Robert Dunay, Joseph Wheeler, Robert Schubert | Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Collaboration is often understood as an organizational issue. A group is gathered and set to work on a particular problem. Though this method brings together individuals’ knowledge, a static beginning often limits a breaking through to new questions or formulations outside the normative modes of operation. It is left to chance whether the group crystallizes as an integrated team. The occasions in which the dynamic interaction of individuals – sometimes referred to as chemistry—result in creativity and innovation is often due to the fortuitous leadership of an individual, or an environment that encourages the meshing of individual abilities in a holistic process. The projects presented in the following pages unfold from the latter. An environment of communities of practice overshadowed dominant personalities. (Brown, 1999) in order to exploit territories of opportunity that lie between disciplines.
The designer’s work environment is increasingly a diverse set of people coming together through shared tasks. This is where much of our knowledge is discovered and refined, living in the social mind, in the artifacts around us, emerging through iterative discussion and practice. Though the design studio traditionally offers formal modes of engagement in the development of explicit knowledge—reviews, juries, lectures, seminars, one-on-one discussions—tacit knowledge as developed by the group has been largely left untapped. The informal mode of the studio environment involving more than one person, where we spend a considerable amount of our time, has largely been left to its own design.
Learning is socially constructed—most of what we know we have learned from each other through conversation, often informal and spontaneous. Though much of our knowledge is anchored in our own experiences or readings, it is engaging in a telling-and-listening activity that shapes, expands, and differentiates our understanding. A symbiotic relationship between individuals and disciplines must be structured in order to break down misperceptions that arise as barriers. It is about situating the place to capture the occasion of education. Thus, the spaces and objects we station around ourselves, sometimes as simple as a table or blackboard, play a strategic role in making the most of chance interactions to support spontaneous discourse as well as programmed interchange. The images below show a gathering of interior designers discussing their work with architects and industrial design students (Figure 1) and a typical studio day (Figure 2). The first depicts a discussion over work presented by visitors to the School. The second image shows the same space in a mode of smaller scale groups working on specific tasks. That these events occur is not significant except for the fact that the table as an element of each studio embeds in the environment a scale of interaction that implicitly supports the development of work in spontaneous groups.