Design studios of architectural schools in India conventionally use the ‘design project’ as the primary vehicle of learning. The theoretical basis of this is ‘Problem-Based-Learning’ (PBL), which assumes that if the ‘problem’ is solved, design principles are ‘learnt’ automatically, but this is not true as a lot of the design knowledge remains ‘tacit’.
Usually, the ‘Design-project’ is announced in the beginning of the semester, with a project-brief and a site plan. A linear progression of ‘stage-submissions’ is also announced—such as site analysis, program analysis, case studies, site zoning, concept, sketch design, etc, leading up to the final presentation. Each stage is graded separately.
Several problems have been observed with this linear sequence of design as a ‘learning tool’. The students are unable to carry forward and integrate learnings from one stage to the next. They find it difficult to revisit some earlier design decisions which might qualitatively improve the design. Since the feedback on each stage is usually only through marks, they often confuse ‘principle’ with ‘product’. The system privileges a few ‘genius’ rather than ‘overall competence’ across the class.
In response to this, several experimental studios were conducted on a cyclical format of learning based on Kolb’s Theory. The design problem was broken down into a series of smaller problems which grew from simple-wholes to complex-wholes. Specific tasks were devised to focus on specific design issues and to engage learners sequentially in all learning modes.
The results, when compared to conventional pedagogic sequence show that there is a significant increase in the overall student motivation, of understanding and integration of design principles, transfer and continuity of learning from one exercise to the other, and overall competence levels across the class.