter within their own M:EE world. The shelter helped students to personalize the game space. it was considered as freezone where they were not graded, given feedback or critique. It was a domain where the students could apply their knowledge and skills. They documented their ideas, construction process, changes regularly. We monitored those notes regularly to assess the individual progress of the students.

Despite its sandbox features and unlimited building possibilities, M:EE is not a proper platform for architectural design and representation. However, it is helpful in discovering and exploring architectural space, developing design thinking. There is a strong need for research concerning game-based learning platforms considering spatial thinking and design. Flexible modeling and manufacturing capabilities can be added to creative and collaborative sandbox features of videogames.

The emergency remote learning experience recalled the urgency and importance of monitoring, managing, and facilitating the learning process as an individual activity within social environment. Game-based learning within Minecraft Education Edition is helping the students to become active learners. During the semester we were concerned internal motivation, self-appraisal of learning and development through learning by playing and graceful failure. We supported and appreciated the extended self-organized and monitored learning, and peer interaction beyond the online classrooms. We played for crafting intellectual skills essential for design learning, as the main objective of the very first semester for the architectural education.


GamePedia. 2021. Minecraft Wiki, Education Edition. Accessed February 2021.


M:EE based Online Basic Design Studio was conducted with the great assistance and admired patience of Şeyma Nur Çalışkan and Mustafa Koç. We grateful to our junior and senior students Yetkin Erce Ecer, Anıl Tunç, Nursima Zengin, Alperen Pahlivan, Asya Soylu for their precious help before and during the semestre. The last but not the least, great motivation and endeavor of our students made all of these possible.

Rossella Gugliotta, Santiago Gomes: Tout est Project (RTW1 – Remote Entry)

Tout est projet.

Integrating design principles in a 1st-year Design Studio: tools and methods

Rossella Gugliotta, Santiago Gomes* **

*DAD Dipartimento di Architettura e Design – Politecnico di Torino


ABSTRACT: (1000 characters maximum)

Behind each action, there is a project. Design means to develop reading skills and critical thought; articulate competences and communication skills, both in graphic and text. Due to the pandemic condition, the environment in which competencies developed had to be adapted with new tools and methods. To reach each of these goals in the first year, the student must face different gradual steps: comprehension of the references, reading about buildings, design.
The students should recognise specific knowledge on the project through three exercises of increasing complexity, starting from draft reading to a complete architectural project.


virtual mode, reading, case studies, designing extensions, increasing complexity


After a year spent in pandemic conditions, the EAAE Remote Teaching Workshop represents a valuable opportunity to share approaches and experiences and, most importantly, to take stock of the changing needs under which design teaching practice takes place typically have had on methods, programs, and teaching outcomes.

To modestly contribute to the debate, we propose to outline a synthetic panoramic view of the experience that we carried out last spring in the first-year design studio coordinated by Michela Barosio at the Politecnico di Torino.

Our Design Studio fits into the framework of the recent reform of the bachelor degree course in architecture that has been renewed based on the recognition of the central role of architectural design in un multidisciplinary education.

In this sense, our didactic proposal starts from the ontological conviction that there is a project behind every action. In particular, there is a design action, from the idea that Design means developing reading skills and critical thought, articulating competences and communication skills, both in graphic and text.

The Design Studio is structured -in apparent contradiction with the learning by doing approach- around the belief that design is based on transmissible methods and principles (to students).

To achieve these goals, students -in their first experience of architectural design- have to face different gradual steps, acquiring competences on understanding references, reading of buildings and context, composition and space organisation mechanisms.

To do this, we propose a path that -through three exercises of increasing complexity- drives the students from draft reading to a complete architectural project, integrating composition, construction technology, and humanities studies with solid communication skills.

In the past years, we developed a real workshop where teachers and students work weekly for twelve or fourteen half-days.  However, considering that our course started on March 10th, right after the announcement (in the previous evening) of the covid-19 emergency measures by prime minister Conte, the 1st lesson coincided with the 1st day of Italy’s lockdown.

Thus, we had to redefine our didactic methods, introducing some new tools to supply remote teaching in a course that used to be based on an intense “physical” workshop experience that becomes “virtual”.

To face the new situation, we decide to confirm and update the four “basic conditions” that had characterised the Design Studio activity:

– the fully handmade drawing asking the students to digitise constantly all their paper design production;

– the weekly assignments introducing seven deadlines in twelve weeks to encourage a forced rhythm of work and feedback between students and teachers;

– the reinforcement of direct communication seeking to reduce the barriers of device-mediated communication;

– the implementation of the debate in frequent collective seminars and reviews.

Operationally we have introduced some new and unconventional -at least for us- didactic and communication tools:

– to exchange works, we have developed a WordPress website platform for share easily and quickly, systematising and ordering the course’s productions in a clear way to make it possible for the students to become aware of the path they were following.

– to enhance direct communication, we create a Telegram group with the students; allowing the exchange, almost in real-time, with teachers but, above all, stimulating the relationship between students, strongly compromised by the pandemic situation

– for lectures, communications, reviews, etc. We used the Politecnico BigBlueButton platform that allows, like many other web conferencing systems, a real-time sharing of audio, video, slides, chat, and screen, even organising single reviews in parallel breakout rooms.

In synthesis, with these premises and imposed conditions, the path that we have proposed to the students has been focused on three exercises related to increasing levels of complexity of the design action:

– reading about buildings in relationship with topics like form, composition, space;

– reading about the relationship between buildings form and cultural characterisation of users and their living practices;

– design activity, integrating precedent experiences.

1. Comprehension of the references

Understand buildings in terms of space, volume, materiality is the first step addressed to the architecture student. The process of reading allows the developing of shared knowledge and the first library of projects. 

From the twelve case studies, from MVRDV to SANAA, the student has the first overview of the contemporary landscape. 

The first tool used to understand architectural references is redrawing and modelling, giving them the possibility to explore the architectural space independently.

The narrative coming from the understanding of the case study is shown inside the architectural board’s space. Giving through frontal class some guidelines on the layout, we ask the student to organise the project’s architectural board’s sheet as a competition panel using adequate graphical language, both technical and communicative.

After understanding the project with drawings and models, the next step was to integrate a new project working on the existing model. The architectural maquette became the stage for further addiction; working with hands-on models gives the student the possibility of exploring the space practically and develop the understating of volume intersection.

2. Reading about buildings

To develop another investigation lens of the project was used the text as a space for knowledge building. 

The residential space is explored using the book The Good Life: A Guided Visit to the Houses of Modernity by Iñaki Ábalos. This book aims to study the relation between the lifestyle, the different research lines on contemporary thought, the shape of the house, the other way of designing and living.

Each student has been invited to design their own home, understating the description of the author. 

Through the collage technique, each student is encouraged to understand the space described and imagine a new one. Space is now explored from a different attitude, on human height and perspective. The focal point became the understanding of the internal space and distribution of the building. 

3. Design activity

Building in the built environment enforces understanding the relation with parts of the project. With this gimmick, the student in the first years had to summarise all the previous exercises to start the design phase. The construction of an increasing complexity gives them the instrument to design facing a real scenario moving from the tools to the practical norms. 

The existing building used as a starting point for the design experience was a single-level industrial space within Turin’s urban fabric. To develop a strategy of intervention, each student has to work and the existing building taking back the logic used in the first exercise. 

The program of the design, again an individual project, is based on developing different ways of living: mixed-use units with workshops and residentials, student sharing house, emergency residence, single parent house and multi-family house for a household of twelve people. 

The interaction within the class and social media as Telegram or the WordPress website give the possibility to ensure a continuous dialogue. Moreover, with the use of collective review, students have challenged to cross-comprehend the project.

The building’s complexity was explored by studying the shape and the interaction of different disciplines, scale and level of detail, to define a complete architectural project. 


The result of the experience carried out during the last spring semester, independently from the quality of the single works produced by the students (boards, models, collages, complete architectural project drawings), has an essential value from a didactic point of view (teacher and students’ side) on two reading levels.

On the one hand, they are the material outcome of a “forced” didactic experience from which we can evaluate possible characteristics and modalities of the teaching of design. The virtual  experience has given us some precious indications to how to deal with the on-going semester, opening a debate -not only methodological- on how to think about the teaching of design remotely. Moreover, the Design Unit brings out more general issues that characterise and condition the practice of teaching design in “traditional” design studios. In particular, it has given us a greater sensitivity regarding difficulties that inherently need to be addressed to unify the starting base of students arriving at the first year of architecture with very diverse backgrounds.

On the level of the students’ didactic experience, instead, we believe that the value lies in the transmission, through individual experiences, of the complexity of design actions as a specific integrating knowledge (of other knowledge and other methods). 

Each exercise, investigating form and compositional principles; exploring the relationship between spaces and the activities; synthesising them graphically to communicate what has been understood; exploring through exclusively volumetric manipulation; interpreting ways of living, needs and characteristics of the users; and, finally, propose hypotheses of adaptation of a concrete building) has a specific purpose. We believe that all the point we highlight previously have brought out the centrality of the design action (of the project praxis). From our perspective, the design is an intrinsically human activity endowed with methods and principles -contemporaneously autonomous and integrating- functional to an operative transformation of our world, to change its destiny.


Ábalos, I., Melotto, B., 2009. Il buon abitare: pensare le case della modernità, Milano: Marinotti.

Argan, G.C., 1965. Progetto e destino, Milano: Il Saggiatore.

Barosio, M., Grignolo, R., Ramello, M., Rosso, A., 2015. 4+1 punti dell’architettura. Istruzioni per studenti moderni, Torino: Celid.

Barosio, M. (Ed.), 2018. Politecnico di Torino. School of Architecture Yearbook #01, Siracusa: Lettera Ventidue.

Maldonado T., 1970. La speranza progettuale. Ambiente e società, Torino: Einaudi

Trisciuoglio, M., 2008. Scatola di Montaggio, Roma: Carocci.

Sevgi Türkkan, İpek Avanoğlu: Spaces of Sounds (RTW1 – Remote Entry)

Spaces of Sounds

PhD. Sevgi Türkkan, İpek Avanoğlu* **

*Istanbul Technical University Faculty of Architecture


ABSTRACT: Online design studio environments left us with two sensory realms to communicate: the visual and the audio. Unlike the visual, audio communication tools, as well as the capacities of sounds in understanding, reimagining and making space are often under-addressed in design learning.

Spaces of Sounds is a module in the project series ‘Spaces of Spaces’, proposed to investigate our new relationships with space in the first year online design studio. In this three week long process, the role of listening and sound as a spatial-design tool is explored through workshops, guest lectures, collective and individual design projects.

Through deep listening, notational drawings and performative acts, students explored audio-spatial relationships and sound-capacities in their immediate environments. These findings collected in a sound bank were employed in individual design projects for the recreation of audio-spatial experiences and programs that pandemic has disabled.

KEYWORDS: sound-space, listening, audio-spatial representation, first year, online education

Introduction: Spaces of Sounds

The characteristic question of how to introduce the notion of space in the first year of design studio gained a whole new meaning with online education. The first year design studio culture in ITU Faculty of Architecture, typically benefits from contextual modes of learning. Instead of abstractions, the first semester begins with designerly engagements aiming to make sense of the multi-layered complexities and relations in our everyday environments and embodied spatial experiences.

Online learning necessitated a reflection on the current unprecedented spatial settings and our altered experiences in. With this concern in mind, we designed the project series “Spaces of Spaces”, consisting of three modules: Spaces of Scales (exploring the multiple scales of our everyday routines connecting geographies, confined rooms, computer screen etc.), Spaces of Sounds (addressing the increased role of sound in online experience and exploring its designerly potentials) and Spaces of Light (rediscovering light as an instigator of spatial imagination). All modules addressed the immediate environments of students, not only due to lock-down restrictions, but also in an effort to understand its components, complexities, embodied experiences and potentials, in relation to the larger networks and role of mediums that connect us.

However, working with sound played an additional role in the case of online education. Due to the restrictions of online medium we are left with only two sensory realms to communicate in the design studio: the visual and the audio. Unlike the visual, audio communication tools are often under-addressed in design learning, just like the capacities of sounds in understanding, imagining and producing space.

Working with sound enabled multiple opportunities for the first year studio learning:

  • understanding space as a complex, dynamic and temporal entity (not as a static image)
  • emphasising the role of sound in connecting spaces(through digital transmissions) 
  • learning to listen as a designer 
  • using representation tools to decipher non-visual spatial information
  • noticing the specific sound characters of spaces (stadiums, market place, beaches)
  • exploring the (sound) potentials of everyday materials, surfaces, environments
  • through sounds, designing new audio-spatial experiences and developing architectural program

These explorations led to a two way design process: the manipulation of spaces to produce sound, and manipulation of sounds to produce new spaces.

  1. Explorations on space and sound

As a three week long project, Spaces of Sounds composed of two working modes: common studios where workshops and guest lectures were held with 95 students and 8 tutors, and studios within sub-groups where collective and individual design projects were developed with 24 students and 2 tutors (Image 1). 

The three workshops and guest lecture offered students different focus on sound in relation to space, and exercises of deep listening, sound-mapping and graphic scoring.

First workshop was led by the Spaces of Spaces tutors. Inspired by Deep Listening exercises of Pauline Oliveros, the workshop focused on listening as an agency to raise our awareness of the sensory realm of the sound. The workshop was structured as a series of experiments on Zoom, our platform of online education, asking the participants (95 students and 8 tutors) to keep their microphones and cameras either on or off (Image 2). Exploring with audio-visual notations, the workshop engaged the students with the following three experimental settings: 1.Keeping all the microphones off, the students draw while listening to pieces of music; 2.Keeping all the microphones on and the cameras off, the students respond to a set of questions from Oliveros’ Deep Listening by either drawing or writing; 3.Divided in groups of nine to breakout rooms on Zoom, keeping only one of the participant’s microphone on and all the cameras off, the participant with the microphone on performs the sound capability of the room while the others draw the room through its sound capability. Engaging the students with explorative notations as audio-visual narratives, all the three experiments within the first workshop worked as an introductory experience to expand our understanding of the sound-space.

The second workshop entitled “What sound is your room?” by Neval Tarım, an architect and contemporary sound-artist, led students to listen to the sounds of their bedrooms in 24-hour cycles and visualise their observations as sound-mappings through image and text. The workshop helped students understand sounds in relation to everyday routines, connections to neighbours, outer world and also living together (Image 3).

The workshop was followed by a guest lecture by Cevdet Erek, a contemporary artist, musician and architect. Sharing his personal experiences, explorations between these fields, Erek’s lecture inspired the students to further engage in the topic (Image 4).

Before the third workshop, the studio was divided into four sub-groups. All the sub-groups proposed their own design agendas to the theme: building audio-visual narratives for emotions using sound cards and video collages, articulating kitchen sounds via a sound apparatus design and a collective kitchen sounds performance, listening to the sounds outside the window, and developing sound-collages of the neighbourhood. 

Sevgi Türkkan and İpek Avanoğlu’s group which is further explained in this text, explored everyday objects and immediate environments as potential sound tools and design agents for spatial experience.

  1. Designing with spaces and sounds:

Collectıve sound bank & individual sound reenactment projects

The design process began with the aim to build a collective sound bank by turning everyday objects into sound tools. Given a set of sound abilities including, to- ‘produce’, ‘transform’, ‘reflect’, ‘amplify’, ‘absorb’, ‘distribute’, ‘transmit’, ‘dilute’ and ‘deform’, students were asked to find items at home to explore their sound capabilities through performative acts. Performing random everyday objects found at home such as glass, cup, paper bag, vase, vantilator, hair-dryer, radiator, metal sheet wall in order to explore their audio-performance, the students created audio-visual notations to store in a bank to be used by others (Image 5).

The audio-visual notations collected in the sound bank were shared in the third workshop led by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Gahlord Dewald, both composer and performers. In the workshop the students had the opportunity to listen to Lanzilotti and Dewald interpret their  drawings into scores and performed with violin and bass (Image 6).

The collective sound bank provided a rich variety of sound capacities accessible at home. At this point, students were asked to recall an audio experience they missed the most during the lock-down. By using the tools in the sound bank, they were asked to individually create a sound-space setting which reenacts an audio-spatial experience within their homes (Image 7). While exploring with the sound tools, the students discussed their own understanding of audio-spatial experiences and articulated them into programs of self-expression, leisure, dialogue, socialization and isolation for their own use.

Most of the projects proposed a physical setting manipulating the spaces and sounds of their immediate environments (Image 8): Among the proposals were: mechanisms attached to the room, with parts performed by the body to reenact the sound of a crowded street; an everyday object such as a coat hanger into an audio-spatial construction to reenact the sound of the road trip to a bay, a table setting proposing the potential of sounds as therapy; a bodily existence as an audio-spatial experience reenacting the state of being in a bathroom during a party; a social game design to discover sound as a tool to interact with others; an apparatus for the need to isolate self during pandemic (Image 9). The students also worked on the audio-visual narratives of the reenactments within the spaces.

Conclusion: Listenıng presence

“Listening is selecting and interpreting and acting and making decisions.” Pauline Oliveros

Besides covering many learning requirements in the first year, this project reinforced a type of presence that is often forgotten as designers: listening. The emphasis on the sensual realm of sound not only increased our spatial awareness, but also played a genuine role to bridge the physical gap among our private houses, computer screens and the world.

Image 1: Spaces of Sounds, structure of the module.

Image 2: Student works from the Deep Listening workshop.

Image 3: Student works from the Sound-mapping workshop.

Image 4: Spaces of Sounds, Cevdet Erek’s lecture.

Image 5: Excerpt from the collective ‘sound bank’.

Image 6: Spaces of Sounds, A.L. Lanzilotti and G. Dewald performing the transcripts from the sound bank and sound mappings. 

Image 7: The ‘sound bank’ items used in individual design projects.

Image 8: Excerpts from individual design projects. 

Image 9: Excerpts from individual design projects (for more, visit:

Mohamed S. Ibrahim: The beginning is mental (RTW1 – Remote Entry)

The beginning is mental (And it is more personal now)

Mohamed S. Ibrahim* **

*Assistant Professor at Faculty of Architecture, design and built environment, Beirut Arab University



In October 2019, Lebanon was subjected to unpreceded events (natural/ manmade disasters, economic crisis and an incomplete youth revolution) leading to a major lockdown that ended the fall. Later, the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic forced another lockdown to end the whole academic year remotely. As educators, we were delivering the course in unusual circumstances, we were faced with the dilemma of reconnecting with our beginning students. Our efforts to device a successful remote learning experience at the beginning crossed the fine line between efficient hard work to wasteful exploitation. We were challenged to come up with a new resilient studio model that consider the relevance of the inputs and feedbacks to the nature and circumstances of our students. The paper here briefly outlines the experience of remotely teaching the first-year studio at Beirut Arab University in the time of crisis, trying to set a good example for a remote educational practice that stimulates and encourages the students’ involvement personally and academically.

KEYWORDS: (Beginning design studio, resilient design pedagogy, remote design teaching)

Among all the university careers, Architecture is probably one of the most intensive careers one can pursue, and architecture schools have another layer of stress and rigor placed upon its students. Architecture schools have a reputation for pressuring students, and according to the first mental health survey conducted by the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union (GALDSU) of the University of Toronto (2013), 61% of students felt the faculty was ‘not doing enough’ to address the mental health needs of students.

As academics, we are accountable for the transition of our students to the best practice, and we know how responsible we are also to produce healthier and more optimistic graduates who show better engagement in architecture practice. Yet, we implicitly know that it is not always the healthiest mental experience(Gallagher and Taylor, 2014, Eagan et al., 2016, Eagan et al., 2015, Eagan et al., 2014).

  1. Our Studio
1.1 The privilege of Dreaming

Our first-year studio is an Architectural Design Fundamental one. At the beginning of five undergraduate years. At this introductory level, we have the privilege of dreaming, abstracting while enjoying being playful especially at the beginning. Various design problems were tackled; serious ones but imaginary, some in remote and some in virtual contexts. We have managed to nurture the beginner’s sensual skills, cognitive abilities progressively until they reach their preliminary architectural level.

1.2 The Dilemma of inconsistency 

Throughout the years, we kept noticing that our first-year studio product varies with every different group of students, the individuality of the students, the divergence and the way each group react to the whole learning process differs in its outcomes.

this inconsistency motivated our search for a more resilient studio pedagogy. We have analyzed the students’ behaviors during every design project. Individual/personal criteria were introduced in the students’ performance assessment: monitoring their Enjoyment, Engagement, Motivation and how inspired they are, all became part of our regular studio crit. 

The extensive periods of occupation of the studio as well as its social dynamics were likely to have a substantial impact on the experience. So We were even more concerned with the by-product of the studio; Bronet (1995) described it as “ the hidden curriculum”, those unstated values, attitudes, and norms which stem tacitly from the social relations of the school and classroom as well as the content of the course. (Groat and Ahrentzen, 1996).

all were indicators on how engaging our studio was or not, it also provided us with subliminal insights to consider every year when evaluating, improving and developing our approach.

  1. 2019
2.1 The new challenges 

In October 2019, Lebanon was subjected to unpreceded events: natural/ manmade disasters, an incomplete youth revolution and a rough economic crisis. These events have led to a major lockdown that ended the fall. Later, the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic forced another lockdown to end the whole academic year remotely.

Working from home for the first time, we were more concerned with the efficiency of the process., We ‘ve searched our tools, tried to experiment with different platforms, diversifying the typology of the teaching material and developing several feedback methods to make up for the missing one-to-one desk crit.

2.2 The Deficiency of Communication 

There was clear deficiency in the connection; we were not able to establish the same type of communication: the one that enables us before to draw conclusion and plan our next step accordingly, to see beyond the photos of physical project they are sending. we were lacking something in the studio: a spark, we thought it is.

our remote learning approach was formulated upon our own perception of the current situation; it was simply a one-sided story. The problem was evident, and the misconnection kept popping with every virtual studio we have.

  1. Changing Direction
3.1 Rethinking our remote approach  

Trying to comprehend the current situation from a different perspective, we began asking our students to criticize their daily routine during the lockdown beginning with a 3 minutes video note. A fun -yet- Eye-opener experiment revealing the mental and emotional aspect of the students’ life under such circumstances. 

Finally, we were able to see the other side of screen, the communication we thought was well established. The findings were undeniable, we are delivering the course in unusual circumstances, infiltrating a very private space, a lifestyle that was not created for this and a routine that changed dramatically.  Yet we have settled our learning easily inside, convincing ourselves that we are still in control of the process, while we are not. A hybrid situation that is more personal now. And our efforts to device a successful remote learning experience could smoothly deviate and cross the fine line between efficient hard work to wasteful exploitation. 

Clearly, we needed to consider the relevance of the inputs and feedbacks to the nature and circumstances of this specific- not anonymous- learner. 

In their following project, students were encouraged to criticize their previously outlined routine, to draw their perfect one, and create the space that could house it in the “Lockdown in my room” Project. the problem here was given from the students’ close sensual reality, the project encouraged and stimulated their involvement personally and academically.

3.2 Comprehending the changes   

For the current academic year, we started remotely with new students. Beginning with what we have learned: to ask smart question with subliminal responses, and to listen patiently to their answers before proposing a problem . Then, to comprehend and identify key characteristics of this group (collectively and individually): the existing circle of concerns, interests and differences as well. A task that was mentally and emotionally exhausting beside time and energy too.

We did that, then we had a vision, a hypothesis to test: we ask a tangible question, propose a problem that (we think) is close, approachable and personal enough to light up that sparkle to solve it in their mind and heart. 

  1. Teaching the new studio (fall 2020-2021)

The first couple of sessions were planned to be mostly discussions, students were encouraged to speak up their motivations and self-reflect. The discussion was brought up in a way that seemed natural and improvised, giving them the opportunity to voice their thoughts and feelings in a friendly environment. The sessions were analyzed to reveal personal and general concerns upon which the following projects were planned.

our first project “The Sensory Experience/ BEIRUT 8.4” was based on the psychological traumatic effect of Beirut explosion on their lives. they had to convey their view of their legacy’s past, present and future. 

The design proposes a cubic volume exposed to this devastating event; it then tracks the changes that occurs on it in the following three stages: 

One (pre-traumatic / the Past/ legacy): where the original design stands for what it expresses.

Two (Trauma/ the Present/ the shock): the stage of explosion and expression of the shock feeling.

Three (post-traumatic/the Future/ the vision): the interference phase including the personal statement about envisioning the future.

With such tangible problem we’ve tried to maintain the level of abstraction required at that level while stimulating their senses enough to get them engaged in the solution.

in their next project (Back to Basics), we have adopted the concept of Urban agriculture as a way for citizen to begin produce part of their own consumption. Back to basics, is an attempt to connect the students with their ancestors, to the way the community used to secure its needs no too far ago.

Students are required to design a shelter for a roof top garden carer, a place that enables him to rest during his gardening duties. Given that every building in the urban dense context of the city will be using their roofs for food production (vegetables and fruits), students were required to come up with a standard unit. A unit that has the potential to create numbers of structural forms, and that could be later fabricated to help create different shelters forms on different rooftops.

A fictional problem this time, based on true events.

Students proposals were edited using to include Steve McCurry’s iconic photos for the Lebanese people in 1982. In direct references to the theme “Back to Basics”

At the end … by the beginning

“At the end” is a new beginning, a test for the resilience of our studio. We do not know too much about tomorrow, neither how prepared we will be. Under normal teaching circumstances (not long ago), we used to follow the same pedagogical approach in our studio for two consecutive years. Such decision enabled us before to compare and analyze its efficiency with two different groups of students before any development or adjustment. But now, the circumstances are changing every semester and sometimes more. We know the intended outcomes we aiming at, but the process/ the path is changeable. We might know the first question to ask for our next class(es) and maybe some good problems to decide from, but the decision: the path to choose, this one needs to wait for the students’ answers


Bronet, F. 1995. Voices in architectural education: cultural politics and pedagogy, Taylor & Francis.

Eagan, k., stolzenberg, e. B., bates, a. K., aragon, m. C., suchard, m. R. & aguilar, c. R. 2015. Fall 2015 (expanded edition). In: los angeles: higher education research institute, u. (ed.) The american freshman: national norms los angeles: higher education research institute, ucla

Eagan, k., stolzenberg, e. B., ramirez, j. J., aragon, m. C., suchard, m. R. & hurtado, s. 2014. Fall 2014. In: los angeles: higher education research institute, u. (ed.) The american freshman: national norms los angeles: higher education research institute, ucla

Eagan, k., stolzenberg, e. B., zimmerman, h. B., aragon, m. C., sayson, h. W. & aguilar, c. R. 2016. Fall 2016 in: los angeles: higher education research institute, u. (ed.) The american freshman: national norms los angeles: higher education research institute, ucla

Gallagher, r. P. & taylor, r. 2014. National survey of counseling center directors 2014. In: (acca), a. C. C. A. (ed.) Monograph series the international association of counseling services, inc.

Groat, l. N. & ahrentzen, s. 1996. Reconceptualizing architectural education for a more diverse future: perceptions and visions of architectural students. Journal of architectural education, 49, 166-183.

Nancy Couling: The Digital Cage (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

The Digital Cage: 

unleashing creativity through online formats

Assoc. Prof Dr. Nancy Couling

Bergen School of Architecture


The sea is deep, shifting, volatile and loud. It is vast, reflects light, conceals things and contains artifacts out of scale with the local land environment. In covid year 2020, the masters course “Explorations in Ocean Space II” at Bergen School of Architecture (BAS) investigated the North Sea. Using interdisciplinary inputs, models, mixed-media and artistic methods, the course also explored ways in which online formats could be exploited to capture these kinetic, contingent, sonar, multi-dimensional spaces of the sea.

What emerged from the remote teaching experience in this course, was a process of creative empowerment for many students in story-telling and experimental video and model-making.

The expressive, imaginative force of project work was in most cases enhanced through the creative application of online formats.

KEYWORDS: (Ocean space, North Sea, architectural narration, interdisciplinarity)

Introduction: Explorations in Ocean Space at BAS

Bergen School of Architecture is housed in an ex-granary directly on the fjord. The learning environment fosters a generative and participatory approach to its own physical site and buildings, encouraging direct exploration of light, sound and materials. The philosophy of student agency and intuitive inquiry is deeply rooted; the school’s Open Form approach; “encourages inclusive processes and ambiguous designs while creating spatial and temporal situations that enable diverse kinds of collaboration and development.” 

“To build, to form, is to open, not to close, complete or admittedly determine¨(Hatløy 1983)

The prospect of remote learning threatened to severely limit this explorative pedagogical approach to a limited range of experiences and senses. Exchange students enroll specifically for this unique environment. As teachers we were unsure of our own skills in managing such a transition and delivering a successful course, corresponding to the creative ambitions of our chosen topic. 

Explorations in Ocean Space is an interdisciplinary course merging scientific and artistic methods in the acquisition of architectural Ocean Literacy. Inputs in the fields of oceanography, cartography, marine biology, GIS, theory, sound and critical artistic practice offer a series of tools and openings with which to explore the ocean as a spatial realm, represent and project in this space. “If we were to think of the Ocean as a geographic place with spatial characteristics, histories, and desires inscribed into its waters, how could we begin to represent it? How could we position ourselves to interact with it as architects and to tell its stories?” 

The course upholds an open agenda; through research and exploration, fields of critical interest emerge that become the focus of detailed proposals, ranging from plastic collection systems, swarms of robotic monitors, seaweed, kelp and mussel farms, to offshore rig recolonisation.

1. Course Structure and covid19

Autumn 2020 semester comprised of two main parts; research on Bergen’s five major maritime industries in groups of 3-5 students in the first half of the semester, and development of project proposals evolving from these topics or other inspirations, in the second half. “Working together” began normally with full presence at the school; BAS upheld the priority of an open school where possible for students, but closed for teachers at times of tight local restrictions. Both Norway-based and commuting foreigners teach at BAS. The vital inter-student studio learning could therefore be maintained, while we teachers trapped in the digital cage of foreign red-zones became more dependent on student cooperation to manage hybrid presentations with physical guests at the school. Already strong at BAS, student autonomy was reinforced during this period, groups were motivated and results of a high standard. 

By our planned field-trip at the end of September, Bergen was a red-zone and uncertainty prevailed. Following stringent protocols and carefully persuading hosts in the maritime hub of Ålesund to receive smaller class groups, a short field-trip was possible. We observed the importance of the trip in boosting student morale, confidence and a limited sense of freedom. Hybrid teaching modes were increasingly adopted in our course in response to conditions during the second half of the semester, becoming fully remote by the final months.

Despite the open studios, students consistently felt vulnerable and opted for remote work due to either responsibility towards family members, towards important sports commitments, other health issues or self-quarantine in response to ongoing uncertainty. BAS required parallel remote teaching options for students potentially at risk or at home by choice. As the pandemic developed, remote teaching became the norm.

Student feedback indicated that a clear and well-communicated course structure was highly appreciated, in particular in remote teaching mode. In this mode of zero spontaneity and physical separation on dedicated teaching days, nothing happens by chance, while all around the pandemic was charting an unpredictable path. Our EAAE remote teaching workshop discussion also echoed the importance of providing stability through course planning and decisive leadership.  

2. Project results

The group research work in the first part of the semester on Bergen’s five major maritime industries; Shipping, Fishing, Oil & Gas, Renewables and Tourism, called for interviews, site-visits and case-studies as well as data. We encouraged an original and provocative take on these superficially well-known topics, an investigative, critical, journalistic style and the development of a distinct graphic language corresponding to the main storyline. The resulting five tabloid newspapers were readily transferrable to an online format but also produced as physical objects to be explored and unfolded by the reader.(Asheim et al. 2021),(Millereau-Dubesset, et al. 2020), (Gulbransen, Krüger, and Øvrebrø 2020), (Liadal et al. n.d.) Developed in collaboration with Bergen Kunsthall, the Newspapers (Blueprints) will serve as a “brief” to artists participating in the upcoming exhibition “Bergen and the Ocean” (September 2021). In this way the research involved “working together” with a partner institution and extended community of artists and aimed to take the students out of school, into both the maritime and artistic worlds.

These results and an ongoing dialogue between art and science in the space of the sea informed the emergence of largely individual projects in the second half of the semester; responses to potential “Cracks”, seepage, fault lines and disjunctions in what the newspapers had concluded as the overwhelmingly saturated narrative of industrial activity in the North Sea. Alongside sounds recorded with our own hydrophones, the kinetic properties of the sea were captured by the students in short experimental videos. With the decision mid-November to hold final presentations online, we encouraged students to continue the use of video to enliven and exploit the online format, and held tutorials in the use of video-making software.

2.1 Mystery without Fear, Secrecy without Agenda.

Probing uncertainty, elusiveness and the pervasive presence of security systems controlling deserted port areas, this project utilized large-scale architectural models, labyrinth-like mind-maps, a narrated script and video to compose a sophisticated ten-minute “film-noir” experience moving through Bergen’s docklands. As the project author led us through different enigmatic buildings, selected architectural properties were highlighted; materiality, scale, light, sound and fragments of maritime history still present in the space, and at the same time critical questions were raised about maintaining such specific atmospheres in future redevelopment. How to create public space which embraces uncertainty and maintain the mystery and secrecy of the unknown in an enticing way; without fear? In a seemingly effortless manner, inspired by Cedric Price’s Fun Palace and Lars von Trier’s Dogville, the project generates suspense, is timelessly suspended between past and future and enables the audience to engage in an imaginative, contemplative and critical way with the legacy of the Docklands site. 

2.2: Out of Scale- an oil story.

A harbor-side petrol station close to BAS is the departure point for this project, illustrating one side of the vast discrepancy between scales in offshore petroleum. Using a series of large hand-drawings, the viewer is drawn into the story and across a trajectory of industrial oil infrastructure shown in breathtaking detail, thus revealing the unseen, and framing a portion of the offshore world in its networked entirety.  

Using video to smoothly cross these scales, the voyage moves to the giant local oil refinery Mongstad and with an oil tanker out to the Draugen platform in the North Sea. Each infrastructure is meticulously drawn to scale, while the time it takes to cross the drawing drives the message of industrial scale home. At Draugen, workers’ residential and recreational spaces are nested within the numerous floors, then the drawing progresses vertically, through the platform’s concrete deep-sea foundations and all the layers of subsea formations until the source of Draugen’s oil. A quantitative summary of the objects and outputs of the full trajectory is made at the end, thereby reconfirming the critical position quietly maintained throughout the video. 

2.3: Plagptera- a creature of the Sea

The problem of increasing plastic litter in the ocean and how it entangles marine life, develops into a stunningly visualized story derived from the Caddis fly in this project: a one-person production including intricate design and animation, superimposed drawings and diagrams, filming, narration and a voice-over that accounts how the 12 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year cause the Caddis fly to mutate into a fictional protagonist – the maritimus plagptera (plastic water fly). This creature has three pairs of legs to swim, two pairs of sticky net wings to collect floating plastic particles, and two sensitive antennas for plastic location. Plastic water flies incorporate micro-plastics into their hard shell and require continuous absorption of plastic as they change their skin several times in their long life span. Modelled on a nature documentary, the voice-over explains how swarms of plastic flies operate on a global scale and describes in detail the intricate lifespan of the larvae, cocoon and plastic fly made believable by intriguing hand drawings and models made from found marine litter. Merging the scientific and the narrative, this work manages to shift the meta narrative away from victim and perpetrator, into metamorphosis and ambiguity in a fascinating, absorbing and partly horrifying way.


Remote teaching in our course was fed by a range of inputs to keep the studio alive, inject new “energies”, respond to different student personalities and empower the students in finding creative ways to communicate their project results on-screen. Several participants remarked on the increased teaching load of individual student support and finding adaptable formats during the EAAE remote teaching workshop- certainly the case for our course. However we discovered that different types of material could be strategically captured and communicated through video techniques; architectural and “biological” models in a range of scales, sound, analogue collage, light, large-scale detailed drawings, stop-motion animations, the real-time motion of the sea, and quantitative information. The results were refreshing and convincing. Some students opted to develop a website of layered information as an alternative option.

Reflecting on the results of this process during the EAAE workshop, the apparent new status of architectural narrative was discussed. Online presentation formats can move through a project frame by frame, thereby enabling the narrator to closely steer the audience’s spatial experience. Different sequences can be explored; our curatorial guest reviewer encouraged students to immerse the viewer directly into the core project space rather than approaching slowly from a distance. The voices of the authors as well as externals can be prerecorded to amplify the message.

The remote teaching part of our semester resulted in highly individual approaches; most students withdrew from group work to plunge into a range of critical questions, explorative methods, modes of expression, and representation. The results were rich and diverse. The mental space of the imagination also came across strongly in contributions from different teachers participating in the workshop. Can we claim that, in these cases, remoteness has strengthened individual creative exploration in design?

Architectural content influenced by remote teaching was a final point discussed at the workshop. Our ocean space course addresses the critical state of the global ocean and how this links to the urbanized western society. Covid 19 offered a tangible space and time to reflect on the ecological state of the planet and alternatives to our current models of progress, thereby reinforcing the relevance of our approach. EAAE members noted that uncertainty was thematised in design work across the board- albeit sometimes indirectly. Uncertainty is an ongoing condition at least in the near future. Aware of this as teachers, we must reflect on ways to work actively with the different facets of instability, unknowns and vulnerability and how these conditions can inform a responsive architecture. 


Asheim, Håkon, Guðrún Harðardóttir, Petter Ludvigsen, Tora Nitter, and Helene Sørland. 2021. ‘[REDACTED]’. Issuu. 16 February 2021.

Gulbransen, Kasper, Judith Krüger, and Inger Helen Øvrebrø. 2020. ‘Black Ocean’. Issuu. 14 December 2020.

Hatløy, Svein. 1983. Byggekunst =: The Norwegian review of architecture. 1983 Vol. 65 Nr. 6. Byggekunst. Vol. 65. Oslo: Norske arkitekters landsforbund.

Liadal, Kristoffer Apelseth, Kirsten Remmers, Jon Martin Seternes, and Elisabeth Wieers. n.d. ‘Toullution’. 14.12.2020. Issuu. Accessed 6 April 2021.

Millereau-Dubesset, Zoelie, Marie Porrez, Mads Michael Senneseth, and Karine Tollefsen. 2020. ‘ABYSSUS The Age of Oil & Gas’. Issuu. 14 December 2020.

Illustrations (selection only- more available)

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Video Still: Plagptera: a Creature of the Sea, Judith Krüger

Video Still: Out of Scale: an oil story, Marie Porrez

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Video still: Mystery without Fear, Secrecy without Agenda, Håkon Asheim

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Alice Clancy, Nuala Flood: The Art of Creating an Effective Online Collaborative Design Charette for Architecture Students (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

Designing Together in Covid Times 

The Art of Creating an Effective Online Collaborative Design Charette for Architecture Students

Alice Clancy

University College Dublin (UCD)

Nuala Flood 

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB)


Although the pandemic has forced architectural education to occur in physical isolation and predominantly online, this does not necessarily mean that we have to work alone. In this paper we present a case study of a design charette that demonstrates how collaboration can happen in architectural education in Covid times and how, in fact, collaboration can be enhanced by virtue of working online.

KEYWORDS: Post-Covid Public Space, Collaborative Design, Online Architectural Pedagogy


This case study of a one-day online design charette demonstrates the pedagogical techniques, tactics and tools which enabled meaningful design collaboration to occur. They include enacting priming activities prior to the charette, encouraging engagement though setting a topical brief, guiding the students through an explicitly codified design process, facilitating associated time bound design exercises and using graphic communication and the online interface, in a supportive capacity. The 230 students from UCD and QUB worked in mixed teams of up to six people. The majority of the participants had not worked together previously, and yet, we observed that they collaborated effectively. It took careful design and planning to successfully create and run this event and builds on our research, practice and teaching, which focuses on participatory design (Flood 2016; Flood and Cruickshank 2018) innovative architectural pedagogy (Clancy and O’Hare, 2011, Flood 2018) and the curation of architecture (Farrell and McNamara 2018). 

  1. The Motivations

We were aware that because of working online the students missed the interaction, exchange and serendipity of the design studio. We were keen to explore modes of architectural pedagogy that went beyond an attempted replication of the physical studio and, instead, sought to leverage the potential of working online for the promotion of collaborative practice. The primary aim was to explore ways of working online that would support the development of these crucial skills in students by developing a virtual space to support “creative cooperative working” (Borden et al, 2010). By engaging with a different educational institution, we aimed to provide an opportunity for the students to experience different ways of working, skillsets, and approaches to design and, also, to expand their architectural network. 

  1. The Design Charette Brief

We identified a design problem that has relevance to the studio programmes in both institutions and associated cities (Belfast and Dublin). The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way we live our public lives, and there have been profound shifts in the way we use, occupy and dwell in public space (Sharifi and Khavarian-Garmsir 2020; Ülkeryıldız 2020; Wray, Fleming, and Gilliland 2020). We developed our brief based on three associated observations: Firstly, we were critically of spatial responses to the pandemic: ad-hoc tents, canopies, marquees that provided shelter but, being cheaply and hastily constructed, they made limited contribution to a quality public realm. Secondly, pre-Covid, both cities supported rich cultures for music and performance. The brief reflected a need for design strategies to support these cultures into the future. Thirdly, during the summer of 2020, when Covid restrictions relaxed, much of the social life of both cities gravitated outdoors towards any covered public space. We predict that there will be post-Covid behavioral legacies and, therefore, the city will need to provide well-ventilated and safe public space. The brief challenged the students to create generous and flexible sheltered public spaces that would meet the demands of the current public health emergency (walk-in testing and vaccination), while also providing a space where public life could flourish in the longer term.

  1. The Priming Activities

Five days before the charette, we hosted an online introductory meeting via Zoom with all participants. We carried out ice-breaker activities using breakout rooms where students made quick sketch responses to brief, uploaded them to Miro and discussed these propositions. We also asked them to source examples of inspiring covered outdoor public spaces to share with their design team at the main event. These priming activities established a shared community of understanding and lent a momentum to and excitement about the charette.

  1. The Design of the Infrastructure

We designed the virtual charette interface on Miro (a digital whiteboard) and used Zoom for video conferencing. The graphic layout of the whiteboard guided the students through the design process, while allowing for exchange and serendipity (see Figure 1). The intention was to create a virtual interface that was clear and easy to use whether working with high-speed broadband or mobile phone hotspot. At a fully zoomed out scale the whiteboard communicated the structure of the day, providing all of the relevant information to start the charette. Updates were communicated in real time using the ‘bring all to me’ function in Miro. Zooming in, the whiteboard guided each team through each of the design exercises. The ongoing work of all teams was visible, enabling all participants to track other students’ progress. The system could function on its own in the event of network disruptions and if we were unable to communicate with the students via Zoom. The digital whiteboard also serves as an archive of the work after the charette. 


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Figure 1 – The whiteboard layout

  1. The Design Charette Event 

The day began on one Zoom call with an introduction to the Miro board and to the design teams. These teams were selected in advance so that in combination, each had a diverse set of skills. We explicitly briefed the students to approach the event as a collaborative endeavour, to be generous with their ideas, to share insights, to borrow ideas where appropriate and to support each other throughout. Participation in the event was a compulsory part of passing their larger studio module, but not graded. 

The charette was divided into 6 discrete and timed exercises carried out in separate Zoom calls (See Figure 2). However, as all outputs were pinned to one Miro Board, each team could observe how all other teams were progressing. The design exercises were interspersed with regular breaks and by targeted and inspiring presentations by eminent architects. Yvonne Farrell, co-founder of Grafton Architects, spoke about the importance of effective collaboration in architecture and Prof. Nasrine Seraji, UCD, spoke about formative projects from her early career. 

Table, timeline

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Figure 2 – The codified design process as communicated via discrete design exercises on the whiteboard

  1. The Design Outcomes

The final submissions were assessed by a panel of judges and a winning entry chosen through a deliberation and consensus building process. We hosted an online celebratory event where the judges discussed the shortlisted projects and where the overall winner was announced. 


As a case study, it presents a novel model for enabling a large group of people to meaningfully engage with collaborative design, while being facilitated by just two people. Crucial aspects of the approach include: 

  • Careful planning
  • Codified design process, facilitated using digital tools
  • Explicit about the overarching goal 
  • Signalled that having fun was a key objective 
  • Inspiring speakers with targeted presentations and specific times over the day to punctuate the process
  • A topical brief that resonated with the whole student cohort
  • Pass based on participation only
  • Motivated with a prize

Feedback to the event was overwhelmingly positive, with students being energised by the experience. It was a transformative catalyst for the students and staff involved, taking us out of working in reaction to being online and into leveraging its potentials to creative ends. 


Thank you to the students who participated, to our speakers Yvonne Farrell and Prof. Nasrine Seraji and to our colleagues: Dr. Sarah Lappin, Michael Pike , Orla Murphy, Greg Keeffe, Sarah Lappin, Michael McGarry,Hugh Campbell, James Rossa O’Hare, Clare Mulholland, Rebecca-Jane McConnell, Emma Campbell, Mark Price, Peter Tansey and Michael Pike.  


Borden I., Crawford C., Farren-Bradley J., Heron K., Low J., Parnaby R., Porter D., Roberts A. & Saxon R. 2010. Subject benchmark statement: Architecture. Gloucester, UK: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Clancy, A., O’Hare,JR., 2011, “Intermedia Workshops”, UCD Architecture Yearbook 2011: Strategies For an Urban Society. Ireland: Hudson Killeen

Farrell, Y., McNamara,S. 2018. Freespace: Biennale Architettura 2018, Venezia: La Biennale di Venezia 

Flood, Nuala. 2018. “Developing a Dialogic Design Review Process: Investigating Tools for Strengthening Multi-Directional Networks of Learning within the Design Studio.” Building Material (21): 11-32.

Flood, Nuala, and Leon Cruickshank. 2018. “Taking design to the street: reflecting on the use of temporary urban interventions as tools for co-designing public spaces.” Iterations (7): 10. 

Sharifi, Ayyoob, and Amir Reza Khavarian-Garmsir. 2020. “The COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts on cities and major lessons for urban planning, design, and management.” Science of the Total Environment: 142391.

Ülkeryıldız, Evren. 2020. “Transformation of Public and Private Spaces: Instrumentality of Restrictions on the Use of Public Space During COVID 19 Pandemic.” International Conference of Contemporary Affairs in Architecture and Urbanism (ICCAUA-2020).

Wray, Alexander, John Fleming, and Jason Gilliland. 2020. “The public realm during public health emergencies: exploring local level responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Cities & Health: 1-4.

Riva Lava: Far Away, So Close (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

Far Away So Close

The design studio in Athens during covid-19……………………………………………………Riva Lava


The presentation features different situations within the virtual studio during covid-19 and proposes methodologies for surviving: Erasmus students stranded in Athens must find a way to understand and be understood by their Greek peers and new concepts emerge. Models are built out of pasta and cereal boxes. Google-street replaces the site visit and space gets disrupted by unfilmed spots. Diploma project students are in search of new presentation strategies.    

  1. Paradise lost

Covid forced design studios to be taught on-line for most of 2020 and after. Many of us, educators in architectural schools across Europe, were not prepared for remote teaching programs so we improvised hoping to get through an undefined period. In the Architectural School of NTUA in Athens we had a very short time in the beginning of the semester when we could visit the site of the design project with our students. Then we set up platforms and blogs, bought tablets and electronic pencils and flung ourselves into the task of on line teaching. 

Pic 1_ Riva Lava’s class on webex 

More than one new dimension unfolded: studio culture lost its grounding; the classroom took the shape of a screen; the connections operated as a grid but only allowed two persons on the two ends of the line at a time; presence and absence became precarious; the lack of physical presence demanded much more time in order to establish a fulfilling exchange.

Predominantly, the studio lost its in situ immediacy. Students relocated following the stages of the pandemic: many traveled home to their towns and villages in Greece. Erasmus students returned to their countries. Groups had to split up and work over communication platforms. The school’s curriculum and its projected normalcy catered a sense of stability to an uncharted territory. The brief and the course description were there, but all novelties and innovations in teaching design laid ahead, to be encountered. The pandemic technically demanded this distancing, but its subtext pulled us closer together. A sense of urgency and care permeated every encounter, especially during the first lockdown in Athens from March to May 2020.

The site of the design project for the spring semester 2020 was a public garden, also an archaeological site in central Athens, at the foot of the Acropolis. Students were called to investigate the location as both, an archaeological site as well as an urban park, and then articulate an architectural program for this site. 

Pic 2 and 3_The site of the project: Thissio Park at the foot of the Acropolis

Understanding Athens and its historical center largely relied on the students’ walks there, their observations and sensibilities. For a couple of weeks this was possible, so the class established a connection to the site. Once the lockdown began, no visits to the site or design studio courses were possible. Students had to stay home by themselves and transfer to on-line lessons. Many returned to their homes, to their town or village or even country (Erasmus students) taking with them whatever they had collected in situ. This first survey material fed into the memory of place, a memory which was gradually transformed – as in any remote relationship. 

In many projects, program rose from the first experience of site and later was transformed by distance. The site plan and the pictures from the visit there provided a link to the reality of the place; yet, as projects evolved, the narratives seemed to encompass a state of oblivion generated by the very circumstances of the pandemic: 

Pic 4 _ B.Savci, F.Manganotti_Collage with Frames

The project of two NTUA Erasmus students, Francesco and Bilal, started out with a collage of frames from the site towards the city. Through these frames they could organize a first sequence of spatial experiences and ponder on the boundaries between the park and the city. As the covid pandemic advanced, Francesco returned to Verona and Bilal to Istanbul. The lingering feeling of loss, coupled with class material on Persian and Chinese gardens, opened up new possibilities.    

I could define this as the first milestone of the covid studio: a dreamlike, imaginary re-direction in the creation of a place which could not be visited anymore. This fueled into the definition of program for some projects, combined with a sense of paradise lost. The two students, Bilal and Francesco were working from afar; one in Istanbul and the other in Verona they used their cultural domains and traditions to form new bridges. 

Pic 5,6,7 _ Enclosed Garden (B.Savci, F.Manganotti)

I sensed that the first period of the pandemic facilitated a deeper connection between people and cultures, as we collectively realized that life itself was threatened. It brought a kind of yearning for human foundations and this was ultimately reflected in the way students thought about design. Program was geared towards community and daily needs, allowing the urban garden to take the form of a vegetable garden in the heart of ancient Athens. 

 Pic 8 _ Vegetable Garden (Ch.Chatzis)

  1. Imaginary locus

Site rather than program was reinvented in unexpected ways during the fall studio. The subject of the course in fall –during the second lockdown- was the integration of contemporary architecture in a traditional environment. This course is usually taught away from Athens, in traditional settlements across Greece, yet, due to the pandemic, a law was issued preventing educational excursions outside the Attica prefecture. We chose an area in the east Attica winemaking region, close to the Athens International Airport, in an area called Mesogeia (= middle earths). In one of the towns there, Keratea, once stood a traditional settlement which today is heavily rebuilt the way contemporary town in Greece are built. The task was not only to discover the older, more original traces of the town Keratea under and beyond its concrete enclosures, but also to make visible the elements of the built and unbuilt environment which could stimulate the dialogue between newly designed architecture and the genius loci. 

The project brief encouraged students to recognize the physiognomy of the place assigned. During the research in situ physical, spatial and human factors should be examined, as they define the shape, the structure and the particular architectural character of place.

Students were expected to record and evaluate the components of the natural and manmade environment in order to establish the framework for the integration project.

Again, at the beginning of the semester there was a small opening when we could visit Keratea, sketch, survey and photograph. The material amassed offered a first archive based on which students could start drawing street sequences and urban ensembles. In many instances more visits were needed but could not take place, so we got some maps and photographs from municipal collections and other sources, like google street programs. 

Many of the streetscapes could be found this way, with numerous sites between properties which had not been surveyed, resulting into blind spots in the continuity of the image of town. Thus site emerged as a ‘collage city’, full of memories and prophecies. 

Students started to reinvent their sites while they designed their projects, allowing their spatial configurations to override locus. Interesting results were supported by an architectural vocabulary and intention rooted in an elusive sense of site. 

Pic 9 (Collage-settlement Sourtzi,Tsitomemea,Vigier)_10 _ Imaginary landscapes

The more pragmatic readings of the site from afar touched on its fragmentary appearance, resulting into projects investigating disjointed sequences of place. This quality of an elusive and unstable site brought to the surface a need to know and coupled it with knowledge as program – i.e. a library.    

Pic 11,12 _ Disjointed place as Library (Stamouli,Tsiodras,Katsaras)

Another interesting twist was the imagined site which actually consisted of whatever could be known and surveyed and the ‘black holes’ within this system of coordinates. The reinvention of place was introduced during covid studio, bringing with it a precarious notion of what can or cannot be seen as a backdrop of experienced space. 

  1. Matter matters

Working models are a tradition in our school; students usually shape their ideas building one or more messy working models before they put their ideas into formal architectural expression and final renderings. Sketchy working models would offer a way for teachers to intervene as well during the pre-covid times in the studio.  Hands-on work was a very essential component of studio teaching. The loss of material interaction and tactile contact to projects is one of the big losses of the on-line studio teaching. 

During on-line class some students would prefer to build 3D models to show on the screen; many stayed loyal to the traditional way of work and sought to build physical models with all kinds of materials which could be found at home or at the supermarket, as no shops for architecture students were open. This brought interesting improvisations to the studio with the use of homebound materials such as pasta, cereal boxes, dish washing steel wool and more.

Pic 13 _ Model trees_M.Vamvakari_A.Lyberopoulos

Pic 14 _ Cardboard model_Ch.Trementousiotis

Pic 15_Plaster and nail model (Savgi,manganotti)

As the model had to be shown during class and the presenter was in total control of the viewing angles, a number of possibilities emerged: showing pictures of the model, filming the model via cell phones and playing the video, even filming guided tours within the model with the help of the hands of the students which would point to several spots. Despite the efforts to keep the working model alive, it was clear that 3D space is compressed on the screen.

In many ways the covid circumstance tested the fullness and efficiency of computer assisted drawing and designing methods, together with the way we communicate architecture in the studio.

In the case of diploma level students at the very end of their studies, who had already been working together before the lockdown, working apart and on-line was something difficult to even imagine. 

The materialization of their projects required that they met. Student groups even moved in together and worked day in day out at the same place, as transportation restrictions applied as well in Athens. 

Pic 16_ Group of NTUA students (G.Papadopoulos, I. Ntologlou, A. Vasilatou)

Hence the idea of small, protected working groups which now find themselves in a kind of ‘creative confinement’ because of covid. The latter is not a new condition for the endless and continuous hours of work in the studio and has occurred along the history of architectural education, but it now took up a different dimension.

Pic 17 _ Group of NTUA students (G.Papadopoulos, I. Ntologlou, A. Vasilatou)

At the end of the first lockdown midyear 2020 again we had a short window during which our students were allowed to show their work in person at the school and during the diploma exams only, with a very small number of attendees. 

Pic 18 _ Diploma work display of NTUA students (G.Papadopoulos, I. Ntologlou, A. Vasilatou)

Although it seemed like things had somewhat returned to normal, an eerie sense of desolation underpinned educational premises and processes. 

  1. Intelligence travels on thin air

Deeper into the covid period, on line studio teaching settled into its first format with students showing their work with ‘share screen’ and teachers speaking and sketching with ‘annotate’.

Although the virtual studio very much sought to reconstruct and recall the class ambiance as it was before, the setup of the virtual class inevitably introduced new protocols of communication and sharing:

Presence was elliptic compared to the physical studio and being there was not a steady and evident condition for all parties. Students were there and not there as they could switch on and off their cameras. Pictures and voices came in and out of the platform with varied intensity and clarity. Focus could not be structured or confirmed in ways of the physical studio. Yet, a new element of closeness over the medium emerged – the closeness of people exchanging thoughts without the behavioral filters of physical presence, with immediacy, in the (electronic) presence of visible and invisible others involved.

This allowed for serial one-on-one connections in the place of the group grid, as if every student was directly connected with the student or teacher talking. Collective and individual met on one track.

Students were also ‘closer’ to the work of their peers, as ‘sharing screen’ established an equally accessible, view-for-all class board. In the studio not everybody was present at the crits of others’ projects, while in the virtual class this became an inescapable condition. 

Despite the physical separation, minds were positioned closer together and the teaching process felt more collective at moments.

Mediated and computer assisted, architectural intelligence found new channels to travel. The lack of materiality and physical proximity left a void which at times was very difficult to steer into an educational process; other times this new space made of thin air opened up new possibilities: to think of what takes place just before a project is expressed materially, to spend more time in the mental realm before architectural form reveals itsself. Although I think that is was not a conscious or intended outcome, as the weeks passed within the virtual studio, the need for more detail emerged, especially when exchanging thoughts and ideas – as if detail would compensate us for the lack of an overview. A little bit like being escorted in the dark – one needs details to reconstruct a familiar route.     

The Athens covid studio never established itself as ‘normal’ education nor was is it meant to be. Week after week, teachers and students reminded each other that this is a temporary state of affairs due to the pandemic. In this regard, the on-line studio was a an informal, open-ended educational structure which only sought to be functional at the time. The latter allowed for improvisation –not only in the use of materials, but also in the way we shared each others’ daily environments, back rounds and moments. 

Interesting questions emerged within the studio: Can architecture be investigated with words only? Is there an abstract sphere where architecture can be scripted? Amidst the frustrations caused by the distance amongst us, there were moments instilled with inspiration and poise, when one could feel architectural intelligence travelling through the thin air of the medium and meeting its destination in the project.  

The latter point only confirms the complexity and the agility of architectural thought. Given the fact that covid studios truly operated in a state of emergency, our capacity to share and communicate got fine-tuned and in some instances, we managed to reconstruct the fullness of communication we would have in person. Covid studios were a lesson on ‘without’, strongly relying on the memory of our school and of each other.   ■ 

Yawei Chen, Michela Turrin: Group work in design education amid the COVID-19 pandemic (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

Group work in design education amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Yawei Chen and Michela Turrin

YC – Department of Management in the Built Environment, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands; MT – Department of Architectural Engineering + Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands

ABSTRACT: In design-related education programs, group work is often applied to train students to deal with complex decisions in the design process. Students learn to develop a multidisciplinary solution through co-operation and cocreation. Because of the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, design education programs were offered online. Students work in groups through virtual platforms without face-to-face interactions.  How do the design education programs with group work embrace the change, and do the virtual context affect the group work and collaborative design result? This research aims to set a start for the answers by discussing two master courses at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.

KEYWORDS: pandemic, design education, group work, online, group dynamic

  1. Introduction

Group work is applied to many design education programs. It is a basic form of collaborative learning, which helps students develop cognitive skills and pro-social and emotional development (de Hei, 2016; Gillies, Ashman, & Terwel, 2008). For cities and buildings to carry out sustainable urban development, the next-generation designers need to develop such knowledge and analytical skills in understanding the interrelations among science, technology, society and design, and find interdisciplinary solutions (Qu et al., 2019). Beyond deepening their professional disciplines, they need to communicate among different disciplinary professionals and societal actors. The interpersonal exchange allows the group of practitioners to develop interdisciplinary solutions through co-operation and cocreation. As a result, design education programs increasingly integrate collaborative learning and group work. 

When the Dutch government issued a lockdown in March 2020, all higher education programs were obliged to be carried out online. Students were not allowed to follow the courses on campus or gather in groups. The virtual environment became the only platform for group work in design education courses. As the lockdown situation continues, we need to understand group work performance in the new online setting. Such understanding has a value that exceeds the pandemic emergency when dealing with the increasing remote collaborations among international teams in professional practice. We question whether the group dynamic has been affected in a virtual environment and to which extent the virtual environment can sustain group work that usually depends on face-to-face interpersonal exchanges. Thus, we investigated two design education courses – the Urban Redevelopment Game and MEGA – carried out in the fourth quarter (April – July 2020) in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology. Observations on these courses focus on two research questions: 

  • How was the group work carried out online during the pandemic in the two design courses?
  • Does the virtual environment impact the process, communication and results of group work and eventually, how?

In the following sections, first, we explain how the group work used to be implemented within the two design education courses before the lockdown and how it was translated when using a virtual environment. We then present our observations and feedback from students and staffs. Finally, we summarise our reflections on the group work in a virtual environment. We suggest some tips to ensure the quality of group work in future group work in a virtual environment. 

  1. Integrating group work in two design education courses from Delft University of Technology

The concept of collaborative or cooperative learning is an instruction method that trains students on interpersonal and communication skills. These skills are promoted through group work. Working in teams can enhance the ability to work with others, negotiate acceptable solutions, solve potential conflicts and communicate and listen effectively (Ballantine & Larres 2009). The Urban Redevelopment Game (Integrating planning, property development and design (URG) coordinated by Y. Chen) and MEGA (designing a complex (tall) building, coordinated by M. Turrin), are two design courses that emphasise collaborative learning through group work. Both courses aim to help the students integrate existing knowledge in solving a real-life problem.

URG is an interdisciplinary course in which students address an ongoing urban development project with various analytical, technical and social-political skills. Students are asked to draw up an urban development plan in a real-life urban setting using role simulation. MEGA is an interdisciplinary design course concerned with the integrated design and engineering of a complex multifunctional (high-rise) building. Students are asked to design based on architectural and engineering roles, using advanced computational methods to facilitate an integral approach. Both courses designed their stages following the FSNP model, namely forming, storming, norming and performing (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977). Students carry out various tasks assigned to group work in the three-month education period, like formulating shared visions, exchanging knowledge and developing creative solutions. Along with the stages, students learn how to share, respect and contribute to (new) ideas and be open to positive and negative feedback. 

In the URG, group work is carried out by the students who play the same role and students who play a different role in one group. The group work among students playing the same role is guided by role supervisors weekly. The group work of different roles in one group is guided by a group supervisor weekly. The process manager is designed to coordinate the group work within a group in the URG. Besides the official deigned contact hours for role supervision and group supervision, students plan and manage group work for role task and group product at each stage to complete the whole assignment. In MEGA, group work is carried out by teams composed of students playing different roles. The work of each student in a team is guided by supervisors specialized in the student’s role, based on weekly consults. The entire team’s group work is guided by presentations and interactions with all supervisors and external specialists or stakeholders in several milestones along the course. Besides the official designed contact hours, students plan their group work based on three main design phases, from multiple concepts to final design.

Both courses pay special attention to the importance of group dynamics, which is critical to growing into a practical, high-performance team. Team members discuss how group dynamics like participation, communication, collaboration, influence, trust, cohesion, empowerment, and satisfaction should be taken care of, were incorporated in the course design and discussed among team members. Peer review is used in the URG to reflect an individual’s performance from team members’ perspective and how individuals can improve in group work during the process. MEGA includes emphasising computational workflows for multidisciplinary collaboration, including parametric modelling and computational performance assessments of design alternatives as a ground for negotiation among team members playing different roles. 

During the lockdown, group work was carried out in a virtual environment. Students were not allowed to have any group gathering. All lectures, official meetings and presentations were organized in the virtual environment (e.g., Zoom, team Microsoft, skype for business, Big blue button). During self-organised group work in both courses, most students used Zoom as a meeting platform. Besides, many students used platforms such as Miro to express their design and document their concept change in documents stored in Google Drive or Dropbox. In MEGA, students also used software tools such as Speckle (Poinet et al., 2020) with Grasshopper (McNeel) and BIM 360 (Autodesk), especially to synchronize 3D models and data across different disciplines.   

  1. Group work in a virtual environment

To understand students’ group work performance in a virtual environment without any face-to-face interactions, we have observed online group work and used panel discussion to collect feedback in both courses. Here are the primary reflections we draw from it:

  1. Online tools for interaction & data sharing seemed easily handled. The combination of online meeting tools and interactive tools for design and document helps interaction and exchange opinions more visibly.
  2. To some extent, the work structure’s efficiency and punctuality have been observed averagely higher than for on-campus education. Next to the structured nature of the virtual environments, external circumstances (including lack of activities during the pandemic) may have played a role. In some cases, social media accounts seemed to contribute to blurring the line between study life and private life.  
  3. Free riders seem less likely to occur in the online group work. Online interaction seems to allow each team member to become a focal point at a particular time. Online meetings offer an example as each attendee can speak one at a time and catalyzes the attention. The consequent balance between constructive and stressful pressure remains to be understood. Averagely, the pressure to complete the allocated group tasks within the deadlines seemed higher. 
  4. The group process seemed to have a slower take-off and time-consuming. Possibly due to the filter, the virtual environment and various available interactive tools add to human interactions. Many students seemed to have consumed more time understanding each other or exchanging ideas and related information with other team members. Tiredness also seemed a common challenge in long online meetings. 
  5. The quality of content development met the expected standard. The URG staff reported that students have a more rational discussion during concept development; meanwhile, the design results missed certain details expected in on-campus design studios.
  6. Process managers are essential for the efficiency and effectiveness of group work. Spontaneous meetings are less likely to occur in a virtual environment. The leadership of the process managers in the URG become more significant in planning, coordinating and communicating with team members. A similar value of formal or informal process managers was noted in MEGA. 
  7. Teamwork seemed to miss benefits from informal interaction, e. g. the use of subtle hints & body language among team members. In both courses, students reflected on the lack of informal interaction. Subtle communication needs to address differently when using virtual environments, where body language, postures or other gestures are limited. 
  8. Verbal remarks disjointed from body language and shared context can be taken more personal among team members. In the URG, when students need to comment on each other’s proposal or negotiate for acceptable solutions for different roles, specific direct comments or request can be softened in physical interaction. In a virtual environment, team members in the URG seemed to have more difficulties doing so.
  1. Conclusion

The pandemic, as well as the following lockdown measures, have posed challenges for higher education. For collaborative learning in design education like the URG and MEGA, the exploitation of digital interactive tools for remote interdisciplinary collaboration is crucial to carry out education activities. We have observed that students in the URG and MEGA simultaneously explore interactive online tools for interpersonal communication and group meeting. Environments such as Zoom allows team members to observe each member’s visual images and communicate their ideas without delay. Environments such as Miro provide interactive tools for designers to brainstorm, express their opinions and discuss design concepts in an organized manner. Shared storages such as Google Drive or Dropbox allow students to exchange concept development and document even minor new ideas. Digital workflows and (data) platforms for architecture and engineering, such as Speckle and BIM 360, allow developing digital 3D models crucial for the collaborative design process, managing them across different software environments, synchronizing them with inputs from different disciplines. This large variety of different interactive digital tools allow group work to be developed in a virtual environment without face-to-face contacts nor physical exchanges of documents. Group work experience in a virtual environment is a good testbed for the design of existing collaborative design courses. It is also a valuable experience given professional remote collaborations, nowadays increasingly common worldwide. The experience observed in the two design courses highlights the promising technical development of virtual environments and the possibility to implement their use in current group-work-based education. It points to promising potentials. 

Next to promising potentials, we have also observed some challenges that may reduce interpersonal interaction quality in current virtual environments. Students mentioned the lack of spontaneous interaction, the sometimes less immediate mutual understanding, and the earlier tiredness. Verbal remarks disjointed from body language and shared context require higher (professionalism and) carefulness in the formulation. They can be more difficult to be received without potential tensions in interpersonal communication. Besides, process managers’ leadership in the URG can play a more prominent role in planning, coordinating, managing group meetings, and facilitating group actions. 

Improvements for such challenges might require strategies from multiple directions. Firstly, the design of courses should take these aspects into account. Furthermore, providing timely feedback to students or discussing team building during the course is beneficial to group dynamics. Secondly, users of current virtual environments may have to tune their interactions to exploit at best communication despite current limits. Thirdly, technological developments with insights from science on communication and human behavior can play a crucial role to improve interactions.


Ballantine, Joan and Patricia McCourt Larres. 2009. “Accounting Undergraduates’ Perceptions of Cooperative Learning as a Model for Enhancing their Interpersonal and Communication Skills to Interface Successfully with Professional Accountancy Education and Training.” Accounting Education: an international journal, no. 18: 4-5, 387-402, DOI: 10.1080/09639280902719366 

De Hei, Miranda. 2016. Collaborative learning in higher education: Design, implementation and evaluation of group learning activities. The Hague: Uitgeverij BOXpress. Dissertation 

Gillies, Robyn M., Adrian F. Ashman, & Jan Terwel. 2008. The teacher’s role in implementing cooperative learning in the classroom. New York: Springer.

Lei, Qu., Yawei Chen, Remon Rooij and Peter de Jong. 2019. “Cultivating the next generation designers: group work in urban and regional design education”. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, no 30 (5), 899-918, DOI: 

Poinet, P., Stefanescu, D. and Papadonikolaki, E., 2020, August. Collaborative Workflows and Version Control Through Open-Source and Distributed Common Data Environment. In International Conference on Computing in Civil and Building Engineering (pp. 228-247). Springer, Cham.

Milena Metalkova-Markova: Serendipity and collective creativity in times of remote teaching (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

Serendipity and collective creativity in times of remote teachingToward a multiple teaching mode within and without digital screen 

Milena Metalkova-Markova

Portsmouth School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth


Based on author’s experience using Miro board in 2nd year architectural design studio during 2020-2021, this paper compares working within a physical studio and a virtual studio as an attempt to underline some useful practices toward a hybrid studio as a useful model for the future. 

The use of Miro virtual board where students work simultaneously within a fixed digital space enabled us to keep the sense of working together, “feeling” the presence of others and opened up serendipity opportunities for unexpected interactions and a collective creativity process.

Virtual studio work requires and develops a different set of skills compared to physical studio and cannot replace it completely as it prevents the use of all senses and hinders the development of sense of scale and materiality. 

A hybrid teaching mode, combining work in both physical and digital space could use the advantages of the newly discovered serendipity patterns within a multi-dimensional digital screen, the possibility for a collectivity creativity encompassing a larger number of participants and the digital provision of a legible snapshot of the working process opening up both synchronous and diachronous levels of interpretation.  

KEYWORDS: (5 max) Miro digital board, digital design studio, a hybrid teaching mode, collective creativity, serendipity 


The author would like to share own experience with using Miro board for brainstorming sessions in 2nd year architectural design studio during 2020-2021. 

The use of a digital shared board enables certain serendipity (Ref.1) as participants work individually alongside their colleagues within the digital screen, easily comment each other’s ideas and find interesting points of reference or contacts among each other.  The tutor can easily interact and input useful precedents and assist in defining initial design intentions and conceptual frameworks. 

The question is how stable are the results and how to use them during later design development stages? Reminding students about these findings in mid-term proved useful for some and not useful for others. 

The main challenge compared to physical studio is the necessity to keep working within shorter periods of time as digital screen exhaustion can compromise the working process. Other challenges are the difficulties to combine physical modelling and hand sketching with digital copy& paste routine and the distaste of certain students to work in a digital team. 

A major challenge is how to combine multiple modes of teaching within a single studio in order to integrate students who are reluctant to participate and prefer to work on their own.

This paper will compare working within a physical studio and a virtual studio as an attempt to underline some useful practices toward a hybrid studio as a useful model for the future.

Comparison between working within physical studio space and virtual studio space 


Physical studio space -3D-4D

Miro board virtual space- multi-D
Setting the rules 
Teacher/student communication relationship
Teacher-centred communication modeTeacher as main actor on stage Students-centred communication mode- teacher as a hidden observer Students as main actors on virtual stage

Working patterns
Students work individually or in small groups within a confined physical space Sketches and non-verbal communication essentialFull visual observation and a sense of control of communication Students work individually within a defined virtual board space, being aware of others working adjacent within the virtual boardLack of full visual observation and a sense of lack of control 
Process Creativity patterns
Brainstorming where teacher is using a physical board to discuss and fuse students’ insights Students are experimenting with hand sketching, model making and using both hands Possibility of instant creative links finding in a random manner, serendipity linking enabled as all student ideas are placed parallel to each otherStudents and teachers tend to use one hand and tend to prefer uploading images and writing comments 
Collective creativity 
Depends on student personal engagement and focus on teacher performance Sometimes hard to engage students Students find board easily engaging and exciting to work withTeachers can read students’ thinking patterns much more easily by looking at keywords linkages  Teacher can interact across the group in a transparent and consistent way with help summarizing conceptual ideas and insert precedents easily 
Results recording 
Photos of the brainstorming boards, but difficult to keep recording all details of interactions Visually legible and precise recording of interactions, brainstorming visual diary easy to retrieve and use during the later project work

Stability of results for students project work process 
A stable level of remembering insights from brainstorming for participating students  Easily created stories and visually neatly arranged layouts and also easily forgotten, necessary to keep looking at them and updating them within the design process
Synchronous vs. diachronous level of interpretation (Ref.2)Predominating synchronous level of interpretation of resultsPossibility for both synchronous and diachronous level of interpretation of results 
Challenges in terms of engagement 
Difficult to engage students with limited communication skills or hindered communication abilitiesImpossible to engage students with distaste for digital board working and digital studios communication
Challenges in terms of working process timing Working patterns of intensive collective sessions and individual work Necessity for shorter working patterns to counter digital screen exhaustion 

Blended learning 
Difficulty to work in studio and on screen with two groups of students at the same timeHow to ensure multiple modes of teaching to include students with different needs or wishes

Physical modelling 
Very important for a good learning process in studioHow to include physical modelling in a digital studio?
Digital representation Seen at mid-term of final presentations mainlyGraphic clarity, images/text proportion,  scale-less representations
Development of additional skills Focus mainly on presentation skills as additional skills Model photographing Sketch book How to make  a video of your model or physical work to be embedded within the digital board – film Working with blog to record design process 
Skills development Precedent analysis, site analysis, sketching, concept finding and formulating, sharing with colleagues,model making, recording of working process, 2d and 3d design, materials selection and consideration, graphic representation skills, awareness about scale, humans and nature within drawings

Precedent analysis, site analysis, sketching, concept finding and formulating, sharing with colleagues, digital recording of working process, 2d and 3d design, materials selection and consideration, graphic representation skills, awareness about scale, humans and nature within drawings
Key words to consider Sense of place, genius loci, milieau, ambience, local materials, local crafts and architectural traditionsHistory-  emphasized during site visits 
How to bring them into the virtual space in an engaging and holistic way?
Game principlesIce brake gamesPossibility for digital board games?


Working in the context of virtual studio space provided a radical change in terms of teaching and learning within an architectural studio. The use of Miro virtual board where students work simultaneously within a fixed digital space enabled us to keep the sense of working together, “feeling” the presence of others and opened up serendipity opportunities for unexpected interactions and a collective creativity process. The virtual board gives an advantage to introvert students to take part and be more active, compared to physical studio and is precious in terms of widening participation, disregarding physical distance. On the other hand the virtual work deprive us from non-verbal communication quite essential for a fulfilling teaching and learning experience. Virtual studio work requires and develops a different set of skills compared to physical studio and cannot replace completely physical studio environment as it prevents the use of all senses and hinders the development of sense of scale and materiality. 

A hybrid teaching mode, which combine work in both physical and digital space could use the advantages of the newly discovered serendipity patterns within a multi-dimensional digital screen, the possibility for a collectivity creativity encompassing a larger number of participants and the digital provision of a legible snapshot of the working process opening up both synchronous and diachronous levels of interpretation.  


  1. The Meanings of ‘Serendip'”;
  2. Stanishev G., 2018,  Lectures on Theory of Architecture –not published
Ziemowit Belter: Instagram as a virtual space for architectural studio (RTW2 – Working Alone, Together)

Instagram as a virtual space for architectural studio.

Ziemowit Belter, Gdańsk University of Technology

ABSTRACT: We changed our definitions of being ‘together’ and ‘alone’. But was it entirely the pandemic’s doing? Or had we made that change before, and the pandemic just made it blatantly clear that human relations are changing by merging with the virtual world. This paper describes an experimental course  for students of  third semester, planned with the help of modern methodologies developed in order to be applied to new technologies and modern product-design, such as gamefication and UX design.  In its origin, it was designed to help students develop ecological awareness and it had nothing to do with social issues of students during lock-downs. However, it proved very effective at translating studio culture known as the backbone of architectural education into virtual language.. It also adresses questions asked during workshops about the course – if it’s valuable during the times after lock-down and if it means a lot of extra effort from educator point of view.  

KEYWORDS: social-media, architectural studio, instagram, gamefication, UX design


Sustainable design is the design of nuances. There is no need for grand gestures, and very often, edgy ideas stand in the way, rather than being truly helpful. On the other hand, sustainable design is curious, subtle, complex and ever-changing, with context being of utmost importance. From an educational point of view, it’s much harder to inspire students to comprehend the true sense of sustainable design. Often, it’s the same grand attitude with a new green box – students come up with some edgy and flashy ‘eco’ technologies and ‘green’ solutions. They like to present farfetched social ideas that are easily presented in colorful synthesized sketches. According to many ecological educators [1], to get the grasp of ecology, one needs to feel it as much as understand it. That’s why, if we want to get students of architecture on board with sustainable design philosophy, we cannot just show them how, and why, but somehow make them ‘feel’ it’s important. During the course of 3rd semester of architecture, we combined the typical studio-based learning with some new methodologies derived from IT technologies, such as UX Design and Gamefication, to improve certain intrinsic motivations that align with more subtle stimuli, better suited for sustainable design. 

Who  is  the  Neo-millennial  student?

The whole idea for using social-media as substitute for virtual studio was inspired by the principles of UX Design. UX design is a way to design an experience of using a product (mostly apps and games) with regard to a user, his or her previous experiences and general characteristics. As we designed a course for 20 year old students of university of technology, we had to gain knowledge about their way of thinking, being and social interactions.

Therefore, we began with the question – who is the modern student? There is a growing number of publications which show new patterns of thinking among people born after the year 2000 who are tech- and social media savvy. Lots of research indicates that students of the so called “neo-millennial” generation learn in a different way, have different attention-span and should be engaged in a different way than students of older generations. [2] Although their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are the same, they pursue them in different ways. The most notable change happened, however, in their social life, which in some part moved to the virtual world. For many – encounters are happening in parallel. It’s not difficult to have many ‘talks’ hanging around in mid-sentence and waiting to be continued in due time, discussions on various forums that are being continued for  weeks, or energetic exchange of views in Twitter, that are happening almost in real-time. Different virtual spaces force a different way of operation from its participants, just as much as different architectural settings do. Understanding the differences between formal and informal, and recognizing which setting is instinctive for the purpose of studio education for students in their twenties was crucial for our UX design.


The 3rd semester of faculty of architecture pertains to single-family house design. Along with the knowledge of architectural design regarding single family housing, we wanted to base our course on the exchange of ideas, social interaction, fun and implicit games revolving around sustainable design. The idea was to spark curiosity and encourage cooperation and creative competition between students, even though they worked on their projects separately. In order not to endanger the core knowledge basis of a regular course, we set the course twofold. The core was in the form of  e-learning meetings once a week, and the experimental part was taking place in the background, between the meetings. We needed an application that was portable, sociable and graphic-driven. For our virtual space, we chose Instagram. There are numerous reasons behind it, but mostly, we needed a very instinctive app that student could take anywhere and work with it easily. We set a virtual studio by creating special accounts for students and teachers. This way, if anyone sent a picture, everyone else got it in real time alongside with a notification on their phone [image 1 – Virtual studio]. 

It was our space for a creative exchange of ideas, photos of drawings and models. Instagram was also our space for game activities, in which we subtly included sustainable design content. All these activities were happening ‘in the background’ during the whole week between classes. Any student could pick-up any thread at any time, share their content and engage with activities on Instagram. The other reason for this setting was the intent to shift the relation between a student and the knowledge. During the course a student was both the consumer and manufacturer of the knowledge (prosumer). It was of utmost importance, since the whole idea of presenting sustainable design principles was introduced through means that make emotional connection between the student and the ideas. Gamefication as a methodology brings a lot to the table when it comes to proper motivations for certain tasks – in this case, we build upon octalysis  – a framework for proper motivations behind a given process. The crucial octalysis points for our work were ‘meaning’, ‘social influence’ and ‘accomplishment’.

Background activities

To demonstrate our gamified Instagram group in practice, we selected two different examples of activities – Personas and Archweekly.  The Persona task was to pick a very characteristic background and match it with equally characteristic persona – they could match perfectly, or, on the contrary, contrast one another. The goal was to create a very symbolic picture open to all kinds of interpretations. Every student had to post their persona on Instagram with 6 different characteristic points, such as age, hobbies, quirks, etc.  [image 2 – Personas]

Then, every student had to get their persona’s points filled by 6 other students, where every student wrote one point according to their associations. It triggered off interactions between students pretty well and soon Instagram was flooded with students’ activity. Students enjoyed creating personas so much that they brought up an idea to make moodboards about their created personas as a whole another activity. It also had its purpose for making a starting point – from now on, their design was revolving around their personas’ needs. It was also the very first step to understanding the nature of sustainable design – that architecture is for people, not the other way around, and that’s the case even for their very first architectural experience. 

The other activity was ‘Archweekly’ – an ongoing weekly activity that (besides Instagram) used Archdaily app. as well. The idea was to pick an example of architecture design that aligns with the  current topic of our weekly meetings – for example, if we talked about the role of light in a house, the topic was ‘light in architecture’ [image 3 – Archweekly].

Students could pick up any design that made impression on them and then post it on Instagram with a proper explanation for their choice. Then, everyone was voting for the best one, by giving likes. Every week we picked up ‘archweekly of the week’ and talked about it during our meetings. There were two reasons behind this activity – to make students curious about various designs and approaches to different problems, and from the teacher perspective, to gain insight into their way of thinking, to help students improve their of understanding of architecture and the ability to write about their choices.

Alone  but  together

These elements were designed before the pandemic to address a certain problem – to have students engage with sustainable design of their own accord. When it became clear that we were going to have to perform our experiment online, we were not thrilled, as Instagram was supposed to be the background for the real meetings in person. However, students picked it up very quickly and soon most of our social encounters were happening on the platform. We have seen a lot of engagement during the activities – in fact, much more than in regular, physical classes. [image 4 – random activities]

Students let their guard down and acted as they do on social-media – they were very open to discussions, shared ideas and humour. As the teachers and students had the same virtual ‘position’ in studio, the typical division between students and teachers was gone. Alongside the effect of bringing sustainable design principles to a more engaging approach, it made great substitute for social interactions among students. Even though we have not seen one another even once in real life, the emotional connections between participants were established. What is more, because of the changes among the neo-millenial students, it worked perfectly with the changing patterns of social and learning behavior. Without a doubt, students were more open to share their own ideas, often changing our course by themselves with extra effort by adding new activities and tasks. We have also noticed to our satisfaction that Instagram played well with analogue techniques, such as drawing and physical models. It was probably due to computer fatigue, as much as Instagram form of sharing photos, but we were flooded with hundreds of pictures of drawings and different models. It is hard to establish, if these changes are for the good, or for the bad – but they are here to stay, as much as the technology that shaped them. 


  1. Introduction.
  2. Who is neo-millenial student?
  3. Insta-group.
  4. Background activities.
  5. Alone but together.


  1. 5. Judson, G., 2009  A New Approach to Ecological Education: Engaging Students’ Imaginations in their World, Peter Lang Inc. International Academic Publishers
  2. Dieterle E., Schrier K., 2007. “Neomillennial” Learning Styles Propagated by Wireless Handheld Devices. Ubiquitous and pervasive knowledge and learning management: Semantics, social networking and new media to their full potential. IGI Global.
Massimo Santanicchia, Aðalheiður Atladóttir & Falk Krüger: Urban Lab Design Agency – What are the politics of your design & What is the design of your politics?

Urban Lab Design Agency – What are the politics of your design & What is the design of your politics?

School: Iceland University of the Arts

Year of Studies: Second year in Architecture

Duration: 15 weeks

Authors: Massimo Santanicchia, Aðalheiður Atladóttir & Falk Krüger


Course Description: 

The design studio explores and applies the concept of cosmopolitan citizenship in architecture design. Cosmopolitan Citizenship Architecture Education CCAE is the practice of architecture where the primary motivation is to care for Others, for social and ecological justice. The design process is therefore intended as a social practice used for “being together in co-creative partnership with the Earth”1 and ultimately shift design culture from authorship to collaborative agency. Becoming cosmopolitan citizen architects means learning to make ethical design decisions to include the Others, future generations, earthlings, un-represented and suppressed voices, into the design process. A powerful architect therefore is a powerful cosmopolitan citizen, a person that is aware of the connectedness of everything and of the specificity of each location. We are all different and yet related! Education for cosmopolitan citizenship is fundamental to facing the problems of the world because citizenship is about caring for the common good.

Students’ project title: Jónskirja (John’s Church)

Students: Helena Ósk Óskarsdóttir



Jónskirkja is a church and cultural centre located in Höfði an industrial neighbourhood of Reykjavik, capital of Iceland. Höfði is currently under transformation as 15,000 residential units are planned over the next 10 years. Jónskirkja will inhabit an old factory, a grand industrial structure destined to be demolished under the current master plan. The goal of the project is to give a new life to the structure, to design an harmonious space where people and nature can meet. The inspiration comes from a story written by Iceland most famous writer Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness who in the short novel “Christianity Under the Glacier” a pastor called Jón Prímus said that Snæfells-glacier was his church, and nature his gospel. Based on this hymn to nature the project blurs indoor and outdoor spaces, merging rocks and water to form a new landscape where the cliff becomes the building, and the building becomes the cliff. The church is meant to care for all earthlings, religious and secular people and most importantly animals. The church site offers a place to connect to nature, to be in silence, to admire the seasons and above all it will have a respect for nature.