It came as a surprise, a while back, when a friend expressed to me her anxiety over an impending office relocation. She told me she had never worked in an open-plan office before. ‘So what?’, I thought at the time. Now, of course, I get it. The perception amongst many workers that the open-plan office format results in increased stress and distraction, and hence illness and reduced productivity, is not entirely unfounded. But as an architect I had never really known any alternative.
From early on in our education the architectural profession are encouraged to engage in ‘studio culture’. Sharing a workspace with others, it is thought, leads to the sharing of ideas, frustrations, breakthroughs and, often, breakdowns. Not to mention the pooling of resources and, thereby, the sharing of the myriad of ‘stuff’ that goes with the territory – drawing supplies, model-making materials and equipment, reference books and such. If you’re anything like me and my fifth year architecture studio cohorts, it sometimes leads to the sharing of a semi-regular pot-luck morning tea and mahjong tournament. Sometimes those spontaneous activities turn out to be so much fun that they get prioritised over attending lectures!
It’s unfortunate therefore that, due to lack of space in the Curtin School of Architecture, the chance to cultivate such a culture in designated studio spaces is afforded only to fourth and fifth year thesis students. Perhaps then it is fortuitous that a second year Architectural Design unit is one that takes a unique approach towards nurturing students’ collaborative capacities.
‘DME’ student teams also assisted on the fiducial side of things by engaging in ‘value engineering’. Where they could be, designs were adapted to use fewer raw materials, thereby cuttings costs, whilst still delivering the original design intent. In collaboration with the ‘FAB’ teams they were also required to make sure their designs were adequately engineered structurally. In other words, they had to stand up. And at the same time the structures had to be ‘buildable’. Given some students’ very limited experience ‘on the tools’ this last task was perhaps the most difficult.
The resulting structures are testament to student’s tenacity, imagination and some very effective teamwork. Each one unique, they stand (for the time being) as ‘follies’ in the context of the Bentley campus, whimsically demarcating zones that staff and students alike are encouraged to inhabit for moments of respite, reflection or sun-worship. Curtin staff looking for an excuse to break out of their open-plan office should make time to get out in the open-air and check them out before they’re gone!