Sunday, April 13, 2008

What is Community?

What defines a Community? The people that form it? The space that contains it? The networks created? The physical artifacts? How are communities formed and what is it that makes a community a community? Is it just being in the same space, using the same tools, sharing the same goals or ideals?

The Design Development studio this semester is the ideal place to begin to find answers to these questions. This semester, engineering students from the Bedford Studio have joined the DD architecture students in the DD studio.

Very few people from the Rensselaer student body actually understand what goes on in the Greene building. Very few have actually been beyond the first floor. With the Bedford studio, suddenly a group of engineers have been introduced into the close-knit community of the school of architecture. The engineering students are working with the architecture students to design the structure for the design development projects.

Over the course of the semester I have been documenting this developping community. Would it just be a working relationship, or could it lead to something more?

To begin, I documented the space of community:

The studio is predominantly a place of work. It creates a matrix/infrastructure for work in small groups/partners. However, the carried over community structure of the architecture class breaks through these boundaries. We visit each other and talk across the desks.

The problem is that this structure doesn't accomodate the addition of the engineers. They aren't part of the firmly established "archie" community, and the space doesn't even allow them to work in the same vicinity as their architects.

The engineers tend to work at the tables at the end of the studio or even outside the studio. Even getting into the studio is a challenge for them, with the card access scanner; though usually the door has been propped.
But the question remains, is this a community? A work community, yes. But can it be more?

Discovering Community

For the next stage in discovering this developing community, I sent a questionaire to both the engineers and the architects. This was done in an attempt to begin to codify what the current relationship is between the architecture students and the engineering students.
Do they know any beyond the one's they're working with? How do they contact eachother? Where do they work? Do they feel comfortable or welcome in the studio?
Overall the response was positive, except for the fact that few people of either group actually knew anyone from the other. Also, few associated outside of studio in a recreational activity.

Not only do they not know each other, but there really are no opportunities for them to. The DD studio is not structured in a way which allows for integration of the two groups. It splits them to the two ends of the studio. This is shown in the diagram below. The photos in yellow map spaces used by the engineers and the photos in purple map where the architects with engineers work. They are scattered throughout the space. There is little space for association. The community as it is is extremely fragmented.

The matrix below shows the pairings between architects and engineers. Each group is a community in and of itself. They are relatively isolated from eachother, the ties between the two are weak: single pair to single pair. That is largely the extent of the relationship.
My goal is to try to bring the two communities even closer, to create a single DD community. To do this the community has to be brough outside the studio enviroment, gathered together in comradery rather than for work.
I have begun to plan and organize a "potluck" type party to bring us together. We'll meet outside, share food, and play games. Using Shapies, participants will sign or mark the frizbees and beechballs, creating a lasting artifact of the event.

Gathering Together

The DD Architect-Engineer Get-together was held at 1PM on Wednesday, April sixteenth. It was held outside, in front of the Green Building. I had invited everyone personally and through email. It became a pot-luck, with everyone bringing a little food or drink.
Wednesday was a beautiful day; warm, clear weather. The event began with just a few people, but as time went on more architects and engineers trickled in. I brought frizbees and a beachball, games were on-going throughout the entire event.
Throwing the frizbee and/or beachball back and forth brought us closer together as a community; enjoying eachother's company instead of only working together. Games brought everyone together. After playing, everyone gravitated towards the food and sat and talked. This was a chance to finally get to know eachother better.

Initially, I had planned for everyone to sign a frizbee, using it like a yearbook, as a memento/art piece commemorating the event and our work together in DD.

Some people, however, became inspired by the idea of creating art. Some created art using the plates, which were transparent, playing with the shadows and reflections. One even made an instrument useing two plates and some cheetos. The group playing with the beachball decided they were performing art, and struck poses.

Overall, the event was a great success. It helped everyone relax and enjoy the wonderful weather and being together outside of DD.