As I look back on the campaign to build a center for transformative learning, I often start by wondering about the whole project and why we need these types of spaces. Public libraries are perhaps even a better basis, but I’ll stop with that fantasizing and move to the next step – what we did…
The coolest space would be Bannerman’s, but with digital access, but lacking that I guess we’ll make do with this sort of airport vision of the 21st century.
As to the process itself…our first efforts were not all that productive. We hired a local consultant with a ton of school experience (and connections to our board and president), and this person started making calls to local educators and business people. Some of the faculty and staff at our own university were involved as well, and our first meetings were sort of lengthy lunch sessions in which we told each other how cool this all would be.
This set of sessions culminated with one more lunch, one in which our group activity was to design the actual building. People immediately started drawing in their own offices, and making rows of computers, and all the pretty much worst ideas that we can have, mostly because we were still thinking about buildings. Only one group tried to do anything remotely different, drawing up a whimsical idea that incorporated the fact that the founding organization of our university started out by jumping on ocean-going ships and heading to the four corners of the globe, and finishing with a sort of Johnny-Cashish version of being a captain of a starship. This idea was laughed at in favor of really cool ideas like bathrooms near offices and that sort of thing.
As an aside, this sort of exercise calls into question the idea of expertise, and how quickly we assume it. Planning from the ground-up is sort of a Gramscian organic intellectual idea – beautiful if you can find one, perhaps a bit tricky without at least some sort of research into what’s already been done. Asking someone with no experience in architecture to plan a blueprint-drawing exercise might not have been the most efficient approach.