Only 5 Days Until Our Teen-Led Design Lab At Taliesin: Redefining Learning + Possibility!

Posted on June 19th, 2011 at 8:13 pm by in News, Our Work

Only 5 Days Until Our Teen-Led Design Lab At Taliesin: Redefining Learning + Possibility!

Only five days until our favorite week of the year!

Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural playground. An ever evolving place, he and his apprentices were constantly experimenting with the structure, space and building materials of existing buildings on the property- adjusting, tearing things down and starting anew. They did this to better meet the needs of their ever-changing community at Taliesin and unforeseen tragedies but also to test new ideas as their understanding of the site, new building technologies and architectural possibility changed. It was a place of relentless improvement. Made possible largely because of the growth of the Taliesin Fellowship, this ethos also provided an opportunity for Wright’s young apprentices to gain critical hands-on design and building skills.

Despite the many years since the heyday of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship, the culture of ‘learning by doing’ is still very much evident today at Taliesin and, in this context, six of the best Chicago Public School students–selected from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Newhouse Architecture Competition–spend eight days testing the limits of their skill as young designers. Designed and led by Public Workshop for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Newhouse Taliesin Workshop works with these talented youth to completely redefine our understanding of the limits of teen’s skill as designers and how we teach architecture to young people.

With a relatively limitless amount of space, scrap materials, talented teens and the enthusiastic support of the Taliesin staff, the week offers the chance to test new teaching and design methods; things that simply aren’t possible in a traditional school setting. It also provides a life-changing opportunity for these young adults to transform from talented students into empowered ‘doers’, who have the confidence to start to initiate positive change in their schools and communities.

Fundamental to our approach for the Workshop is tapping into what these students already know about space, architecture and the world around them. We do this by creating activities and tools that not only encourage them to use their natural spatial intuition but also to relentlessly ‘test’ and explore a place. Instead of sketching, model making and traditional research, we use such things as rapid-prototyping, full-scale mock-ups, sketching with wood, and games such as hide-n-go seek.

Indeed, ‘making’ and ‘doing’ are our means for thinking, discussing, explaining, team building, rapidly accelerated design, and learning. Trained in their schools to meticulously plan everything before beginning a design, our learning by doing approach is initially challenging for the students. However and since we began these alternative approaches to design, we have seen significant leaps in achievement, architectural understanding, quality of design and sense of empowerment.

This approach has garnered support from the Taliesin staff allowing us over the past two years to build final large scale architectural structures and leave them up for months or longer after the workshop ends. Perhaps most importantly, everyone has an exceptionally good time doing great things. Although over the span of the week we all work incredibly hard, often putting in 14-16 hour days, we preference play and having fun as the very best design/learning tools.

This year, we will be joined by our very first Teaching Fellows, Katie Koch and Daniel Splaingard. Daniel and Katie are already doing incredible work with youth and we couldn’t be more excited to have them join us. Katie is one of the founders of Project Interaction, a 10-week after school program that teaches high schoolers to use design to change their communities. Daniel is a Rose Fellow at the Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation where he will be working with on the next iteration of Shadelab, the youth-led data and story gathering program we created with Landon Bone Baker Architects. The Teaching Fellows program is a new initiative of Public Workshop and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, intended to support the growth of remarkable design educators by giving them an opportunity to share in and contribute to this incredibly unique experience. Daniel and Katie’s work is exemplary and we can’t wait have them join us.

And folks, keep your eyes on these two……they are going far.

Wish you could be there? Want to follow the team’s experience and learn about their insights, and unique stories?

Starting this Friday, every day the team (students and collaborators) will be posting blog entries, v-logs and tweeting about our progress. Follow it all by checking in here and on our Twitter account: