Ideal School design, Connect Institute, Agadir, MA
Connect Institute in Agadir is a space of change and freedom for young people, artists and creators, allowing the sharing of knowledge and skills, promoting innovation, meetings and exchanges, hosting cultural events and artistic exhibitions. I had the pleasure of meeting its founder, Mr. Taha Balafrej, in June 2018 at the international conference HAVID 2018 - Living today: From the smart city to the sustainable city. He intervened with his presentation on the subject: We educate ourselves today to live better tomorrow, where he also mentioned the Connect Institute.
In my studies I focused on the maker movement in the new industrial revolution and its influence on architecture in context of societal changes on our ways of working, producing and most importantly educating. Naturally, this presentation caught my attention. Connect Institute seemed to be a very courageous and inventive project and quite close to my own convictions on the future of education. Of course, I approached Mr. Balafrej after the presentation for an informal exchange on the subject. After talking for a while, I was offered an internship at the Connect Institute to work with participants on subjects of architecture and digital fabrication.
I have decided to develop a architectural project of an ideal school, through which the participants would experience hands-on the creative architectural process, the digital fabrication technologies and their possibilities, as well as reflect on our current way of educating, producing, working and living.
I have started with a group of 40 participants between 18 and 23 years old. After my introduction, the participants split into 5 groups - artists, hackers, social people, thinkers, caregivers. Each group brainstormed their visions and perceptions on the subject of education of today and of “tomorrow” with a presentation at the end in front of everyone.
I did not want to influence participants with my ideas, knowledge, and beliefs at this time, so I have let them to brainstorm freely. This reflection was greatly beneficial in establishing the base with the main issues and ideas for the project, as well as letting the participants reflect more deeply about the subject. During this one-day work, they managed to identify and clearly formulate the problems and imagine the paths to possible improvements and solutions, in terms of philosophy as well as space.
To experience the joy of making, I have prepared a little workshop where I explained laser cutting technology and possibilities. During the day, everyone designed their own little object - earrings, pendants or small decorations. All participants left with a personalized object, with knowledge of new technology and how it works.
In following days, we tackled the subjects of education, society, technologies, ways of working and modes of production. I have prepared several presentations on these topics. Next to that we have also discussed, brainstormed, read scientific and press articles on the subject.
Later that week we finally started to talk about architecture. For example, to get basic notions of architectural drawing, I asked them to draw their room (plan, elevations). Then, with presentations and discussions, we approached the subject of architectural design, the link between form and function, between context and content. During this, we gradually began to define the philosophy of the project and how to express it with architecture.
During the se second week I continued to work with a smaller group of 23 participants. It was a challenge, because the ideal group size would have been 10, maximum 15 participants. However, I did not want to exclude motivated people, so I tried to create two smaller groups - one who developed the architectural concept and one that continued to develop the philosophy of the education.
After having several debates about the current education system and emerging or existing alternatives, the participants chose to make school for all ages with an education system based mostly on “peer2peer” transmission of knowledge, reinforced by mentors who are experts in their field (learning by doing).
This is complemented by unidirectional education by a group of teachers who teach the basic subjects, often in collaboration with the mentors (project-based learning). The mentors had their workspaces on site (workshops, fablab, coworking). This way, the line between work and education could eventually become exceptionally thin.
Obviously, the participants were largely influenced (in a positive way) by their experiences at Connect Institute and also by the resources that I provided them with such as L'Afrique, terre promise du numérique from ARTE, Blikstein, P. (2013). Digital Fabrication and 'Making' in Education: The Democratization of Invention, Stanford Edu and materials around fablab @ school movement.
With the second group, I approached the workshop the similar way as the studios are done in schools of architecture. I also prepared them some presentations and examples on: What is an architectural concept and how to develop it.
We chose a site for the school - a park near the university campus in Agadir. We did the analysis of the terrain and its contextual relationships. Then each participant (or some in the groups) developed a small concept. I was positively surprised by certain concepts and their capacity for creative architectural design.
Some have proposed an evolving modular school system, others a sort of epicenter of knowledge or a school in a form of "steps towards education" and many others. Everyone presented the concept and then we collectively chose certain aspects and principles that we will want to keep for the project.
At the end of the week, our school finally started to have a shape and spatial arrangement. We chose to use the existing Cultural Center building for an artistic and public area of our school, followed by the open space with an amphitheater, followed by a semi-public area - an evolving hexagonal object that brought together the functions of learning, working and doing, with the possibility of continuous development in the park (permaculture, objects with various functions - learn, make, work, culture).
In the third week, the group got even smaller and the project got finalized by a group of most committed participants (11 people). It was a real intense week where we had to complete the design, the concept, the philosophy, the files for 3D printing and laser to create a model. The participants learned different skills. Some modeled the object in 3D, some drew the plans, visualized the information we wanted to transmit and created the final model of the school.
The final result of our 3 week intensive effort, an architectural project with the proposal of a content for a new way of educating adapted for the needs of today. All of us really enjoyed working on this projects. I was really happy with the result, given the short time we had. Mostly, I was happy that the participants had a chance to reflect on today's society and it's ways and started to cultivate the skills and knowledge, that could serve them in their future.