International vertically integrated workshop: ‘High Mobility City’

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The Department of Architecture at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) held a presentation session at the end of a week-long international design workshop open to all students on the BEng Architecture programme.

From March 2 to 4 the Department invited its students to explore and speculate on highly mobile cities as pioneering settlements to facilitate urbanisation and city development. Guest students and their Professor, Joachim Kieferle from the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany, added an intercultural dimension to the second semester workshop.

The design workshop, entitled ‘high mobility city’, was concerned about the initial colonisation of fallow land to facilitate permanent urban development. Employing the canals of Suzhou as an efficient transportation infrastructure the brief suggested the distribution of standard shipping containers by ship to set up initial and mobile housing environments for pioneering settlements alongside the canals. The students were asked to offer low budget but high quality living environments for a diverse and continuously changing community including social and commercial services.

The integration of students from different study levels to collaborate in joint design teams was an important pedagogical aim of the workshop to strengthen a team spirit which is not limited to integrate only students from the same year but which spans the learning community over the years and levels and offers an open learning environment where not only the junior students can learn from the seniors but also the seniors benefit from the juniors. The students worked in teams containing level1, 2 and level 3 students. One year 2 student explained that “this workshop helped me understand the importance of group work and year 3 students taught us some useful skills.”

The starting point of the workshop was an introduction by Theodoros Dounas and Dr. Benjamin Spaeth, Associate Professors in the Department and co-organiser of last week’s event, to innovative computational design methods to facilitate computational design approaches to the given design task.

During the one hour tutorial students experimented with cellular automata and l-systems to initiate design solutions to the problem. Dr. Dounas transformed the highly complex generative systems into ready to use applications for the students to familiarise themselves with the behaviour and potential of generative systems in the architectural design process. The students’ interest and motivation for the subject undoubtedly increased during through their enjoyment of the computational experimentation and set the grounding for innovative design solutions.

Although it was a challenging task for the students many of them enjoyed the experience; as a year 2 student commented: “It’s truly a challenge to design and deliver proposals in such a short time, but I enjoyed it.”

In groups of 5 to 7 students from different years the students together with the architecture studio tutors from year 2 and 3 developed ideas and solutions of astounding quality and intellectual depth within the very short time of four days.

To conclude the workshop, the twelve teams were invited to present their designs using models, drawings, posters and movies to an audience of over 200 student and staff from across the Department in addition to XJTLU Executive President, Professor Youmin Xi and Vice President of Academic Affairs Professor André Brown.

Speaking after the event, Professor Browne commented that this level of international and vertical workshop is “the kind of International collaboration that we are keen to promote and expand. I hope we can continue to build on this initiative to bring more international students to XJTLU.”

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