Designing a Geodesign Studio: A Wish List and Getting Started

Posted by Tom Paradis (with great assistance from others mentioned herein).

What exactly is a “geodesign studio”? There was informal discussion of geodesign “labs” and “active classrooms” at the 2012 GeoDesign Summit in January, only adding to my own confusion. When asked casually, certain individuals believed that an “active classroom” was the way to go. Others expressed confusion about the “lab” component of “geodesign lab” when I mentioned the idea. My clarity on the issue was not improved. (Envision this conversation from the movie, Airplane: “A lab? What is it? It’s a big classroom with computers, but that’s not important right now.”)

Still, it seemed possible that some version of a geodesign “lab” might be the next obvious step for our students and faculty – some collaborative and dedicated space where geodesign can “happen”. Lacking imagination or decent experience, I had conceptualized the “lab” as a room full of computers and a projector. Ya, we got that. But what exactly would happen with geodesign in such a place? I brought such questions to my colleagues, and we did the next logical thing: consult with Bill Miller, Director of GeoDesign Services at ESRI.

Long story short, thanks to Bill’s assistance and experience, we began to visualize a very different kind of place. Not a lab, per se, but a “studio,” similar to what might be found at many architecture schools and programs. Less computers and more supporting infrastructure. Some of the studio components could be refreshingly simple, from rolling tables and chairs to white boards and tack boards or “cork bands” to pin up posters and drawings. Fortunately, one of our urban planning faculty members, Dawn Hawley, was in sync with this concept due to past experience at other universities. The rest of us geographers and planners had to wrap our heads around it.

The Vision:

With Bill Miller’s perspectives in mind, my colleagues provided a new vision for a Geodesign Studio, a space where students could enjoy their own, dedicated space for specific design-related courses. They could store posters and projects instead of bugging faculty members to hide them in their offices (happens frequently now). The room would not be “open” publicly, but actually secured for limited entry, including lockable cabinets and lockers on the inside, and a key-pad entry on the outside. Students in specific studio/design courses, consequently, could feel comfortable with using the space without fear of materials being stolen. Posters and draft site plans could be displayed, with multiple students pouring over draft materials around a table. GIS and SketchUp projects, for instance, could be displayed electronically overhead, and tweaked on a shared computer or tablet PC, for instance. Student teams from the classes could meet here and complete their team projects, and even personalize their space a bit. A limited number of cubicles and desks would be available to allow for individual work space. This type of space made sense to us, comprising much more of a “studio” than a “lab”.

Wish List

Here is our Wish List for an eventual GeoDesign Studio, pulling all the stops (as we know them). Thanks especially to Dawn Hawley and Mark Manone for providing this summary list:

  1. Space: square footage range between typical classroom and conference room
  2. Moveable and wheel -lockable tables
  3. Industrial wire shelf units (1 per table and 2 extra for supplies)
  4. Lockable cabinets or horizontal filing cabinets for special item lockup
  5. Lamps- one per station plus 1 each at the computers
  6. Rolling tri-level wire baskets for student desks
  7. 3 computers- 2 desktop tablet computers plus extra monitors and 1 laptop touchscreen tablet pc
  8. Scanner
  9. 2 Printers (black and white and color)
  10. Large white board
  11. Cork bands high and low for posters and renderings
  12. Drafting chairs (rolling) for desks and computers
  13. Portable drawing table
  14.  4 additional chairs for others (could be scavenged)
  15. Pad key entrance lock
  16. Cart with projector that computer will hook to
  17. Space needs to be hardwired for our computer system (university and dept.) and needs good wireless access as well
  18. Tabletop planning equipment (future?)
  19. One 65-inch Sharp LCD monitor (existing inventory)
  20. RAM upgrade for 12 existing tablet PCs

Getting Started:

The timing seems to be right. Our department submitted a proposal for an internal mini-grant that has recently been accepted (Thanks to the NAU Parent Leadership Council!), which will allow for the purchase and upgrade of a few computers and initial equipment. Given this recent success, some matching equipment has been secured, and our college Dean has promised to help us find some adequate space (no easy matter, and still to be determined). It appears that with these three symbiotic components – space, small grant, and matching equipment from existing inventory – this will provide a reasonable and feasible approach to get us started!

I suppose the lesson here is that one can start small, secure some initial support and materials, and plan to build on that for the future. A Geodesign Studio need not be complicated or reserved for the most well-funded institutions. There are certain things that can be accomplished relatively quickly with limited funding. Now the work begins….

Input for us and others? How might you adjust the Wish List above? Or the vision? Your experiences with studios that might apply to geodesign goals? Feel free to comment, as we are always looking to learn and share ideas for this venture!

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3 responses to “Designing a Geodesign Studio: A Wish List and Getting Started

  1. Shannon McElvaney

    Great article, Tom. Very inspiring.

  2. Pingback: GeoDesign: A Bibliography « GIS and Science

  3. The concept of working with a group in a studio setting would really enhance the quality of group work. I know when working on the Extreme Makeover project in 303, there were times when having some privacy from other groups would have kept the movements of ideas flowing better. Hopefully before we get a new building we’ll get to incorporate a more realistic studio setting for the future of these project based learning styles. Thanks for this wish list!

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