Ron Burnett

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


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New campus for Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. Can we envision an entirely new way of building classrooms and studios?

Emily Carr University of Art + Design has an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime – to build a university dedicated solely to art, media and design, constructed to showcase creative work and creative research. Our ambition is no less than to build an institution so extraordinary that it can accommodate the creativity of the human spirit in all its forms of expression. The challenge is that government standards, building constraints and financial limitations may not allow us to build a real representation of 21st century learning. What should classrooms look like today? How should creative studios function? What is the best layout for engaging learners in the adventures of learning?

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    Jul 27 2013: When I got my fine arts degree my school when through a transition and the department changed campuses. We went from an old crowded space to a brand new building. The new building was great and it had more facilities but I still remember with fondness the old space.

    In the old space the 4th year studios were in portables. Portables sure get a bad rap. Where's the architectural ingenuity in that? The atmosphere was great though, especially in that last year. They were getting removed! Anything goes! Students had their own codes to the doors, they were open 24 hours, and they had a good relationship with security. There was the odd party in the studios, the odd sleepover, people wrote on the walls, and nobody cared what happened to the building.

    The new space was great but that freedom never returned.

    Artists don't need well designed architecture, they need anarchy. They need freedom. Take all that money that you would use on some fancy building and use it for clean up every year. Give them a bare bones semi-industrial space and let them trash it if they want. Use the money you saved to repaint over the graffiti or whatever. Don't make them feel the building in precious or their respect for the space will interfere with their creativity.

    Don't give them an inspirational space, give them anarchy.
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      Jul 27 2013: Scott, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful comment. I agree completely. I told one of the people working on the project that I was interested in spaces of "indifferent conversation." By that I meant the serendipity of learning through spontaneous contact with people. We will build a space that is open and allows for any number of interactions and in any number of different ways. We are not into "clean" art spaces. They are always dirty, evidence of work being done or having been completed. We consider our walls to be spaces and places for art and for expression and will do so in the new campus. Money is one of our great constraints. Our operating budget is 1/5th the amount of sister institutions in the United States. But, that is also a strength because we have learned to make do with less and to make and create more. My hope is that with all the rules and regulations and government policies governing a project like this, that we will nevertheless be able to do as you say, give everyone and most importantly our students an inspirational space. Thanks again...
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      Jul 30 2013: I like that, what a wonderful concept!

      I’m not sure why but it triggers the notion of “Before I graduate I want to”

      P.S. I think taking (start and end of year) photos of the classrooms would make interesting historical records for school archives.
  • Jul 20 2013: 1) All the outlets for Laptops, cell phones and electronic devices should be powered by student exercise, such as bicycle generators, treadmills or similar devices, except those near handicapped areas.

    2) Basement should contain a gym, and the top floor hallway should have a perimeter hallway inside for running, alongside windows, and the rooftop an outdoor running area with something to block the wind and something to use solar energy to provide some heat along the course.

    3) There should be work surfaces that pivot from the walls and have no chairs. I think the underside of the work surfaces should form a giant mosaic when in the stowed position.

    4) Every floor should have a lobby circular couch pods of varying diameter that direct the conversation circles inward.

    5) Every floor should have several media screens. The media screens should have constant slide shows of the greatest art works around the world, the best photographs, the best art put forward by your students and faculty, the greatest architecture, most interesting patents, and one dedicated to the challenges faced by people around the world to survive.

    6) There should be small sleep cell areas, with a locker, a curtain, and a pivoting bunk that is not too comfortable, but functional. Bunks have a two hour time limit.

    7) There should be a big central atrium, possibly an arboretum, with small circular lecture areas. Teachers would have a key to use a powered outlet. Ideally, the arboretum would contain a multi-floor cascading flow of water, of sufficient size to be used as white noise, with flat rocks wide enough for two or three people to sit together along the boundaries in various locations.

    8) The lunch room would include an indoor garden where certain things could be grown and served, albeit a token amount.

    9) There should be labs with paints, metal work, wood work, masonry work, CAD workstations, photo equipment, and a rotating group of craft presenters.

    10) It should be round.
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    Jul 24 2013: Alexis, thanks so much for the links!! In one respect you are right, why have a building at all? In another, that is the key challenge! How do we maintain some continuity between the real and virtual and how do we sustain both?
  • Jul 24 2013: This is such a great project to be working on. My initial thinking was, why have a building at all? I think artists like to engage and observe the world around them, so let them. @gregdahlen - your idea of transparency is great !

    There were some interesting ideas floating around at Griffith University, Australia some years ago. I've found some relevant links to studies, etc:
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    Jul 21 2013: The current model for classrooms is the industrial age model that that encourages standardized thinking.
    To encourage convergent and divergent thinking, we need to question everything about the base model.

    *The sit-down desk encourages mono-thinking /singular focus and submissive behavior, so I propose standing desk. With standing desk and standing chairs, I feel people are in an exploratory mindset and consider that people stand up the greet others.

    *Current classroom discourage talking between students, is that something you want? So for sit arrangement I suggest this TED talk.
    --- Want to help someone learn? Shut up and listen! ---

    *Like with online classes, finding a way for ALL students to answer questions instead of just a few to me should be a goal.

    * Everything needs to be questioned, lighting, color, etc. *
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      Jul 24 2013: I agree. Especially about the sit down desk. We are looking at configurations that would avoid standardized approaches to learning at all levels.
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    Jul 20 2013: I still like the idea of making the whole thing of a transparent material, all the walls, ceilings, and floors, I guess it'd have to be plastic, but then it'd get too hot? Also the women couldn't wear skirts, or the guys on the first floor could look up the skirts of the women on the second floor. But doubtless this would inspire some great art. Maybe the first floor anyway could be all transparent. You'd have to have good security because all the thieves could now see what was available to be stolen.
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      Jul 21 2013: Greg. Interesting. Material of the sort you are describing is very expensive but the concept of transparency is one we are very interested in pursuing.
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        Jul 21 2013: In '68 I was an eight-year-old kid living in Canada with my family, and they held the "World Expo" that year near us. There was a building there that had a lot of buzz, everyone was aware of it and talking about it, it was a big dome that was just a black iron frame with many transparent "panes" (these panes would have been several feet by several feet big.) Somehow that building has stayed with me as dramatic, striking, creative. I'm sure you or I could find pictures of it on the net if you don't know what I'm talking about.

        In my personal life I'm very into the Masai, who sometimes coat the roofs of their huts with their cows' dung, I believe the dung dries out and ceases to smell. Don't know how you could use dung as a material. Maybe thinking about this will freeassociate you to some ideas.
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    Jul 20 2013: Have classrooms made from different materials. The Bamboo classroom to the native wood lodge to the cold of the tilt slab concrete classroom. Hell, even design it like a helix or a Starfish layout with the helix surrounding the arms.Material compliance and building restrictions depend on the country one is building in.
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      Jul 21 2013: Yes. The final three architects are all very interested in new shapes and configurations.
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    Jul 20 2013: Thanks Robert, some great ideas although we don't have the financial capacity for some of your suggestions, We are looking at pods and gym facilities. We are also hoping for Leeds Gold. Agree totally about the cafeteria. Thanks again!!!
  • Jul 20 2013: I am going to go in another direction:
    As an artist, I have taught many students over the years and several have been in the "challenged" category.
    In fact it was a blind student who helped me change my whole way of teaching students.
    Example: When you have a student draw a tree for the first time, they are usually looking at a tree. Key word there is "looking". A blind person has to touch an object (including a tree) to get an idea of its shape, texture, etc. So when you have sighted students, close their eyes and really touch a tree, then they look at it, the results are totally different and amazing. The sighted students draw trees much better- right along with the blind student.
    So having aides like this, for various types of art, should be included. It will also encourage & benefit challenged students that wish to attend your school.
    Even students with Parkinson's disease can learn to draw. I know this for a fact cause I have taught them.
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      Jul 20 2013: Thanks Gale, really good points. We have a large number of students with various disabilities and approach this as a challenge in the positive sense. We try to learn as much as possible from all the students we have.
      • Jul 20 2013: If you look at things from their point of view, you'll have an even greater school.
  • Jul 20 2013: Wait you are the experts. Do something original, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it if I ever see it.