A Case for Tuning / by Kiersten Nash

How many of you have ever tried on anything that you've designed? 2 out of 10 fashion designers raised their hands?! I began reflecting on my own practice. How many hours did I spend comfortably seated at a desk—fully caffeinated, Pandora drowning out the office banter—with mouse in hand, clicking away? Too many! Each click, each line segment, would eventually translate into an environment somewhere that someone would inhabit. How does the environment within which I am designing influence what I design? This seems like a fairly banal question. But what if I was designing a road somewhere in the South Bronx, how might my cushy office environment influence⁄obscure my perspective? 'Site-visits' are standard practice. But how might the design of said road change if the engineer was situated in the South Bronx throughout the design process? How might the smell of the combined sewer overflow (CSO) effect her⁄his decisions? Or what if the office environment could mimic some of the environmental attributes or potential attributes of the South Bronx? What if while considering the affects of CSO, a foul odor permeated the office? Or what if a click of the mouse or movement of a line segment was dependent on the environment within which you're designing ? For example, the weight of a line and consequently the force necessary to move it with the mouse might be proportional to the active agents within that particular field of coordinates?

In short, I came to the conclusion that the environments within which we design have a profound impact on what we're designing. And unless we're designing offices, it is imperative that we cultivate a broader understanding of the environments within which we're designing. And ideally, engage the agents within that field throughout the design process.

An academic environment is no exception as the Displaying Sustainable Building (DSB) schematic overview suggests: "the pedagogical elements of the building will be informed by this course—a radical opportunity for participants to shape an alternative reality that marries theory and practice, organic and inorganic agency…" So upon contemplating the DSB charrette, I had to ask myself:

How might I cultivate an environment in which trust tempers anxiety and fosters play which spawns creative risk?

To answer this question, I borrowed considerably from three pedagogues: George Maciunas, artist and author of the Fluxus Manifesto; Viola Spolin, a pioneer in improvisational theatre games; and Bunker Roy, social activist and co-founder of Barefoot College.

In '72, Bunker Roy in collaboration with members of the Tilonia village in Rajasthan, transformed forty-five acres of government land and an abandon Tuberculosis Sanatoriaum into what is now known as Barefoot College. Throughout its evolution, the College has embraced Mahatma Ghandi's spirit of service and sustainability° as a framework for rural development upon which initiatives for rural development are constructed, owned, and operated by village members. This practice is guided by six non-negotiable values: equality, collective decision-making, self-reliance, decentralization and austerity. Bearfoot College defines itself as: "A centre of learning and unlearning; where a teacher is a learner and a learner is a teacher; where everyone is expected to keep an open mind, try new, and crazy ideas, make mistakes and try again; where tremendous value is placed on the dignity of labour, of sharing, and those are willing to work with their hands; where no certificates, degrees, or diplomas are given."

Less explicit, but fundamental to the cultivation of the workshop (and studio) as an experimental space, was the abolishment of the teacher⁄student hierarchy. As you might have noticed, I make a concerted effort not to use the word 'student.' I believe every collaboration, including that which unfolds in a traditional classroom, is a negotiation—a give and take—in which all participants are obligated to contribute. This is not an attempt to foster consensus nor does it negate the necessity for individuality. It is an attempt to foster individual accountability and collective agency.