Design Lab: A Critical Collaborations Retrospective

Recently, in conjunction with the presentation of Design Lab: An Open Sketchbook on Aurora, the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments hosted a series of weekly design intensives. Using Seattle’s Aurora Avenue as a point of departure, students and visitors publicly addressed issues of identity, place, and civic infrastructure through design. The sessions were offered as part of  the new course “Critical Collaboration: Tools for the Contemporary Urban Environment” and held in the Henry’s Test Site.
Brian Brooks & Holly Schwarz standing near a drawing that mysteriously appeared with no signature during the course of the exhibition.
Co- facilitators Brian Brooks & Holly Schwarz standing near a drawing that mysteriously appeared with no signature during the course of the exhibition. If you are the mystery artist, they say “Thank you.” Photo by P.D. Keenen

Bryan Brooks and Holly Schwartz, two of the four graduate students who co-facilitated Design Lab, helped design and set the tone of the new course, creating a space as Bryan said that was:

“Ready to be colonized.” – Bryan

Students colonizing the space by placing artifacts to be used during the charrette's schedule every Thursday.
Students colonizing the space by placing artifacts to be used during the charrette’s schedule every Thursday. Installation image. Henry Art Gallery.

Each week a charrette was organized around a theme and it was up to students to bring in artifacts that would engage and drive discussion at the public events.

Holly spoke about why they were so passionate about creating this space for other students.

“A piece was lacking in our education, so we created this to fill in that gap. It was our theory — to practice connecting with other disciplines, like we would for a job.” – Holly

 

The piece they felt needed the most practice was collaborating, not only within their own discipline but learning to work with the different voices  — from the public  and other areas of expertise and fields.

“You don’t know the voices coming to the table and how well they will collaborate.” – Holly

Students from the transportation charrette.  Installation image. Henry Art Gallery.
Students from the transportation charrette.
Image courtesy of Henry Art Gallery.

“Collaboration starts with where you begin — it’s a guide to how you interact.” – Bryan

Students from the politics charrette. Photo by Chona Kasinger
Students from the politics charrette.
Photo by Chona Kasinger

Starting from a similar beginning mindset was of key importance to the class design, and they facilitated that mindset by having everyone take the Myers-Briggs personality quiz. Holly reflected on the importance of the test to not just get them on the same page but how it would help them collaborate with others.

“Taking the test helps you self analyze. The students learn how and if they are heard. They might discover they need to change tactics to get others to hear a message.” – Holly

 

By all accounts the class was a successful experiment. You can read more student reflections on their blog. From their last Facebook update though it seems all ended well, especially if you like beer and cupcakes.

From their celebratory last post on Facebook: "We've got cupcakes, we've got beer. Now we're just missing you!"
From their celebratory last post on Facebook: “We’ve got cupcakes, we’ve got beer. Now we’re just missing you!”

 

 

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