ON SITE: Teaching Architecture in the Mobile Classroom

The single biggest impediment to teaching students about the history and design of the built environment is the site of teaching itself: the darkened classroom or lecture hall in which students sit mesmerized by luminous images projected on a screen. In a world expanding our capacities to “see” further and to understand the built environment through virtual means, we propose a radical alternative: teach the buildings of the world through the local and regional exemplars found right in our midst. Without classroom walls, we will teach students about the built environment from within, as we simultaneously occupy that environment.

Our mobile classroom will unfold in and around buildings that also provide entry points into larger architectural networks—local examples of regional, national, and international developments in modern architecture. We will ask students to reflect critically and engage directly with aesthetic, technical, and social factors observed and researched at the University of Michigan campus, in and around Ann Arbor, in Detroit, and in regional field trips to sites like Columbus, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, or Midland, Michigan. We will lecture on site, bringing larger cultural contexts (including history, politics, and precedents) to bear on space experienced immediately. We will also assess buildings through a new form of “post-occupancy evaluation,” as students consider design decisions taken on the drafting table or the construction site as they affect buildings and their users many years later.

The single fixed site of this class will be digital: students will draw from and add to a web archive of existing documents and new research findings, publicly accessible as a digital exhibition of interpenetrating global and local architecture. This digital repository will constitute a new kind of architectural text, one that uses local buildings as portals to global architectural knowledge. Remarkably, locating the teaching of design and architectural history on building sites represents a radical departure from current pedagogy.

Project Team

Anca Trandafirescu, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Claire Zimmerman, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning