05.14.2020 | Charles Wingfelder, MArch, Fred Wallace Brunkow Fellow (2020 - 2021), Editor
This year's edition of our student journal is a slice of work and conversations taken during a moment of dramatic change in how and where we learn and collaborate. The separation required during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we had to mostly abandon our traditional methods and places of learning, and rapidly innovate the ways in which we collectively work.
The calendar year of 2020 was packed with historical significance, which made identifying the topic of Intersight 23 very difficult. We chose to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, as it was the force that most directly disrupted our patterns of life. However, we made this choice with the acknowledgment that other major movements of the year, including equity and racial justice, would be represented through the work and activism of our students and faculty.
Through the pandemic, we have gone through many different phases of isolation, reopening and further restriction. Even with vaccines rapidly being deployed, it seems likely that in the coming years we will live through a gradient of isolation, experiencing many in-between states.
Similarly, our learning format during 2020 is a gradient from fully in-person, to fully remote. This volume is a selection of student work from a variety of course formats. From the Spring semester are examples of work that began completely in-person and ended completely remote. The work from Summer studios and seminars showcase that produced completely remote in an intense, condensed format. And from the Fall semester are examples of work produced in a variety of models, with a gradient of instructional formats from completely in-person to completely remote, and many hybrid courses that occasionally occupied both.
The dramatic arc of 2020 and our navigation of the pandemic-era restrictions demonstrate the ingenuity, resiliency, and creative problem solving that our faculty, staff, and students are capable of. By quickly adapting to and experimenting with new ways to hold class remotely, we were able to continue the Spring semester, even if the final result wasn’t what everyone had originally expected. And through careful planning and thorough masking and distancing policies, many students were able to take part in some on-campus experiences in the Fall.
The photos, drawings, and screenshots highlighted in purple are intended to archive the “places” of work during the pandemic. They highlight home work spaces, a distanced return to campus, the infinite Zoom room, and digital collaboration on Miro. Although the latter two are not “places” in the physical sense, Zoom has become the primary place for class, office hours, presentations, celebrations, and social hours. Over the course of 2020, we have spent an enormous number of hours in this single, uniform space. As it is an environment we will likely continue to inhabit, there is an opportunity to reimagine what the human experience in the digital realm should be.
Through a series of conversations, the Intersight team sought to capture stories that represented the variety of places and methods in which we worked during the year 2020. Initially, we wondered if the format of the course would have an impact on the work produced. We largely found that not to be the case. Whether completely in-person, completely remote, or a hybrid combination, students and faculty continued to pursue issues of larger social importance. We began by having conversations over Zoom with faculty to understand the context of courses taught during this extraordinary year, then continued on to reach out to students. Assistant Editor Katelyn Broat and myself spoke with groups of students that represent different and illustrative learning experiences through the rocky year; those who were part of studios that were significantly disrupted, continued smoothly, and perhaps even experimented with innovative new formats.
For some students, the experience of remote learning was downright grueling, leaving them feeling deprived of the education and social interaction they were expecting. Others were very positive, grateful for the flexibility and efficiency of remote learning. Most students fell in the middle, acknowledging the difficulties of learning from home — whether they were technical, motivational, or sibling related — but still holding on to an overall view that together we have all pulled together, and these difficult semesters have been surprisingly successful. When it came to returning to campus, there was also a mix of responses, with some students appreciating the opportunity to gather and learn together, while others felt that the precautions necessary for those gatherings actually made the situation less personal than meeting remotely.
Going forward, it will be important to cherish the peer-to-peer learning that is such an integral part of the student experience at the School. We may have taken this somewhat for granted in the past. For much of the history of education in architecture we have relied on the natural exchange of skills and knowledge from one student to another, but as the conversations around this issue demonstrate, it is just as important in planning. The loss of the physical space where that has traditionally occurred has cast a glaring spotlight on the importance of student-to-student exchange. To ensure the continuity of this exchange, and to bolster our resiliency in the face of a future health emergency, we need to not only more consciously give credit to and encourage participation in this exchange in-person, but also find better ways to continue that exchange virtually.
It is our hope that by sharing this collection of stories here in Intersight — one of our more traditional platforms for sharing work — we can, as a community, reflect on how we work during a pandemic. We can consider what this strange period in history means for the educational experience in the moment, and begin to consider how these new methods and places will shape that experience further into the future.