Facilitating Interdisciplinary Collaboration Through Design
Technology, demographics, and lifestyle demands have shaped the way students expect to access, consume, and engage with information, and each other. Everyday technology—from mobile devices to social media—has embedded on-demand information and spontaneous interactions into the palms of our hands. And when students step onto a campus, they expect their university to provide them with learning experiences that assimilates into their daily lives.
To adapt to this changing paradigm, many universities are shifting away from a traditional model where academic programs are siloed from other disciplines: A more interdisciplinary and collaborative model infused with technology, or overlaid with rich digital infrastructure, is gaining popularity as a means to provide students with more dynamic learning opportunities, especially in the arts. But universities face physical challenges within the confines of their existing campuses, which have been defined by isolated and restricted spaces for decades. I was honored to facilitate roundtable discussions around this topic at the recent International Council of Fine Arts Deans (ICFAD) conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where a number of academic leaders and I explored potential advantages and solutions for integrated design opportunities.
As architects and technology specialists, DLR Group | Westlake Reed Leskosky (DLR Group|WRL) works with our clients to uncover adjacencies of similar programs like theater, dance, music, visual arts, film, and digital media. Bringing similar programs together physically not only expands opportunities for cross-pollination in teaching and learning; it also allows for efficiencies in square footage of space, infrastructure, connections and circulation, and operating and capital costs. Through discovery with the client, key stakeholders, and user groups we can determine how needs overlap and identify opportunities for shared spaces and resources. We explore design opportunities for co-location, either within the same facility or within districts, to create hubs of learning and creative collision. This can often free valuable space on campus, as well as capital, to address individual, divergent program needs. Moreover, co-location facilitates collaboration, such as the combination of music and theatre to produce opera or musical theatre.
Aligning Interdisciplinary Goals with Physical
The Department of Theater Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) at the University of California Berkeley is an interdisciplinary arts program; however, inadequate teaching and learning spaces carved out haphazardly over time had begun to encroach on the program’s potential. To bridge the gap between TDPS programs and facilities, DLR Group | WRL worked with the University to design a multi-phase master plan that consolidates space, and brings teaching and research together across the curriculum, strengthening the department’s interdisciplinary approach.
As the project began, we convened a programming session with the University’s key stakeholders and end users. The discovery meeting focused on defining spaces by use, type, and activity rather than by discipline, resulting in the development of four shared, similar-sized studio spaces and a physical “core” for gathering and collaboration. The shared studio spaces prioritize universal accessibility and technology-rich infrastructure that supports multiple modes of use including classroom, rehearsal, showing/performance, experimental practice, and collaboration. This design develops a creativity-focused academic center that encourages a convergence of media and production, invites experimentation and collaboration, and infuses socialization and creation.