INTERVIEW WITH SAEED ARIDA, ARCHITECT, EDUCATOR AND FOUNDER OF NUVU STUDIO - PART 1/2

How about going back a few years and take your dissertation as our starting point? In More Seeing in Learning you explored architectural studio`s potential for nurturing “creativity” and you designed a case study based on high school students. Which were your key influences in this inquiry?

I can distinguish three key influences. First, the Shape Grammars and my work with George Stiny. In my dissertation I used Shape Grammars as a way to explain what happens in the studio and to define what creative education is. Second, my own experience of teaching a studio. I was also teaching a lot of these studios with different people. So that gave me a lot of insights into the culture itself. And, then the third one is Donald Schön`s work who wrote the Reflective Practitioner and his less known book called The Design Studio, written in the 1970s. Schön was also a professor at MIT back in the days. He talks explicitly about the value of the architectural studio education outside the architectural discipline, like in engineering, or medicine, and how would a culture that emphasizes on ‘reflection in action’ would really contribute. And that’s what the studio basically is. Schön distilled the design studio into ‘reflection in action’. That is, as you work you are able to reflect immediately with what you are doing. So, as you are dealing with the phenomena you are able to reflect on them right away.

How did Shape Grammars influence your perspective about the design studio?

What I was interested in was not exactly the Shape Grammars in terms of doing the algebra and manipulating shapes. But more in the epistemological aspect of it. How do you define creativity. How do we understand it. How do we built a computational system that can basically detect the ambiguity through the creative process. Through that lens basically I was introduced to Schon’s work, and even the generative grammar of Chomsky, and all computational methods of thinking. So, it gave me this kind of space to think through a lot of issues. To think about the studio, and creativity and what it means through that.

While shaping your approach towards the design studio was it basically  the “computer” that you had in mind?

Paradoxically the opposite. It was not the computer at all. I mean, obviously I was in the Computation Group, and when I was teaching studio I used digital tools, but I was not really interested in the tools themselves. But more in the way we think about a lot of these things. And this is where Shape Grammars is a powerful model to think about things and how we process creativity and all of that. And the whole notion of ‘applying rules and seeing’. This for me was really influential when I was starting. Creativity can be defined in these two: the rule applying aspect, and the seeing aspect. When I started going to other schools I was describing them this model like “I have this powerful model that can teach your kids creative skills, communication and collaboration”. And over the last five years this model has changed. Initially I was trying to make it as close as possible to an architectural studio, but this environment is a lot more particular. Students are a lot younger, and where they come from is different and how long they spend here etc. So we needed to make a lot of adjustments to make it work and make it as effective. 

This brings me to my next question. How has your five years practice informed NuVu  model itself? How did your initial look on how to adopt architectural studio culture for enhancing children’s creativity changed through practice?

I knew from the beginning that the whole notion of “critique” is really key in the studio culture. A really important aspect of it. But it was not really clear to me, when I am bringing people to teach with me, how to describe that exactly. You know, when we started five years ago with twenty kids, a lot of our instructors came in a two week basis. We spent a lot of time figuring out what they are teaching, but not exactly how they are teaching it. And each one brought their own pedagogy with them and they decided to run the studio in their own way. So in that case, for architects it was easy to understand the model. But for the people who were not architects, that kind of particular practice I was doing, did not work. The teachers themselves could not understand what the studio model was. And that is when I felt that a lot of things I wanted were falling apart. But I was not able to articulate exactly what I want from these teachers.

What was it that could not be easily understood?

First of all, the seed of understanding it myself was planted in my dissertation where I ran a pilot with ten kids in one high school for a whole term. That became my case study. Some of the people I brought to teach with me were architects, some were non-architects, and that was the beginning for me to try to understand why non-architects teach in a very different way.

The non-architects were engineers?

Exactly. So this is also why the work with George Stiny was very helpful. Because we talked a lot about the design method versus the engineering method. In the engineering method there is not much seeing and it’s all about framing your problem at the beginning, but then you don’t reframe anymore, you don’t see anymore. You kind of lock yourself into that way of seeing that kind of permeates the whole system. Whereas architects they have always this way of applying rules and seeing. Engineers are not like that and that was pretty shocking. They are as skilled as they could be, but they just decide very quickly on how they are going to see it. And if you try to take them out of that frame they get very disoriented and upset. 
 
-continues at part 2/2 

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