There's nothing radical about students with blogs, and websites showcasing the projects of architecture studios are easy to find. But MEGAblog is something different: A site designed and run by students as a course requirement, it is a portal to the inner workings of one studio's semester, from initial meeting to final review. It's also, says Ronald Rael, whose students created MEGAblog, a step toward a new way of teaching architecture.
Rael is an assistant professor of architecture at South Carolina's Clemson University and co-director of the Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies. Located in Genoa, Italy, the center is one of the architecture school's three satellite programs (the other two are in Charleston, S.C., and Barcelona, Spain). Although Rael was in Genoa this past semester, the 10 seniors enrolled in his Architecture Studio 451 course were in Clemson, so blogging was the primary way the students communicated their work with Rael.
The students had to create and maintain their own blogs to document the development of their studio projects, and they had to create MEGAblog and regularly post work there as well. That blog's self-description—“dedicated to the biggest, the largest, the most expansive, and superlatives as they shape the built environment”—also defined Arch 451's area of study. Each student focused on a mega topic; one developed “segue cities” (massive, man-made island transportation hubs), for example, while another created “language archipelagos” (a way to provide people with internet content in their own language).
“Blogs are powerful because [you can] post images, text, video, [and] audio to the internet very quickly,” says Rael, a practicing architect who uses them to communicate with clients. Blogs also create a searchable archive of entries that can be commented on “by anyone at anytime,” he notes. In other words, the professor and his students did not have to rely on real-time connections to move the class along: students posted their work as they finished tasks, and Rael viewed entries and made comments at his convenience. As with open-source architecture in computer science, Rael says, there is now the opportunity for open-source architecture in the education of architects. (Real-time meetings via web-based technologies did occur; after all, professors must keep some office hours. To that end, as a group the seniors had to design a portable booth that would make such meetings with Rael easier. They created SUMO: Specialized Unit for Mega-communicative Occupancy, shown.)
The end of this fall's Arch 451 doesn't mean the end of MEGAblog. Rael will maintain the site, both as a growing archive for studies of the very large in architecture and as a resource for future students. “I try to build on the research of previous studios,” he says. “So much knowledge is lost when a studio begins from scratch each semester.”