Entre el 26 y el 28 del pasado mes de enero tuvo lugar en Florencia “MORE: Expanding Architecture from a Gender-based Perspective”, III Congreso Internacional de Arquitectura y Género. El evento creó una red internacional de docentes y profesionales y contó con representantes de instituciones públicas de ciudades europeas y americanas. Mara Sánchez Llorens, junto a Fermina Garrido, presentó el proyecto: “Casa de muñecas saudita, una cita a ciegas”; un ejercicio de empoderamiento experiemental realizado entre Riad y Madrid.
—You can display this video and images. The protagonists of “The Saudi Doll´s House. Blind Date” are interviewed and the exhibition is discovered for you—
This studio design experience and methodology explained, started in a highly-segregated environment in Saudi Arabia. As instructors, we have constantly questioned the impact of our design teaching methodologies in the long term. As gender differences are overwhelming, the studio experience proposal aimed to enhance design teaching and learning through three main procedures: first the design of a toy-as-architectural-object in which the students find a gap in the market and get to know their ambitions and their potential role as designers. Second the confrontation to last year students from a different place in the world, to enhance critical thinking, argument construction and recognition of what we have called the otherness. Third the conception and construction of an exhibition space targeting larger audiences, therefore a visual discourse in which the two previous steps are understandable beyond the architectural field.
In the Saudi doll’s house experience, the freshman level group of female architecture students at Prince Sultan University in Saudi Arabia designed a doll’s house. The house was suggested as toy-as-architectural-object, with a potential to affect people’s real life, as long as there are no local doll’s houses available in the market (Gonzalez, 2016). The students finished the project in December 2015, when it was tested in a local exhibition, including as main guests the kids from the university’s nursery. The project was later selected to be part of the Biennial organized by Women in Visual Arts, and awarded as a positive impacting project. In order to reach the expectations of the Biennial, the Saudi group started to work with a group of Spanish’ last year architecture students and fresh graduates from the Pontificia University of Salamanca at Madrid .
The described experience above grounds its interest not in the final object, interpretation and exhibition process but in the teaching/learning experience. In that way it smoothly leaves behind the emphasis on design objects visible in the production of architecture, and focuses on the ability to comprehend and interpret the world. Therefore instead of focusing on innovation and materiality, it focuses more on empowering students through the recognition of different ways of doing architecture. The whole design, interpretation and display in an exhibition process has revealed both potentials and constraints to be implemented as a methodology or active studio design experience.
The experience potentially discloses a way to recognize architectural limitless possibilities. We are constantly involved and worried about global environment, but once looking at the particularities of an architectural object, locality and otherness appeared in a clear way. Using a toy-as-architectural-object as a design goal discloses the need to approach design teaching as a way to construct the culture, and to enhance particularities in contemporary approaches.
The interpretation process displayed the porosity of architecture, and the transversality of disciplines, in which it is necessary to use tools different than the architectural language to encourage interpretation and comprehension of the differences. During the interpretation process it was necessary to translate the Saudi house model into plans and drawing documents. The language that the young Saudi generations are not yet trained to use, was a necessity for the Spanish last year generations to apprehend the object.
The exhibition process displayed contents for larger publics, enhancing comprehension of architecture using visual languages, and creating an apparatus to be able to interpret as foreign visitor both the process and the author’s way of doing things. The absence of references of the Saudi team implied the most perplexing issue to deal with for the Spanish group. The Arabic references were found in every detail of the doll’s houses but the Saudi students assert not to consider them.
During the interpretation, Saudi students developed teamwork and confidence, making them able to describe and show their projects out of their local boundaries. The Spanish team developed the sense of global comprehension and above all gender restrictions, something that the Saudi group is accustomed to. The whole experiment provided the students enough skills to restate their capabilities of being adaptive. In addition, students gained in confidence and comprehension of their world and other’s world.
If we understand the design process as a tool to learn based on the quality of skills the students already have, and we expose that result to other cultural environments, the comprehension of the world will be far more suitable and complex, and therefore the construction of the architect as personae will be an achievement.