Martin Bechthold, the Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology at the Harvard School of Design, and Mary Tolikas, Chief Innovation Officer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute andVisiting Lecturer on Engineering Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, work together to teach Independent Engineering Design Project I & II, a small, seminar-size course for second-year students in the Master in Design Engineering program. Students spend the academic year designing prototype solutions to real-world problems about which they are passionate. Throughout the two semesters, students work towards understanding the complexity and dynamics underlying the problem and, by collaborating with relevant stakeholders, they explore visionary solutions and iterate on prototypes that would best address their challenge. Analyzing and quantifying potential impact is central to solution development. Early in the course, students are placed in self-selected “affinity groups,” based on shared interests. Students use these groups throughout the term to bounce ideas from and relay feedback. They also receive regular feedback from faculty advisors throughout each stage as they continue to evolve their project.
Sawako Kaijima, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, challenges students’ preconceptions about material often defined by their disciplinary norms through the use of visual programming to foster an “intuitive understanding of structural engineering in architectural design.” Structural design and architectural design often live separately in teaching and practice but are fundamentally linked. So her Interface Design: Integrating Material Perceptions course seeks to fuse these two disciplines. The use of a software tool developed specifically for this course, which is accessible even to students with no programming experience, “defamiliarizes architecture students from the common way of looking at materials” and introduces them to an engineering perspective right from the start.
In her Transformationscourse, Assistant Professor of Architecture Megan Panzano uses architectural design methods and concepts, and a workshop approach for giving feedback, to engage undergraduates from a wide range of concentrations. When students translate abstract ideas into physical form through a variety of materials and fabrication techniques (see photos below), they confront limits, question assumptions, and expand their problem-solving capacity.
Mark Mulligan, Associate Professor in Practice of Architecture, requires students in Tectonics Lab to work collaboratively on design-build projects of increasing complexity over the course of the semester that are subject to critique by peers, guest experts, and Mulligan himself. For example, with an assignment such as construction of a simple joint between two pieces of wood, “I tell them that we’re actually going to test the joint to its breaking point, so they know that they have to build something that can withstand real force;and to make it fun, I get everyone to predict where it is going to break”—a metaphor for gaining practice with receiving constructive criticism.
Ann Forsyth, Professor of Urban Planning, incorporates projects with clients into many of her Graduate School of Design courses, from semester-long endeavors to optional assignments. Students gain experience designing sustainable and healthy cities by working with and producing reports for government, educational, and non-profit organizations.
José A. (Tony) Gómez-Ibáñez, Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy, who holds appointments at the GSD and HKS,defines the learning objectives of his course prior to the start of the semester and references them to frame each individual class session: “I use the first five minutes to place each class in the course – ‘The last class we talked about X and today we want to see how those ideas might apply to Y.’”