Professor Fowler speaking to a group of high school students visiting Cal Poly from INTERCONNECT, a program for underrepresented students with an interest in architecture.
“A profound design process eventually makes the patron, the architect, and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being.”
– Juhani Pallasmaa
Innovative design studios, enriched academic experiences, multi-disciplinary collaborations with other university departments, and critical links between the academy and professional practice are all important components of the professional education of an architect and have been a focus of Professor Fowler’s Teaching for three decades.
A transdisciplinary approach to design and collaboration in the design studio setting expands beyond the skill sets of the individual students to embrace the collective knowledge of this classroom environment and provides an opportunity for working in teams with a focus on the workflow process, providing multiple reflexivity opportunities, providing opportunities for discussing the learning processes and the sharing the best practices for project integration and synthesis.
The design studio is where all assignments are problem-based. This heuristic learning environment, with over 12 hours of instructor–student contact hours per week, provides many opportunities for engaging students as a community of learners inside and outside the classroom. The successful accomplishment of active and engaged student learning teaching methods are varied – lectures, seminars, discussion groups, instructor-to-student consultation, formal reviews, daily aphorisms, weekly journals, online and in-person discussions, field trips, multi-disciplinary collaborations, and outdoor critiques of student work. All of this is a continuous effort to help the student give voice to creativity to set the stage for thoughtful and intelligent work. Four overall objectives are used to frame the design studio learning environments: to capture and document the process of learning; to provide a collaborative and inclusive environment so all voices are heard; to create a continuous dialogue of issues extending beyond classroom time; and to establish a learning environment that feeds itself and evolves as the learners grow.
The goal of the academy is to educate future design professionals, prepare individuals for a changing world, and provoke thoughtful designs which address environmental and performance criteria while exhibiting technical excellence. In order to do this, for such as large-scale project, the authors developed a studio that blurs the line between building structural systems and architecture (and therefore, no disciplinary handoffs were allowed during the collaboration) using the philosophies embodied in Ove Arup’s Key Speech (Ove Arup, 1995) in which he describes the melding of disciplines to create a holistic design; and studio-based learning outlined in Donald Schon’s work, Educating the Reflective Practitioner (1987) in which he states: “Designing, both in its narrower architectural sense and in the broader sense in which all professional practice is design like, must be learned by doing.”
—Fowler’s collaborative paper, 2020 Skyscraper Collaboratory paper (Springer, 2022)
The committee particularly notes your (Professor Fowler) even-keeled demeanor in the intense studio lab environment. You provide honest and measured constructive criticism to students in a way that maximizes their potential without intellectual discouragement.
—Distinguished Teaching Committee, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (2018)
Transdisciplinary design studio components
- Building Systems Integration principles from the big ideas of the project (the story) and have these elements reflected in the developed building systems for the designed project (structure, environmental controls systems that relate to daylighting, cladding, shading and ventilation, building navigational systems that include egress, accessibility, site, and urban placemaking).
- Interdisciplinary teamwork approach to project and linkages to the course reader and additional “deep-research” that is applied to the design work.
- Clear project design representation and concept documentation for project storytelling, which was augmented with reflexive journals submitted weekly by all students.
- Iterative design processes for critical project development and for the critical exploration of design concepts and technical structure development.
- No disciplinary handoffs were allowed during the project process; the studio promotes a team in which all members or disciplines contribute to all levels and areas of design development.
Reflexive individual and team touch points of design studio
A. Studio and Periodic Disciplinary Assignment/Project Evaluation Rubric for the team and for individuals. Assignments related to a student’s concentration, such as the development of space, circulation, materials, structural systems, framing, and building envelope.
B. Review Buddy Notes captured by an assigned team during each of the reviews helped to capture the range of both technical structural and architectural information. With project reviews every two weeks, these notes were helpful for teams to establish lessons learned from work prepared and Next Steps for Project Development.
C. Final Reflective Essay served as a tool for, as the title suggests, individual student self-reflection of learning and also helped to document these pre-career experiences.
D. Trust Battery Survey (Lütke, 2016) each student completes and posts anonymously their assessment of their teammates, their group as a unit, and themselves every five weeks for check-ins and to communicate with the instructors how each team is working and provides a tool for the instructors to identify and assist, if necessary, with conflicts and scheduling issues.
E. Weekly Reflective Journals by Each Individual Student answering three questions (4th question optional): 1. What did I learn this week regarding the project and If teamwork involved mention?; 2. What are your goals for next week?; 3. What happened this week that was weird or unexpected (that you can share)?; 4. Optional: anything else you would like to add that is exciting?
Cal Poly Architecture Professor Thomas Fowler and architecture students Emma Entress and John Kim Jr. review conceptual work in a third-year design studio, uploaded December 13, 2019