PEDAGOGIA DEL DISSENY,
Environmental design education in schools
Design education in schools has been a focus for argument and debate in the UK for over twenty years. The inclusion of design technology in the National Curriculum has given fresh impetus to this and has brought to the surface many issues that are still unresolved. It was initially developed as a means of changing the practice of craft teachers (woodwork and metalwork) in secondary schools. In the past, design education in secondary schools has tended to be identified with craft and technology, and in UK schools at least has concentrated on product design, focusing primarily on an exploration of materials and concentrating on production methods. In primary schools, science and technology has subsumed much of what we might recognise as design studies, often equated with «problem-solving». In the National Curriculum, which has recently been introduced, design has been identified both as a «foundation» subject and as a cross-curricular concern for all pupils aged 5-16. Three areas of study are specified: artefacts; systems; and environments.
The overall objective, described in the report Design and Technology for ages 5 to 16,1 is the development of design and technological capability, defined as «the capability to operate effectively and creatively in the made world». This is to be welcomed, stressing as it does the active nature of design studies. The report also states that the capability to investigate, design, make and appraise is as important as the acquisition of other types of knowledge. It might be useful to think of design as the translation of thought into action. However, teachers are not always clear about what is meant by «design». Bruce Archer offers a comprehensive definition:
Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge that reflects man's concern with the appreciation and adaptation of his surroundings in the light of his material and spiritual needs. In particular, it relates to configuration, composition, meaning, value and purpose in man-made phenomena.2
In environmental design, experience of work in schools suggests the need for four distinct, but related, areas of study: aesthetic and design awareness; a feeling response to place: analytical and critical study; design activity. The work has been influenced by a growing interest in environmental concerns and the development of critical studies. Much of the work has been spearheaded by art teachers, who have been able to develop a new approach to architecture of townscape studies, and geography teachers, who have promoted planning studies. This paper draws primarily on the experience of art teachers and primary teachers who have developed art-based approaches, linking design and environmental concerns. Architecture studies in schools have traditionally been offered to a minority of pupils as an option within an art history course. The situation is now changing and there have been attempts to extend the notion of design and environmental education to encompass a much broader definition of architecture. A new consciousness about environmental quality has revealed that need to encourage a wider engagement in environmental concerns. Early efforts were influenced by the involvement of architects and planners in a working partnership with teachers. Two projects are of particular importance here: the «Front Door» Project at Pimlico School (1974-76) in London and the Schools Council national curriculum development project, «Art and the Built Environment» (1976-82).
The «Front Door» Project brought together teachers and architects in a working partnership to develop a course of architecture and design studies based on an investigation of the local area. It was set up in response to the interim findings of the Royal College of Art study Design in General Education (1973), which revealed that design education in schools was confined to product and graphic design. This pilot scheme identified some of the possibilities of environmental design studies and demonstrated the value of interprofessional collaboration as a means of curriculum development. The pupils also had an important contribution to make —their detailed knowledge of the local area. Over a two year period, a framework for a programme of study was developed which spanned the seven years of secondary schooling. This was incorporated in art, design, community education and liberal studies courses.
The problem the «Front Door» team set themselves was to find the best ways of engaging pupils of varying ages in an investigation of architecture and design, using the local neighbourhood as a focus and using art as a means of study. For eleven year olds, the work included consideration of the changing neighbourhood, places where people lived, worked or played. Twelve year olds studied shape, colour, pattern and texture, one group developing a study of decoration based on natural form. Thirteen year olds made a study of shops as a kind of «soft» architecture, more liable to change than other bits of the built environment. This theme was echoed in slide programmes made by fourteen year olds, who explored the notion of shopkeepers as designers. Other themes were provision for play, words in town, transport and housing. For the older pupils, much of the observation and analytical work provided opportunities for valuable research necessary for their art examinations. They created collections of sketches, observational drawings and photographs from which they developed paintings, drawings and collages of subjects as diverse as street furniture, market stalls, power stations and gasholders.
«Art and the built environment»
Where the «Front Door» Project had concentrated on raising levels of visual awareness and emotional response, the «Art and the Built Environment» Project developed the work further into critical study and design activity. It aims were
to enlarge students’ environmental perception and enable them to develop a feel for the built environment; and to enhance their capacity for discrimination and their competence in critical appraisal.3
Although originally intented for the 16-19 age group, it was soon apparent that the ideas and study methods were relevant for all pupils. Work was developed first through a number of trial schools, then through an extensive series of in-service courses leading to the establishment of curriculum development working parties all over the country. Art teachers from secondary schools, primary teachers, architects and planners worked together to develop courses of study and programmes of work in schools. The work was evaluated, documented and finally disseminated through a range of publications.
A very important theme to emerge from the «Art and the Built Environment Project was that of space and spatial quality. Many pupils were used to thinking of architecture in terms of buildings rather than the interrelationships between structures, spaces and people. Study methods were developed to help pupils consider the nature of space and to evaluate spatial quality. How is space contained, how is it divided? How is it used or abused? How do we affect it and how does it affect us? There was an emphasis on die development of an aesthetic and design vocabulary to describe and qualify experience of townscape.
The «Art and the Built Environment» Project created a groundswell of interest in townscape studies and provided a national focus for curriculum development. It ideas and study methods have been adopted by teachers in a variety of subject areas. Its philosophy and methodology have influenced teacher education, providing a basis for further development of the work in schools. Environmental design studies cut across subject boundaries, covering three areas of the curriculum: art education, environmental education and design education.
In the context of environmental design studies, art-based study is concerned with exploring our relationship with the environment, a dynamic relationship of varying perceptions, open to change and modification with further experience and new learning. It is a creative act, reworking experience in order to understand it. Environmental perception involves highly complex acts of scanning, observing, defining, redefining, analysing, categorising, comparing, establishing relationships and creating meaning. Art teachers have always sought to develop aesthetic and design awareness in the most general sense. Young people need to develop fluency with the language of form, line, colour, texture, shape and spatial relationships if they are to have an insight into an appreciation of the made world. However, art education is not concerned merely with extending visual acuity, but with relating this to the development of cognitive skills of analysis, intepretation and comprehension.
Art-based study also encourages a subjective, affective response to place. A place is part of the environment which has been claimed by feelings. Art-based approaches enable the individual to resolve and realise feelings about people and places, to form a personal viewpoint and take an individual stance on environmental and design issues. Messages are conveyed to us not only through words, but through the visual language of signs and symbols, by the form and arrangement of buildings and objects, which communicate a wide range of meanings and encourage certain responses from us. Townscape forms express particular historical and cultural values and relationships, which affect our perception of places. Environmental design studies are concerned not only with the physical environment, but with the meanings and ideas conveyed by particular townscapes.
Environmental education is not only about raising levels of awareness or increasing knowledge and understanding about environmental matters. It is about the attitudes and values we develop individually and corporately towards the environment. It should involve not only a knowledge of the physical world, but be concerned about how people feel about their environment, how they relate to it, how they are affected by it and how they affect it. This has been a view held by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate:
Unesco has slated that one of the goals of environmental education is «to provide every person with the opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to project and improve the environment». By the age of sixteen, pupils might reasonably be expected to view their surroundings with an eye both appreciative and critical: show developing attitudes of concern towards their environment and the environment of others; insofar as environmental issues are concerned, have a basis on which to develop the ability to make informed decisions affecting themselves and society —and the interest to do so.4
The exercise of critical skills is of fundamental importance in environmental design studies. Criticism implies a recognition of the criteria or values we bring to bear on the judgements we form. Eliot Eisner regards «connoisseurship» as an appreciative art, drawing on the critic’s armoury of skills —sizing up, summing up, taking stock, commenting, examining, pondering, evaluating, investigating, considering, appraising, elucidating, interpreting, appreciating, discriminating and classifying.
Appreciation in this context means not necessarily a liking or preference for what one has encountered, but rather an awareness of its qualities, the relations among its qualities and a comprehension of the other states and values against which the presently encountered state can be compared and contrasted.5
He conceives criticism as a process aimed at revealing the characteristics and qualities that constitute any human product. Experience, previous experience, memory, knowledge and discrimination are identified as key elements in developing the capacity for criticism. Critical study is an important aspect of environmental design studies.
In environmental design pupils will rarely be involved in creating a totally new environment, but will need to appraise what already exists, explore needs and devise ways of organising and achieving change. In pursuing their ideas, they will develop their sense of historical and cultural continuity and a recognition that the new has to grow out of the old.6
A critical study may throw up the need for improvement or opportunity for change. A key concept central to design education is that of dealing with change.
Design is essentially speculative and propositional. It is about the future. All its methods and procedures are directed towards deciding how places, products and images will be. In this respect, it is highly unusual in a curriculum dealing primarily with the past and what we already know. Design is not only knowing about the future; it is about imagining it, shaping it and bringing it about. This needs to be emphasised and made real in learning (Ken Baynes).7
This is attempted through providing pupils with the experience of design activity. Although design education draws on other disciplines in the investigations and critical study which form the necessary basis for the work, the activity of designing is a key aspect of design education. Central to this is the notion of cognitive modelling, which requires the exercise of the imagination. Whereas the exercise of the imagination is generally seen in terms of romantic escapism from the harsh realities of life, teachers involved in design education view it as a means of coming to grips with reality, of creating new and better realities, David Thistlewood explains:
The individual [designer] needs to be able to externalise his or her imaginings and make them real. From the earliest times this has been effected through drawing, a kind of drawing that is immediately responsive to the promptings of the imagination, and that apprehends and clarifies ideas in the process of refinement. The term «to image» describes this vividly, and imaging —a type of cognitive modelling that apprehends sensations, intuitions and perceptions and gives them concrete, developable form— may be seen as the essential enabling activity in designing. «Imagining» and «imaging», in mutually responsive accord, constitute the means by which new concepts are apprehended, refined and realised. It may be said with certainty that they are among the most essential disciplines of design education.8
The National Curriculum document frequently links the notions of designing and making, but makes clear that these should refer not only to materials and technological processes, but to ideas, thought processes, planning ahead and consideration of future or alternative possibilities in terms of human behaviour, management of resources, the making of meaning and cultural significance. This will involve the production of reports, proposals, plans, exhibitions, books, presentations as well as prototypes and artefacts. In environmental design education, for instance, making will not necessarily happen in terms of buildings being built or landscapes created, though other practical outcomes might ensue. Indeed, not all environmental design education in schools has designing at the centre of the learning activity, but develops instead from an experience of the design of existing buildings and spaces, emphasising critical study.
Resources are often thought of in terms of books, materials and facilities, and, indeed, these are very significant in determining the quality of educational provision. However, the environment itself is a valuable resource. Infinitely varied in opportunities for aesthetic and design experience, it is the richest and most accessible source of reference, yet it is often undervalued as a resource for learning and teaching. Perhaps this is because it is more difficult to come to grips with the ordinary, the commonplace and even the banal encounters with our everyday environment than it is to deal with those that are more distant and exotic. The National Curriculum identifies five contexts for design studies: the home; school; community; recreation; commerce and industry. From evidence of work in schools, it is clear that many different environments have been chosen as a focus for study —school grounds, the local neighbourhood, the high street, the shopping centre, housing estates, sports grounds, parks and play facilities, villages, urban and suburban settings. Most of the studies have been in places reasonably near to the school because of ease of access, but some have involved visits and field trips to places further afield.
Experiential learning is characterised by a commitment to the immediate and concrete, to experience of people and things. It draws on the primary source of pupils’ direct experience with the environment, rather than on secondhand experience which has been mediated through books, audiovisual means or other people, such as the teacher. It builds on the basis of pupils’ knowledge rather than on their ignorance. What is taught are the skills and methods of learning; what is developed in the pupils is the capacity to learn and to apply the results of that learning. This is particularly important in the case of environmental topics, which are often subject to information-overload in an area liable to rapid change and development. It is inappropriate to promote environmental and design studies primarily through a knowledge-based curriculum. It is more important to develop the skills and capacities needed to confront the complex and dynamic area of environmental perception. An analysis of work in schools reveals a series of separate yet interlinked phases in the development of an environmental design project.
The basis of the work is direct sensory experience of the environment. Drawing and photography are used as note-taking, aids to memory, to interrupt and capture the streams of perceptions and reactions that come crowding in. With practice, they can help pupils to see and analyse what might otherwise go unnoticed and certainly unrecorded. Study methods are designed to extend and intensify experience, to focus attention, to deepen concentration and to develop perceptual, analytical and recording skills.
Work in the classroom or studio permits time to reflect on the experience, to rework it in order to make sense of it. It is an opportunity for the pupils to explore and develop thoughts and feelings about the environment and to come to a deeper understanding of their experience, different from that afforded by first impressions. The symbolic language of art is used to give form and expression to these ideas and art activity is used as a means of synthesising what has been learnt. Drawings, paintings, collage, photographs, slide programmes are used to reflect pupil’s growing aesthetic and design awareness and to communicate a feeling response to place.
We make judgements all the time about environmental quality, even if it is only at the level of what we choose to acknowledge or ignore. We have our preferences and prejudices, our likes and dislikes. The importance of critical study is to explore how we arrive at these judgements and to enable us to explain and justify our opinions. In the crit sessions, pupils generally set up an exhibition of work —maps, diagrams, annotated sketches, models, illustrations, photographs— anything that can offer a basis for qualitative judgement and insight. They then make formal presentations of their findings and opinions. This is followed by questioning, discussion, the putting forth of alternative views or explanations. Group interaction is articularly important here. There is a need to compare one's ideas with those of others, to be prepared to be open to different points of view, to be able to weigh evidence and opinion and to develop the ability to frame an argument to support one's own viewpoint.
There is a natural progression from understanding how buildings and places have come to be the way they are to asking how they might be in the future. In design activity, many of the techniques used to explore the physical reality of the existing environment can be redeployed to give substance to proposals for change and improvement. Here drawing and photography take their place with other modelling media to make it possible for groups to work together to explore possibilities and alternatives for dealing with change.
Design and technology capability
The Design Technology Report9 identities four attainment targets which define a series of activities to be undertaken by all pupils engaging in design and technological work. Further advice on levels of attainment indicates the degree of sophistication pupils are expected to achieve. The four attainment targets are:
1. Identifying needs and opportunities. Pupils should be able to identify and state clearly needs and opportunities for design and technological activities through investigation of the contexts of home, school, recreation, community, business and industry.
2. Generating a design proposal. Pupils should be able to generate a performance specification and explore ideas to produce a design proposal and develop it into a realistic, appropriate and achievable design.
3. Planning and making. Pupils should be able to prepare a plan to achieve their design, and to identify, manage and use appropriate resources, including knowledge and processes, in order to make artefacts, systems and environments.
4. Evaluating. Pupils should be able to develop, communicate and act upon an evaluation of the processes, products and effects of their design and technological activities and of those of others, including those from other times and cultures.
In environmental design studies, it is usual to start with an experience of design, to evaluate this and then to consider possibilities for change, so attainment target 4 is generally the starting point.
A principal means of developing the work has been through the use of a visual language, expressed in drawing, and photography. Together with painting, collage and three-dimensional work, these have been used in perception and analysis, to comment on what exists, and in design activity, to consider what might be. Drawing and photography are of prime importance in creating a different kind of relationship with the environment and building up a rich store of visual reference. They can both help to focus attention, to scan a large quantity of information, or to provide for detailed study. They create relationships between people and places that are different from those experienced in the casual looking processes of everyday life. They offer a source of reference which permits reflection upon experience and provides a basis from which to rework it, so that meaning can be created.
Ideas need to be made external, visible and accessible before they can become a subject for reflection, analysis, discussion and development. It is necessary to express them in order to think —the process of exteriorising ideas, reworking, manipulating, extending, modifying them in order to create more complex or refined ideas. There must be some tangible expression of the ideas as a basis for further thought and action. It is also certainly necessary to express them in order to share them. In environmental design studies, drawings and photographs are not necessarily an end in themselves, but are used as a means of study. They need to be deliberately employed as study tools and their different functions need to be recognised and exploited. The choice of content and function for a drawing made as a means of study must depend on its social role. It has to respond to questions such as: is this drawing to help me clarify my ideas? Or does it work for a group, making possible discussion and understanding between a number of like-minded people? Or is it to be a focus for communication with people who may be unfamiliar with —even hostile to— the ideas and propositions involved? Some forms of drawing are private, some coercive, some conducive to discussion. Some reveal a process of exploration, while others are intended to persuade and convince.
But the use of a verbal language on its own is inadequate. All the experiences, ideas and information we encounter and generate are of little use unless we are able to think about them and can use the knowledge gained as a basis for action. Critical thinking enables us to make informed value judgements, to make decisions and take action. Criticism demands some consideration of how value judgements are arrived at, and there needs to be some attempt to explain views or justify opinions. Reasoned argument is a central concern. The use of words and images together is essential for qualitative study of the environment. Discussion, argument and debate are very important parts of comparing one’s own perceptions with those of others, of extending one’s own vision and refining opinions. Teachers need to value group work, where pupils are involved in interactive and inter-dependent working. Pupils learn by comparing with those of others, by understanding how judgements are arrived at, what factors are taken into consideration.
Questioning, comparing notes, pointing out, commenting, describing, explaining are all part of this process. Discussion may centre around the differences in experience and perception, the judgements which have been made and the criteria on which they have been based. Pupils will develop the ability and confidence to communicate an opinion, to articulate a judgement, to support an argument, to engage in an exchange of points of view. The experience of a formal presentation to an audience is very different from a discussion with friends or a chat with an interested adult.
Environmental design studies place greater responsibility on the pupils to be in control of the learning process. Compare this with more traditional, desk-bound study, where the implicit assumption on the part of both pupils and teachers is that there is an outside authority, teacher or textbook, that knows the answers, and that the pupil’s task is to seek out the received wisdom. In environmental design studies, a much greater emphasis is placed on the pupils making a right judgement, based on informed opinion. Study methods need to challenge pupils, whatever their abilities, to support and channel their learning activities. Environmental design studies provide opportunities for both individual and group work, for activities which are solitary and reflective, and those which are interactive and generative. Design education involves collaboration, the resolution of conflict, compromise, argument and debate between pupils. The group is used for stimulus, challenge, support, disturbance and reinforcement.
The issue here for the teacher is how to organise learning and teaching activities effectively. The National Curriculum in the UK, with its obsession with attainment targets, profile components and testing, draws on models of industrial and commercial management as a basis for education. These have implications for who teachers are, what they do and how they do it. There is a danger that teachers will come to be not even technicians, but merely operatives, delivering a service (I am not sure if this is to be in the mode of a van driver or midwife). To do this, they will be able to draw on a dazzling range of products, kits, packs and programmes, developed and packaged by others, then sold to teachers at the education trade lairs called in-service courses and conferences. In turn, teachers will become the middlemen of the education distribution system, purveyors of knowledge, operating a classroom supermarket of resource banks, databases, worksheets and techniques. Lessons will be ticked off on time sheets, work quality controlled through tests and pupils stamped with seals of approval by means of examination certificates. In our schools at least, Britain will be a nation of educational shopkeepers.
Role of the teacher
Design education requires a different view of the school and the teacher. Too often teachers describe themselves as facilitiators, claim that the work was all the children’s ideas and assign themselves the role of servicing agent, provider of scissors, paste and balsa wood, smiling and nodding encouragement throughout. This is not the case in environmental design education. Here, the teacher’s task is a complex and demanding one. It requires them to create opportunities for learning, to manipulate situations to stretch able pupils and support weaker ones; to introduce unfamiliar concepts and new ways of working appropriate for their pupils. It involves them in a variety of roles: organiser, mentor, devil’s advocate, information source, guide, supervisor, instructor, commentator, demonstrator, facilitator, referee, critic, interpreter, counsellor and fellow traveller. Teachers tend to take their own professional skills for granted —how to address children, how to stimulate and hold their interest and concentration, how to communicate with them, how to organise a group, how to support and direct a range of learning activities, to juggle a range of interests and engagements at the same time, how to anticipate problems, how to deal with them are all part of a teacher’s daily routine.
The good learner
In environmental design studies, the teacher’s expertise is to be found not so much in his or her knowledge of the environment or of design, but in understanding how to learn and being able to communicate that understanding. They demand what is known as generative mode of learning and teaching; generating and sharing experience; reflecting upon it and reworking it; deriving meaning from it; investing that understanding in action and further learning.
Teachers are by definition successful learners. The teacher needs to demonstrate the model of the good learner, showing clearly how to confront new experience and unfamiliar ideas, how to assimilate them into existing knowledge and how to invest the results in future action. Through their active engagement in the learning process with their pupils, teachers demonstrate how it is possible to develop design capability.
Long term aims
The concern of environmental design studies in schools is to improve the level of education that young people receive in relation to planning, landscape, urban design, architecture, building and interior design. Although this whole area is much influenced by technology, social need and economics, we need to recognise that it is also crucially about the visual and formal qualities of places and buildings. Without this perception, the environment comes to represent only utilitarian values and to neglect the aesthetic and the spiritual. This is of particular importance when we are considering future development. Change is the only certainty we have. Whether slow and imperceptible or sudden and dramatic, change is the only thing of which we can be sure. How might we introduce young people to the notion of dealing with change positively and creatively? Environmental design studies offer an exciting and challenging opportunity.
1. Design and Technology for ages 5 to 16, Department of Education and Science, June 1989.
2. Design in General Education, Royal College of Art, 1975.
3. Adams, Eileen, and Ward, Colin, Art and the Built Environment: A Teacher’s Approach, Longman, 1982.
4. The Curriculum from 5-/6, Curriculum Matters 2, HMSO, 1985.
5. Eisner, Eliot, The Perceptive Eye.
6. Design and Technology for ages 5 to 16.
7. Assorted Papers, Royal College of Art Ken Baynes, 1982.
8. Thistlewood, David, The Essential Disciplines of Design Education. Issues in Design Education, Longman/NSEAD, 1990.
9. Design and Technology for ages 5 to 16
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