Cedrik Price: the architecture of the individual and its social relatedness, The McAppy Project

In 1973, following the strikes that beset the British construction industry during the early 1970s, Alistair McAlpine commissioned a design program for his construction company, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, that aimed to increase production efficiency and improve labour relations. Cedric Price’s proposal took the format of a two-volume report and a Portable Enclosures Programme (PEP) which, while presenting a critical view of building sites, also demonstrated his ambition to go beyond the immediate brief, employing architectural knowledge and thoughtful design to respond to pressing societal issues and human necessities.

Excerpt from the 2017 CCA Exhibition Catalog entitled: What About Happiness on the Building Site?
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The project emphasizes “the social role and responsibility of the architect by rethinking traditional field practices and pursuing strategies to initiate social progress through critical research, new tools and experimental attitudes” (Domus, 2017). The designer becomes the moderator of social activity (Herdt, 2016).

To qualify labour on building sites, Price acknowledged the need to reframe the relations between the multiple actors involved, from government to service suppliers, from technical staff to workers’ unions. He often stressed the importance of communicating to everyone, from the workers to the administrative personnel, the purposes and goals of the report, introducing “a participatory form of Company planning” and resisting the tendency for decision making to be “too top heavy.”

Full text available here
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The value of detailed maps at the neighborhood level

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The author claims the need of a systematic approach “that brings together the design of built environments with the best scientific knowledge of processes of change in complex natural and social systems.” Urban planning must work within these systems that require local info (through participatory practices) and the creation of technical solutions. He thinks the challenge is mapping informality as cities grow in unpredictable ways. He also claims that cities are about connections: “the socioeconomic and physical links that allow each one of us to make a living, obtain services that make our lives easier, and learn and invest our time and resources.”

The effects of connections can be traced as the concentration of social networks in space and time where the value of a group is not proportional to the group’s numbers, but to its interactions. GPS tracking, and smart phone technologies can help track the networks.

New methods from urban science allow the accelerated evolution of these neighborhoods to follow natural urban processes. They are based in part on the mathematical analysis of detailed maps, including the development of algorithms to optimize building access, delivery of services, formalization of land, and taxation, with minimal disturbance and cost.

Planning through the development of detailed maps at the neighborhood level is also an effective way to capture local, person-centric knowledge, providing a clear vehicle for better local politics via the coordination of priorities and action from communities, local governments, and other stakeholders. The convergence of a networked science of cities, quantitative methods of spatial analysis, and information technology tools is key to allow users to participate.

Full text available here

Luís M. A. Bettencourt (2019) Designing for Complexity: The Challenge to Spatial Design from Sustainable Human Development in Cities Technology|Architecture + Design, 3:1, 24-32, DOI: 10.1080/24751448.2019.1571793

Systems V Networks

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(…) systems matter more than networks. Networks don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist and are shaped by the environments in which they exist. Networks are ephemeral. Systems exist to preserve. Systems exist as predictive agents. It’s hard to control people in networks – they have too much agency, they can do what they want. The lack of controlability makes it difficult to achieve intended outcomes in networks. When agents want a clear outcome, they turn to systems. Systems preserve power.

George Siemens, (2019). I was wrong about networks. Full article available here

“Networked Learning Communities–The Benefits for Continuing Professional Developmentof Virtual Learning Environment Teachers”A Critical Literature Review by Chris O Tool

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Review covers literature for the period from 1996 to 2018: What are the benefits of networked learning communities for continuing professional development sharing and learning?
In the area of teacher professional development, research has shown that teacher networks add value for their development, the implementation of changes, leadership, and improved teaching practices. Four main themes emerged in response to the primary research question. These were:

  • Enhanced social learning processes for CPD: learning communities help participants in this study to develop their competencies by sharing information and collaboration / helps to minimize the isolation that learners may have due to cultural, social or geographical reasons
  • Greater use of formal and informal learning for CPD: Communication, collaboration and learning between individuals occurs both through formal and informal networks/ Yet, formal learning paths are rarely designed to meet the demands VLE teachers face in professional practice
  • Learning across barriers in time and space for CPD: Networked learning communities provide a means for supporting the development of professional development learning communities across states and countries
  • Increased levels of interaction for CPD: By cultivating interaction among CPD learners, networked learning communities support profound learning and greater levels of professional practice

Networked learning theory suggests that the real power of networked learning communities rests primarily in “collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice” based on the richness of VLE teacher professional knowledge sharing and creation (Katz, Earl, & Jaffar, 2009, p.21) and that this type of collaborative inquiry rests on the strength of the relationships between the actors or nodes in the network (Church et al., 2002; Haythornwaite, & de Laat, 2010)

Full article available here

Student resistance to curriculum changes

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Sometimes, when we talk about learner independence, active learning or agency, we forget that this is not always for granted. Student consensus can not be considered a given. Trying out new things in a course (changing formats, layouts or mediums) produces changes that can be met with resistance and suspicion and it usually takes time until the cohort is convinced that what you are doing is actually working for them.

Student-Centered Learning and Student Buy-In article in Inside Higher Ed shows the results of curriculum change in a Biology course over a period of four years in relation to student satisfaction and acceptance. Pre- and post- course surveys show that student resistance decreased over the years and while grades did not change, the students’ perception of their gains has.

I remember that when we first introduced networked practices in an undergraduate design studio, students were terrified of the idea that their preliminary research and drawings would be published online for everyone to see. When talking about this, some expressed the fear that their ideas would loose their originality or that by the end of the semester everyone would converge to a single design idea/concept. Of course, none of this happened: in fact, it was quite revealing to see how diverse the research approaches and their respective representations actually were from a very early stage in the design process.

But there is also another interesting aspect in this article: the very fact that there was no single teacher but 13 of them. Now, I think this severely enhances the idea of a learning community. It’s not just about changing the format, it is about how you do it. By opening up the curriculum to more researchers and more teachers and by presenting the students with a course that is founded on a collaborative effort you ultimately denounce the idea of the expert and what comes along with that. And it is not by chance that grades have nothing to do with this. The very act of learning and being part of a learning community luckily can never fall into the hands of assessment.