Whilst this is oddly specific and tailored to students at the Melbourne School of Design heading into Design Thesis during the second semester and Nightingale Night School happens to be an option, I’ll also try and make it broad enough to appeal to everyone. Ultimately this blog post will be about what are your interests, goals and intentions when choosing a design studio, whether it’s undergrad, postgrad or your final studio. Since this is titled Nightingale Night School, let me first explain what it is as a studio.
The simplified version is it’s a medium-density housing using the Nightingale model studio, which is ran by Breathe Architecture who designed The Commons and the first Nightingale project. The first five weeks of the semester was spent doing a range of mini-assignments, which included feasibility studies, precedents, and designing moments in a series of scenarios such as urban, social, ESD, architecture and interior. During this time we also began to devise our thesis statements and where we wanted to head in terms of exploration.
From week 5 and onwards we spent the time developing our individual projects, with myself exploring housing within car parks. This studio was a bit different from previous in that everything was digital, we didn’t have posters for mid-sem. Instead we had a slideshow. At the start of each studio class we did these lightning sketches, which were 30-90 second sketches about a range of things, but mainly sketching the person sitting opposite. To spice things up sometimes we couldn’t look down at our sketchbook or lift our pen while drawing. It produced some interesting results. We weren’t encouraged to use rolls and rolls of trace paper when exploring our designs, in fact I personally didn’t use any trace paper. Lastly we were heavily encouraged to use either ArchiCAD or Revit for our design/model, and was advised to stay away from 2D programs such as AutoCAD. With Breathe Architecture being sustainably driven I can see why they wanted to go paperless, and the future of documentation and architectural practice is heading towards BIM, so I understand why they weren’t a fan of AutoCAD.
For our final presentation we needed to present a slideshow which would have our thesis statement, some research, diagrams, plans, sections, perspectives, etc. Basically all the drawings you need to communicate your design, except instead of it being on posters, it was a PDF slideshow. We also needed to produce a portfolio of the semester which was used for moderation.
The school identified it was going to be a popular studio, so they put in an extra step where you needed to write a 200-word statement as to why you want to do the studio. And I kinda wish I could read the statements from those who weren’t successful, to see if my theory is correct.
That is a brief overview of the semester, so with that, should you ballot for it? Yes and no!
Here’s the thing, if you’re only wanting to do this studio so you can “show off” to Jeremy McLeod, then don’t do the studio. If it’s so you can get close to Jeremy or say that you worked with him, then don’t do it. For those outside of Melbourne, Jeremy McLeod is a director at Breathe Architecture and quite a prominent figure in the architecture scene here. His firm produces amazing work, and their philosophies are on point. I was fortunate to have met Jeremy prior to his studio while giving support to his Nightingale project. So I can see why people would want to take this studio as a means to network with Jeremy.
However, if that’s your sole reason, you’re doing it wrong. Especially for your final design studio.
Think about it, this is your final design studio, after that you’re probably entering employment with architecture firms. This is the last time, for a long time, you can truly design what you want. This is your last chance to explore a problem through architecture, or try something different in terms of process or programs. Once you start working, I highly doubt you’ll have the opportunity to explore highly conceptual ideas or rarely-tested construction systems when clients are footing the bill.
What I’m trying to say is, you should be looking to do a studio that interests you, regardless of who runs it. Personally I’ve had an interest in medium density housing for years now. For my final studio for undergrad we had the options to do either a library, student housing or a skyscraper, and I went with student housing as it fell under that medium density. My first studio for postgrad was social housing in medium density format. I have a genuine interest in medium density housing, as well as a strong interest in Nightingale. Hence why I chose it. If medium density housing, or just housing in general, doesn’t tickle your fancy, I would advise against it.
Nightingale Night School is also an extremely pragmatic, real-world studio. We need to pay attention to building codes, regulations and Better Apartment Design Standards and apply these to our projects. We need to find available sites that fit within Nightingale’s criteria, and also be mindful of the cost of the land. We need to run feasibility studies to ensure our projects are financially viable, including looking at how we design in regards to cost/sale. If you aren’t keen on doing this kind of stuff until you’re out in the real-world and would use this studio to explore something highly conceptual, I’d be careful on choosing this.
Some of us did explore some conceptual ideas such as housing in car parks, building over rail-lines, re-using ugly buildings and ideas such as adding a private tax to the sale of penthouse apartments to make the rest more affordable. However these all related to housing.
The broad takeaway from this post is to choose studios where you have a strong interest lie, whether it’s housing, political, commercial-style projects, highly conceptual projects, large urban scales, tiny-projects, 1:1 building, etc. If you’re choosing a studio based on who the tutor is you’re cheating yourself, as what’s the point of doing it if you don’t actually enjoy the typology?
Although in saying that, university is a great time of your career to try a range of projects to find what it is you’re interested in. For my 4 studios in postgrad I did social housing, an arts/cultural centre, an educational centre in India and finally medium density housing. I did the arts/cultural centre because I was interested in doing a large-scale public building, and the educational centre was a chance to explore real world problems in a foreign country. While you may not be 100% in love with housing during architecture school, perhaps you might want to try it out?
To conclude this post, it isn’t a black and white answer if you should do a particular studio or not. I can’t tell you what you should consider, nor should you have to listen. All I’m suggesting is don’t waste 14 or so weeks of your architecture school career working on a project where you have zero interest in the typology. Choosing the tutor over the typology isn’t going to produce a great project you’re happy with, in fact if you have little interest in the typology your project will suffer.