Reflections: learning from teaching another exploratory master of architecture design studio; archi-fashion lab

I came back to teach another exploratory design studio on Architecture and fashion with a multi-layered socio-cultural theme last semester. It was a wonderful experience to take on another exploratory journey with students and my colleague, Adam Peacock, a creative designer and a consultant, and to encourage students’ critical design thinking to develop creative design possibilities for the future of architecture practice. After being involved in real-world projects for a while, it was inspiring for myself to loosen up and test out creative ideas in my own design practice as well. It was also quite invaluable to have Adam along in the studio during the conceptualization of the projects.

The evaluation of exploratory studios and moderation of the outcomes in comparison with other studios with more traditional straightforward briefs is often a challenging task. I find it important to briefly reflect on the process and the final evaluation of the outcome of the studio with the hope that we could develop future methods for a fair moderation of students’ works across different studios. The wide range of options in interpreting the themes of studio in the first few weeks led to a diverse range of design concepts, where each student sensitively developed a unique theme. It was rewarding to see how they identify their design strength and weaknesses through doing the weekly exercises. This was aligned with my original aim to move away from a classic ‘fashion and architecture’ and look at the underlying socio-cultural phenomena instead of looking at fashion and architecture purely from a formal, material and structural point of view.

As always, the challenge was mainly in the phase of transforming these unique ideas into an architectural project, which was meant to propose possibilities for the future of a retail store looking at themes such as experience economy of the senses and movement and ideas of sustainability and identity. Anchoring the projects in the contextual specificity of the site, looking at the current alternative practices of retail design, highlighting the importance of structure and design detailing were tools that really helped in realizing the concepts in more real-world context. The use of technology (VR) was another helpful strategy, particularly for projects with more focus on immaterial and experience-based architecture. You can see more details about the process of the studio here: https://archifashionlab.wordpress.com/

The progressiveness of the proposed possibilities for future programs and typologies of the retail store was impressive. At the same time, this uniqueness may lead to design layout and programs, which does not necessarily exist in the current practices of retail design. This distinct difference between such approaches and outcomes compared to other archetypical architectural programs makes the moderation of the marks challenging. Perhaps, the clarity to be able to identify the specificity of the studio as a concept-based, a process-based or a product-oriented brief and what matters most in the brief is the key for a fair assessment. This will then probe questions such as; how much do we rely on the aesthetics of the outcome, the richness of the design thinking, the feasibility of the project, the detailing of the design? These and many more questions are inquiries that I believe should be considered in the writing of the brief, the reviews of the process and moderation of the final marks.

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