Ron Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design


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Can we develop a new architectural model for art and design universities that will reflect new ways of thinking about learning and education

I am involved in the modeling and construction of a new campus for Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. I want to build something that is transparently connected to the social and virtual spaces we now inhabit. I want the campus to represent the best practices in new methods of learning in art and design. This will be an iterative process and I am hoping the TED community will be interested in sharing and suggesting ideas. Can buildings move beyond the conventions of space that we are accustomed to? Can a campus be built that is to learning what Twitter is to conversation? Is this type of metaphor valid and useful? We need discourses that really differentiate between the conventions of learning we have inherited and the news ones we are building.

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    Feb 5 2013: Ian...very much appreciate your comments. I love the idea of an editable campus. With your permission, I will use the phrase. The challenge is also that "beauty" can and should be functional. Somewhere in between aesthetic need and pure function there is a sweet spot. I hope we will be able to find it. Be assured that everything else you have suggested will be taken into the process. Thanks again.
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    Jan 28 2013: Doing actual group projects with students that can give results and feedback is very useful to involve students in the work and give them useful experiences/
  • Feb 11 2013: I would like to be the one to pose a dissenting opinion. Will twitter still exist in 5 years or will it be superseded by an alternate or revolutionary new media platform? The best way to go about design is to look back and see how technology has advanced, while we build upon ideas previously established, it's still not the same medium. This new campus would require quite the logistical planning to account for drastic social, economic, and informational changes.
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      Feb 11 2013: Thank-you. You are right. However, we are trying to anticipate as much as we can, given the conditions of the present, the constraints we see in the future and what we have learned over the last ten years of work on this project. Appreciate your concern which will be communicated to our team.
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    Feb 6 2013: On a side note, I would like to address a area that I work in and that is way-finding. (AKA. Maps & Floor Plans)

    I find teachers, staff, students, prospective students and almost all in the campus community appreciate well done floor plans and campus maps.
    Currently to me emily carr floor plans look good, more so the south building. :)
    I would adding international symbols for restrooms, elevators, and stairs also indicate/label classrooms and departments, and some landmarks to helps viewers figure out where they are on the maps.
    And for emergency management look into adding storm-shelters and exit plans, to the web.

    Also on the ADA room number signs that go by the door into the rooms; instead of something like 6x6 for offices and 8x8 for classrooms, I would go with something like 6x6 for all and have frames that can go around them. Say an 8x10 with a 6x6 hole in the center.
    This would reduce the cost of rooms changing usage, plus you could have different colors and/or shapes for different uses. For example classrooms=blue, departments=gray, men’s room=baby-blue and man shape, etc.

    Although the average university does little in way-finding, I personally I find being average boring.
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      Feb 8 2013: You are right about wayfinding and good signage. This is such an important issue!!! We will definitely pay TOTAL attention to this!!!
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    Feb 5 2013: May well be. The challenge are the studios and the needs of faculty. Interesting idea, though.
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    Feb 5 2013: There is a real problem with glazing and windows in general. Some of the greatest of our contemporary artists prefer to work in rooms and studios with artificial light. Not sure how this one will play out, because we want to build a campus that truly reflects the needs of students, faculty and staff.
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      Feb 5 2013: The simple answer would be for you to put offices and student support rooms on the exterior and classroom on the interior. Is that a possibility?
  • Feb 5 2013: Simple: "be bold."

    Take your budget, cut it in half. Take that half and make the largest box you can with the most number of floors and square footage you can afford. Make it ugly, cheap, but to code of course. No decoration. Maximum open spaces. Moveable walls.

    The trap of most building projects is to assume that the work is finished once construction stops. So save the other half of the building budget for fifty years of maintenence and revisions to the campus. Divide the funds into small revisions (one chunk per student/staff/faculty per year) and larger revisions (committee or competition process).

    Think white cube gallery, inside out.

    A simple structure with a boring aesthetic and a large maintenence budget will create a more dynamically evolving institution -- an unfinished campus that students, staff, faculty and the wider community will feel invited to continually transform and retransform.

    Iconic architectures produce unhealthy stasis and awe. The challenge of art education is to find ways to enable students make bolder marks.

    Design an editable campus.
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      Feb 5 2013: I think you can have awe and be economical and have changeable interior at the same time.
      As I said before you start with function and then add an artist flare to it. Also I suggested a wraparound porch, and hmm I do believe that would eliminate the need for window glazing. and thus be economical and artist.

      On decoration I will say instead of buying decorations, I would seek a way for the architecture to be a display chase and thyme coordinator of student art. Again make function seem like artist design.

      P.S. I agree with it being white, but add blue trim to match school logo colors. In fact ceramics tiles with the logo boarding the exterior door frames, above and below the windows and with blue shutters on the windows.
      • Feb 5 2013: Awe is not a desirable goal. It works against a more student-centered approach to learning. Also, my point about the white cube wasn't the color, but the attitude of the space. It invites change and it invites attention towards the contents of the space.

        Maybe a blackboard would be a better analogy. It invites writing and diagrams and learning. But the most important thing about it is that it's a temporary surface. A blackboard is collaborative and is in constant flux.
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          Feb 5 2013: In general I think we agree and I know how often university buildings change their interiors, so along with moveable walls the lighting, ventilation, power supplies and signage needs to be moveable also.
      • Feb 5 2013: (In my opinion, etc.)
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    Feb 2 2013: Glazing is very expensive, very....but we are thinking of it.
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      Feb 5 2013: On window glazing: you need to check with the professors, because often in art & design the classes need true color lighting that you don’t get with glazed windows. . And other classes need low light to reduce screen glare.
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    Jan 31 2013: Daryl, I agree and we are looking into a variety of ways of making this into a TRULY sustainable project, one that respects the environment but also celebrates a culture of re-use and recycling.
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    Jan 31 2013: Thanks Daryl...YES, emphatically. Everything you suggested will make it into our plans. I will send your yet to my design committee.
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      Jan 31 2013: Also, we live in a global "throwaway" culture…not just waste but ideas as well. As artist I have always maintained a relationship with those ideas or components that didn't make it into a certain project, not because they were waste or "bad" but because they were incompatible with where the project evolved. So I propose a "Recycling Bin", a server that maintains all the bits and pieces of any projects that don't make it into the final cut that is accessible to everyone with it's own monitors and/or public space to emphasize that "dumpster diving" can sometimes be fruitful….
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    Jan 31 2013: Monitors and other projections of "common Space" work, workflow, evolution of ideas in play for current projects and related message boards floating around the common areas with input from the pupils at large through wifi. Interactive, social and project oriented integration with inhouse network systems including audio plugnplay throughout. Large open spaces showcasing multiple displays for real-time input...
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    Jan 31 2013: Lejan, Many thanks for taking the time to respond to this discussion. The budget is quite sufficient and we have planned the size and space distribution according to the costs associated with a campus of approximately 300,000 square feet. Our main concern is the interior space, how it best allows students to work, practice their art and design, engage with each other and with teachers and staff. We are building this through a process that depends on student and community input, so that the requirements will be clear and useful and also reflective of current and future strategies to learning. As to the Twitter metaphor, it is just that...a way of talking about social media and conversation and linking conversation to learning experiences.
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    Jan 31 2013: By reading your introduction, one of my first questions which formed was: What's the budget? Yet as the answer is evident, as any budget is always insufficient, I just moved towards 'thinking' about your words. :o)

    To be honest, I don't quite understand what you wish to create, as I am missing the most important element any University is, or at least should be, about: The students!

    By this and in my understanding, it does not matter what a new architectural model 'reflects', because in art and design (and all other fields) it is more important what it actually 'does'! And this to the students, who will learn and work in this new environment.

    I mention this, because I once worked at a research institute which moved into a new building, which was designed by a locally 'famous' architect. Despite the fact, that it looked 'Hi Tech' from the outside, the inside was far from being useful for the laboratories, offices and machine shops and what 'the people' really needed.

    For art and design students I picture a multitude of environments, ranging from 'neutral' and 'practically' up to 'inspiring', 'relaxing', 'cosy' and 'recreational'. Changing ones own perspective can be very helpful in getting new ideas, so this could be an architectural element to 'play' with, yet carefully and decent enough not to become to dominant and thereby 'disturbing' for the 'creative process'. Personally I prefer a combination of light and shaded areas, framed by warm and natural materials and plants, coming with a touch of 'high tech' glass facade here and there as well as large spacious rooms and plenty of smaller niches for personal retreat or group meetings...

    About your Twitter metaphor I have to say, that I didn't like it... :o) Do you really want to limit your students to 140 characters only or do you rather wish for the depth of true and good novels? There is no reason to aim for less just because there is no analogy within the I-Hype. No virtual campus ever is truly 'home'!
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    Jan 30 2013: Agreed. Great ideas! Thanks
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    Jan 30 2013: What about a wrap around porch!

    Something between Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel porch and the average porch, it could even have two or more floors/levels.

    And to complete the suggestion add some details from Emily Carr’s programs to represent what is happening inside, like sustainable designed furniture, ceramics tiles and also some sculptures with some tech built into them.
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    Jan 30 2013: Thank-you Don...very interesting suggestion. The balance between design and conversation is very much at the centre of our discussions at the moment. We are struggling with flexibility and openness and transparency as key guideposts for the development of the campus. For example, can the exterior of a building tell the story of what is happening inside?
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    Jan 30 2013: Are looking to represent a conversation within the campus community or a conversation involving the campus and the city community? Or Both.

    As a youngster I learn that a good artist needs to learn how to make their mistakes look like they did them on purpose, and like that I believe architecture should make function look as if it was done by creative design.

    With that in mind I’m thinking a target/wagon wheel/donut shape, with the function being easy travel between the groups.
    Starting with socialization area as the center, then the rings working outward could be food-serveries/entertainment, classes, student-support, parking, housing/facilities management.

    With the classrooms being two stories with food-serveries/entertainment and student-support being single story with roofs that serve as balconies to the classroom ring.

    So the architecture represents conversation by encouraging it.
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    Jan 28 2013: Actually, I really like the connection between TED conversations and teaching and learning. Can a campus from an architectural point of view both represent and be an instrument for the visualization of ideas and conversations?
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      Feb 2 2013: In fact, now I'm visualizing structures that are all glass, or transparent plastic, not only the walls, but the ceilings, maybe even the floors. But perhaps the heating and cooling costs would be prohibitive?

      Course if the university was two-story, people on the first floor could look up the dresses of women on the second. Sticky wicket.
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    Jan 28 2013: Or could the campus be to learning what TED is to conversation? Sure, why not? What I like about TED is that no matter how intelligent your ideas are, someone will come along who can question some facet of them and make you look anew. How could you do this on campus? Maybe it could be all glass, all the rooms glass from ceiling to floor, for when you can see in, or out, it may stimulate your mind to question anew. But could you do this, as it also allows the crooks to see what is in the classroom for the taking.
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    Jan 28 2013: Don, Many thanks for all these suggestions and idea. I agree completely about LED lighting and also the strength and richness of our present campus. We are hoping to build to specifications that reflect our community's concerns and needs. We need the input internally so that everyone can feel that the new campus will genuinely be a place that they own. I am aware of green over grey and will follow up. Thanks again.

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    Jan 28 2013: Firstly: Design for function first and then add an artist flare.
    For example;
    Don’t use tended window for a classroom that needs true color lighting.
    Ask the professors what they want; a computer graphic teacher may want no windows.

    I recommend using full spectrum lighting, LED if possible. Full spectrum lighting has health and educational benefits.

    Also I recommend this talk
    with the part on sound and classrooms being the most noteworthy as to this topic.

    I love the look of the current Emily Carr University; it has an old fishing seaport look that is unique and welcoming. After focusing on getting the function than I would try to get nature and as much of the Vancouver nature look into it as possible. I’m thinking grass roofs, a greenhouse attached to the cafeteria and there is a living wall company right there in Vancouver that I would look into for the exterior of the buildings.
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    Jan 28 2013: Thank-you Fritzie and Farokh...the challenge is indeed a big one. We are researching all the literature, but the most important element is indeed the students. We are focusing on student-centric approaches to design in the learning environment.
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    Jan 28 2013: In the book Art School Charles Renfro writes a fascinating article on precisely this called "Undesigning the New Art School." I think you would find that article very valuable.