The role of observational documentary in the reconstruction of architectural education



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The following report on ARC 696: Advanced Architectural Design Studio: Alley Flat Initiative, at the University of Texas at Austin in the Spring of 2010 taught by Prof. Louise Harpman and visiting Prof. Sarah Gamble asks how new knowledge is acquired through the in-depth study and reconstruction of documentary recordings taken from a semester of the studio. The recordings were made of the activities that transpired as a result of the educational studio design process, interactions with educators, reviewers, community partners, clients, professional architects, contractors, citizens and the unique sites that were chosen for consideration. The narrative of the studio was then reconstructed into the language of film and supervised by Anne Lewis of the Department of Radio Television and Film at the University of Texas. Through observation, I have recorded the process by which the Alley Flat Initiative attempts to create a unique educational experience for students by exposing them to real life actors in the creation of housing that is affordable, green and mitigates the forces of gentrification. In the recording process, I documented the initial design question posed to the studio, the formation of design partnerships between students, the collaborative engagement of students and clients, faculty and community reviews, stumbling blocks in the process, the negotiations between the concepts of affordability and sustainable design, interactions between the students and stakeholders, and student reflections on their experiences as participants in the Alley Flat Initiative studio.
The focus of film is to create a body of research that is easily transmitted on the student’s ability to learn design through exposure to real clients, a real site and a chance that their design might be built. Further, the research seeks to make recommendations that can be implemented into the organizational language of future Alley Flat Studios in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. This report will: (1) lay the groundwork for the methodology that was incorporated into the recording; (2) review existing literature on the subject of filmmaking as a means to conduct research; and (3) reveal the findings of the research and implications for future service learning projects. Therefore, the report will serve to contextualize elements of the research that were not able to be addressed by the film.