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The Woodside Experience

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The Woodside House

cal.sara.tony.small  cal.small  chalkboard.small

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  woodside inspectorsmall   crisis.2   janet   herman plumbing.small

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This is the story of a design studio project that changed all of my ideas about teaching, transformed my teaching practice for the next thirty-five years and quite simply changed my life. It led, twenty-four years later, to my acquiring my PhD and to leaving architecture altogether to take up a more direct involvement with Education. It is the story of  students as teachers - fifteen of them:

  • Janet de Haven
  • Gary Demele
  • Hermannn Diederich
  • Luiz Do Amoral
  • Guy Frazee
  • Rose hau
  • Alan Katz
  • Ed Levine
  • Doug Licht
  • Mark Nelson
  • Randy Robinson
  • Don Ross
  • Mike Stafford
  • Dave Tanizaki
  • Ben Worcester 
Together with a gentle and supportive client, they chose to design and build a house as part of their Architecture studio at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Spring and Summer of 1974. Bus as you will discover if you read this stury, the project became much more than learning how to design and build. It became a vehicle for personal and collective transformation, for immense personal growth. It also became a model for transformative educational practice that extends far beyond the boundaries of architectural education, touching all disciplines and offering insights into educayional theorising at every level. This story is dedicated to those students, and to the client, Cal Spafford in deep gratitude and continuing friendship.

The Woodside Experience

Introduction.

The period between Spring 1973 and Summer 1974 marked perhaps the most significant period of my professional academic life. I was a time of great shifts, learning and revelations, led and guided by my students.  I was due to teach the Spring Quarter from late March till June, and spent the time in studio working on more “conventional” studio projects but still with an interesting switch. I was asked by the Chancellor’s department if I would participate in a campus-wide study of Child-Care, given the work that I had done earlier during the strike. This project took up a great deal of my time. The research group was chaired by a young and energetic divorcee – Ellen Gumperz, a fragile woman but supportive and friendly. Then Bob Shaw, a psychiatrist at the local Merritt Hospital asked me if I would run a project on the design of therapy and psychiatric consulting rooms. Both of these projects consumed my time through to the Summer. In the Fall, I was approached by a group of students wanting to design and build a house – a repeat, as it were, of tan earlier project in Santa Cruz house  This was to prove the most significant and life-changing project of my academic career, shaping everything else that was to come for the next thirty years.

Because of time constraints, and mindful of the conflicts incurred throughout the design phase of the previous projects, we started early, and with a set of ground-rules. An more detailed outline of these can be found here but the rules were relatively simple:
  1. All decisions were to be made by (voting) consensus.
  2. All members of the design team (including the instructor and the client) had one vote each.
  3. All decisions (including the choice of project and client) be unanimous.
  4. That every member of the team always absolute power of veto at all times, bringing the project to an end.
  5. That only projects that were politically, ideologically, socially, culturally and/or economically significant or meaningful would be adopted.
  6. That the traditional roles of teacher-student were to be abandoned, and a horizontal, inclusive team management structure was to be promoted and encouraged.
  7. The medium of communication would be one amenable to and easily comprehended by the client.
  8. No member of the design team be allowed to criticize or attack any of the design solutions proposed by other team members.
  9. Every member’s point of view to be affirmed and supported. Differences were to be valued and not seen as a point of critique.
  10. That the "right" answer to any decision would be recognizable to the extent that all participants agree to its "rightness" - in other words, the issue of quality be inverted, and be seen not as something external to individual or group perceptions and experiences and therefore as a site of struggle and confrontation of one participant's opinion to be attacked or defended against another's, but as a constitutive indicator of agreement. Quality in this sense was viewed as something to be constructed or identified  by agreement.
  11. That the basis of team dialogue would be constituted around a commonly agreed “pattern language” that would itself be the object of consensus decision-making.
  12. If unanimity of decision-making could not be attained at any time or at any point in the design process then the project would be wound up.
  13. That all members of the design team agree to all of the rules at the outset of the project.
Draconian as they sound, these rules paradoxically provided an environment in which it was possible to grow a culture of trust. Members of the team became increasingly able to voice unusual or controversial concepts and design proposals safe in the knowledge that they would not be personally attacked or ridiculed. Contrary to the notion that consensus-building might operate as a code for quiescence, serious issues of difference, power and conflict were able to emerge and be discussed openly in a dialogue reaching towards resolution. The results were immediate, dramatic and overwhelmingly positive. They started to manifest themselves in the very first group decision – the choice of the client. Unlike the first (Santa Cruz) project which had attracted only a handful of applicants, in this case, the response to our ad. (below) was overwhelming.
 
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The Advertisement
 
There was an avalanche of applications – more than two hundred – and each of them had to be evaluated and decided upon before we could proceed. (I have to confess here to my fleeting temptation to write to each of them and offer to make sutre that they were chosen, for a small fee of (say) $10,000 each. It wasn’t hard to do the sums. $10,000 x 200 = $2 million). The thought was put aside with a sigh!

The students automatically assumed the task of structuring the time and resources of the programme and divided the applications up into groups that they read in pairs, selecting a short-list. These were then evaluated again my other students, and refined down further into a select few.  These were interviewed. There were some interesting applicants. Perhaps the most interesting was an elderly Italian, cigar-smoking gent with a young (18?) and busty blond on his arm. When we explained that we were willing to design and build a house labour-free, she quipped, “Oh Darling! Can we have two?” This actually happened.

After much deliberation, and from the possible 200 applicants, the group chose their client unanimously. He was Cal Spafford, living in an apartment in Palo Alto, recently separated from a 30 year marriage with two adolescent children and a small sign-writing business.  Cal drove a yellow V.W.  "bug" with a license plate which read FAZE 3 in honour of this new period of his life. The members of the class felt a great warmth for Cal almost immediately. From the beginning, he entered into the spirit of the process, and several times during the course of the project when the group was in danger of losing faith, he would bring members back to their common objectives. Yet he had the most to lose, not least of which was his $30,000 life savings.

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Cal Spafford, Sara Ishikawa and Tony on site           Cal talking to students

He was a very brave man. This first test faced by the students – the choice of their client – had proved, but not without difficulties) that the consensus process could work. As the project proceded, a series of structural relationships associated with the process began to make themselves apparent. These tended to be circular - that is part of a self-fullfilling system involving expectations and consequences or results.

Consensus-Building

Many students reflected later how important the choice of the right client had been to the success of the project. One of the women students said:
"Everything was so right! Cal was just right! Thinking back to the time that we chose the client, I realize that everything could have been disastrous if we hadn't chosen the right person. Everything just turned out perfectly."
The other woman student echoed her sentiments:
"I've been looking back over all of the prospective clients that we interviewed, and I think that all of the time that was taken to pick a client - even though it was sort of nerve wracking, even into the 4th week of the project - was worth it.  It made a great difference all through. People in the class were beginning to get pretty desperate (and I was too), but it was all quite crucial.  I think that taking the time to pick the right client is perhaps the most important part of  the whole project."
One of the male students expressed the same feelings:
 "The only time I was really doubtful that a house would materialize was when we were choosing a client. There were some potential clients who, I think, would have proved disastrous. With a different client I don't think I would have felt nearly so positive and energetic about the project."
The choice of a client brought with it a schedule of work, since Cal had to have his house ready by September. It was now February, and he simply couldn't afford to continue to pay rent beyond that point and also fund the project. There were further considerations. Each member of the group still had other classes at the University. Time was absolutely critical. A rough programme was developed by consensus, working backwards from the client's own time limitations. Although the schedule was never completely adhered to, it nevertheless helped members to focus on critical time issues.

The first task was to determine the clients needs and to translate these into a relationship to the site itself.


                                                                   

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The first site visit saw Cal "guided-daydreaming" his house onto the site. The students pegged out the spaces and then translated these rough spatial relationships onto a blackboard that was taken back to the studio and translated into design ideas. There they were mulled over, debated and modified in a series of extended workshops.This whole period took about two weeks - an extended time for those wanting to get on with the building process. But it was a time well spent, because each decision made became the base4 for a powerful growing confidence among the students that they were able to achieve collective resolution even to the most apparently intractible problems. 

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The site was carefully surveyed and differences in elevation, location of trees and other topographical features were noted. From these an accurate contoured scale model of the site would be constructed so that important characteristics of the site could be featured into the discussions back at the university. Where issues remained unclear, time-consuming visits back to the site were essential. Critical to the decision-making process was the need for everyone to be operating from precisely the same information set, and a great deal of time was spent making sure that this was the case. Throughout the process the students remained in complete control of the dialogue, my role as tutor being one of clarification and mentoring.                    levels.small,pg                                                           
  
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Many students found this initial period of extended discussion extremely frustrating, particularly in view of time constraints on the project. Even at the end of the project some still expressed regret that the early part of the process had been "too verbal", and that they ought to have been "doing something":
"I was really bored with all of the talking in the design phase. I felt that we should have been doing something. In retrospect I think it was valid to have these discussions, but to a lesser degree. I was pretty impatient with the initial stages of the design process, I found them somewhat alienating."
Others, on the other hand, found this period of negotiation and dialogue crucial to the success of the whole project:
"That's why I think the enormous amount of time we spent at the beginning of the project, just choosing a client was perhaps the most important time of all.  We couldn't understand that then.  It seemed like a waste of time - but it really showed through at the end.  I guess experience always teaches in that way."
Or put another way:
"I feel it's really wonderful that everyone felt they had their input, that their feelings were crucial to the design of the house. At the beginning, this takes a bit longer.  It seems as if you aren't getting anywhere for a while, but then things start going as people grow closer to each other and in the end, I felt it took less time than anyone expected."
Such differences were attributable to the diverse personalities within the group, but for the most part while the expression of individual feelings was encouraged and supported, they rarely reached the point of disrupting the flow of decision-making. Perhaps this was because each frustrated person felt their frustration acknowledged. Whatever the reason, every member of the group felt able to move beyond their own personal feelings in the interests of the project, if not without struggle:
"Although I say "all became friends', it wasn't a one in a million combination of personalities that made it work. It was human in all respects. We all experienced the hassles with getting along and looking past our own self and finding out that you also have to work at it in order to get along. Certain people have difficulties working with others from time to time which only served to teach us that much more about what it takes to live and work together."

Confronting these difficulties and taking responsibility for one's self as a member of the group, and as a co-active proponent of the group ethos, each participant was, to a greater or lesser extent, required to continually confront his or her own internally conflicting impulses. The ability to do this in the context of group dialogue, acceptance and affirmation (rather than criticism or blame) allowed individuals to engage in real processes of personal transformation. Some students reported becoming much more sensitive to the feelings of the other group members before speaking or acting, taking into account the possible impact that their comments might have, while at the same time being clear about their own need to express themselves:
"I'm sensitive enough to other people that I avoid hassling them, but this was something else. I began to pay attention to other peoples feelings before I acted. I had to do this because I was working with these people.  We were together a great deal."
Yet this sensitivity never seemed to lapse into Argyris' and Schön's Model I "withholding" behaviours. What happened seems to have been that students learned to frame their remarks in the first person singular, rather than as generalised laws, rules or realities. Hence, they mostly took responsibility for their experiences and referred to how they themselves "felt" about something, rather than imbuing the object, statement or event which was the "cause" of those feelings with any actual causative qualities. The result was that many students were able to look reflectively into their own backgrounds and experiences for the "causes" of the feelings they were experiencing. They began, in other words, to see their disagreements framed within their own experiential limitations:
"I feel like a different person, although I can't say precisely in what way. I feel different in almost everything - my outlook on Architecture, on work, on human relationships, on everything. I also have a better understanding of myself. I understand my limitations. It's very hard to pin this down to anything specific."
Yet despite the apparent tensions, the individual members of the group were able to continually come to agreement about important issues, and to do so with acceptance and affection which still surprised even themselves:
"I find it amazing that all of those people agreed about the design so easily. I remember the first few times, when we split up into three groups, there were issues that had to be resolved and everyone was really anxious to get through this, and to get into the building.  But somehow, it all turned out OK and everyone ended up pretty happy.
Despite the drawn-out nature of the process, a design began to slowly emerge as critical decisions were made and understandings deepened.

The Importance of Ignorance to Personal Growth

Gradually, as it became increasingly apparent that neither the instructor nor any of the other individual players had "the answer", each person grew to accept that "not knowing" was a valid form of experience - particularly so in an educational environment where one is theoretically there to learn:
"The whole pivotal point of the learning experience is this awful feeling in the pit of the stomach of "not knowing what to do". There's no way of learning without going through that. That's the hard part. In the first weeks I didn't know what was going on at all, and I was just groping inside me for the answer. It's always very easy and tempting at that point to go outside of oneself and ask the teacher for the answer - to take his word and not do any more searching on one's own. I think the searching is a really important part of the process. A lot of people in the class didn't understand this too well in the beginning. They were looking to the teacher for the answer. But as the time went on, they grew to learn that the searching is the answer, and that that's what it's all about. Now I think almost everyone involved knows that very well."
One student suggested that one of the main reasons why the project was so successful was because of the mutual ignorance!
"Funnily enough, I think the fact that nobody had any prior experience was a major factor in the success of the project. I think that if people approach this kind of project feeling over-confident they'll run into problems.  Things went very well because it was a shared experience. There were no leaders. No one had much more experience than anyone else. We were all facing identical problems."
An acceptance and admission of personal ignorance seemed to be a prerequisite for learning, and hence transformation. In contrast, the normative studio pedagogy which, through the medium of extrinsic judgment, tends to suppress the acknowledgement of personal ignorance, stands as an inhibiting factor in personal growth and maturation. As each student, released from the burden of extrinsic judgment, felt more able to admit to ignorance, so also were they able to admit to the degree of transformation that they were experiencing. Many of the students admitted to experiencing positive changes to their behaviours and attitudes in ways which extended well beyond the immediate experience of the project:
"I went through some very big changes. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what they were. Everything a person does changes him, I know, but these were more significant changes, I feel.  I could say I learned how to put a plumbing system together, or how to build a wall but it's much more than that.... Some of us went through very major changes in this class. It's funny because some people spend thousands of dollars for therapy which will do the same thing for them. For so many people "the house" was an inner journey, rather than an outer activity."
The kinds of changes which they experienced in each other reflexively changed their attitudes to each other which then, of course, reinforced the changes:
"One person, for instance, always used to be very quiet.  And although he's still not very talkative, the feelings are all there and I can tell what he's feeling.  Whereas, I could never tell previously.  Another person always had this mask - this "hard, tough guy facade" - but that's disappeared, it's gone."
It is tempting to discount such generalised observations, particularly when attributed to the whole group or to other individuals, but individual students recounted remarkable stories of personal transformation which they experienced for themselves. They spoke of how they felt before the class:
"Personally, my life changed radically from the Fall of last year to the next. Approaching the final quarters of my schooling, I was about as flattened as I could be in regards to my enthusiasm and desire towards Architecture. After wanting nothing but Architecture since the 8th grade, drawing, copying, designing etc. throughout, I was ready to just quit after having been turned around (to some extent my fault) and around and around and....At the point last Fall (at the beginning of the Course) I didn't care if I was an architect or not. I think that sums it up pretty well,  I just stopped caring. I really couldn't believe my feelings after all that."
Students were able to articulate clearly the conditions of dominance in the normative studio pedagogies which lay at the root of their prior feelings of alienation, noting the tendency of teachers to also assert the dominance of their own ignorance. They began to see particular forms of instruction, rather than individual teachers, as part of an institutionalised form of repression, normative to the professional ethos of the school as a whole:
"The class gave me a larger sense of confidence about what I can do in terms of architecture. before I embarked on this venture, "architecture" existed "off over there somewheres". People had been throwing theories at me and telling me how to think about architecture. But I had never found a viable connection between the thing itself and the people who were doing it. It didn't mean very much to me. I used to worry about architecture as something that I could do something with, although I hadn't seen much evidence in Wurster Hall that anything real could ever be done. Here in Wurster everyone talks.. It's very rare to have a good feeling inside that one has really accomplished something.  A lot of people are running around with their heads chopped off.  It's obvious up in the studios.  Everyone is into ego tripping!  "My design is better than your design...!" As though there is some final judge somewhere who's going to say that this is good and that's bad, and that both can't be alright.  That's my experience of school.  I think it's like that unless one has a feeling within that one is directed toward."
Key to the success of this part of the project was the fact that Cal's needs were kept at the forefront of each person's understanding of the problem. His requirements were seen as the central and unifying component of the decision-making process.
 

Process vs. Product Orientation

What was both challenging and liberating about this project was that it was clear from the outset that no one single individual had "the answer", but that collectively, it was possible to develop answers to which the entire group could assent. Key to all of this seemed to be the need to stay focused on the group process itself, and to avoid falling into the "trap" of being design goal-oriented. One of the project's most difficult problems arose from the continual tendency to "think about the house as if it were finished" - that is, as an aesthetic object. The group members constantly had to fight a tendency to become "goal oriented" in the face of looming time (and hence budget) constraints. This was possibly because of a mixture of anxiety and youthful enthusiasm and/or frustration. One student, for instance, perceptively noted the importance of focusing on the process rather than the product and correctly linked this to the rate of change which people can accommodate to in their daily lives:
"The process is what got everyone used to it. Something that I've really learned is that people want things changed more quickly than they are every going to arrange. People can accept changes that happen slowly but yet quick changes they can't accept at all. I've heard it said that we should start feeding all of the starving peoples of the world immediately, but that isn't going to happen. Things don't change that quickly. It's like pushing something soft on one side, and trying to get the other end to move. I'm a very speedy-type person, and that's the way I thought things worked for a long time. I don't really know why I changed, except that I seemed to be pushing for a long time and nothing really happened. The Woodside house was a good part of this learning experience."
He went on to extend this realisation beyond the project itself to the wider domain of architecture, in both theory and practice, recognising implicitly the fundamental link between environmental quality and the social relations of environmental production:
"One thing I learned from this is that if one concentrates on what one is doing, on the process rather than on the product, then the product happens a lot more smoothly. The things that I see around me that I think are beautiful are offshoots of this kind of process. They aren't really products.  That's something that (the instructor) really got across to everyone in the class, otherwise I don't think the house would have turned out the way it did. That's why the class itself was so beautiful."

In the class itself, it was discovered, for instance, that almost invariably when difficulties or disagreements arose, it was because those involved were in a goal-oriented mind-set, and it became equally clear, that whenever this was realised and participants were brought back to present-time experience and into the domain of personal feelings the disagreements would "evaporate". This was the ongoing experience of group members which, once reflectively apprehended, tended to make it easier for the reflective process itself to be repeated ongoingly etc. These findings were later confirmed by those of Argyris and Schön in group dynamics. What was happening, it seemed, and although we had no terminology to describe it at that time, was that the group was moving collectively into Model II behaviours and experiences. The experience was unlike anything with which any of the group members were familiar.  "The group" itself was increasingly experienced by its individual members as a separate entity, with a will and feeling all of its own, distinct from the feelings and will of each of its members, while at the same time appearing to become increasingly an expression of them. At the same time, quite paradoxically, and also in correspondence with the findings of Argyris and Schön, each member related feelings of increased power and autonomy, of feeling "validated".

A personal and highly emotive example of the process occurred for me one day on site. We had completed the floor framing and sub-flooring, but the change in levels between two sections oi the house made it difficult and inconvenient to carry materials around. I decided to make a temporary set of steps to make it easier. After four failed attempts to cut the stringers properly I stood, tears welling into my eyes, shoulders slumped, power saw hanging from my limp hand, totally dejected and frustrated. I did not know that anyone had even been watching, but a moment later I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. It was Don Ross, one of the students. "Would you like some help?" he asked. "Yes please!" I said, "Would you please show me how to do this?" He did. First demonstrating and then allowing me to carry out the process by myself. The perfect teacher! There was no judgement, no thought that, as the "teacher" it wasn't proper to demonstrate my ignorance in front of the students. There was just mutual respect and caring.

Resolving Differences

Like any collection of individuals, this one too had its tensions and conflicts, but unlike most other social collectives, the differences in this group continued to be a source of cohesion rather than division, as each conflict resolution strengthened the bonds of trust and acceptance between all of the members, with no exclusions, and leading to the building of real and lasting friendships to a surprising extent.

At times, when individual members expressed views which were very different from the majority of their colleagues, they expressed deep feelings of sadness at not being able to comply with the group norm, but nevertheless felt able to remain steadfast in their own autonomous view. Without exception, their view eventually turned out to be an important lever to opening up a deeper level of understanding of the problem from which everyone else eventually benefited, and from which a more profound design decision emerged. Yet in all of this, there was no room for personal criticism or judgment. Each member scrupulously upheld the agreed code of acceptance and affirmation, even in the face of extremely provocative differences. As one students said later:
"...there's a lot of speculation about why everything worked so well. Everyone seems surprised that it worked out so well, but no one seems to know why. My speculation is that it was the people.  The house is like the physical by-product of a set of relationships. If the relationships had been hassles, the house would have become a hassle, but it never did. I saw the relationships becoming more important than the house, and the house got better as a result. I'm not sure I understand that"
As each difficulty or disagreement was overcome the sense of group accomplishment reinforced the process of focusing on the experience of the process rather than the end product, and the whole process moved in an increasingly agreeable direction. The time together was replete with communication breakthroughs which continually amazed group members. As the project progressed, there began to emerge a collective sense of the ideal of "Cal's dream house".

It became increasingly clear to each of the members individually, and to the group as a whole, that Cal's well-being was the paramount goal of each individual member and of the collective as a whole, and as a consequence the "group" value system was directed away from all of the normal architectural clichés and fashions, and towards the actual needs, desires and dreams of the client. The centrality of the client's needs became from the outset the binding dynamic of the group's process.

The Medium of Dialogue

Occasionally, the group experienced communication difficulties because of the medium of communication being used. A dilemma came up because of the location and organisation of the staircase. Preliminary work had produced an upper and lower floor plan, but somehow the "staircase" area was vague. There were three suggested and apparently irreconcilable plans. Not for the first time the group was unable to reach consensus. With great regret, its members decided to break the group into three parts. Each sub-group should be responsible for one design solution. These solutions were to be built up into a three dimensional working model. A 1:25 scale model of the two floors (as planes in space) was built, and each staircase model was to be designed to fit into this contextual model. As soon as the communication process moved from two dimensional to three dimensional medium, consensus was almost instantaneous. The group had a plan. It also had a staircase.

This highlighted an important process issue which stood the group in good stead many times subsequently. Almost invariably, difficulties in finding consensus could be more easily resolved by portraying the design problem in a medium appropriate to the issues. In the case of the staircase, for instance, the issues were about the experience and economy in use of space, and it was only when a three dimensional spatial model (as opposed to a two-dimensional drawing of the space) was constructed that issues could be discussed with ease and with a greater certainty of common perception - that is, with less latitude for miscommunication of experience.

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Staircase model
 

When the group was "stuck" in future instances, it became common practice to search for a more appropriate medium in order to break the deadlock. This general principle became a key process element as we went along. Prior to construction, for instance, the students constructed a scale framing-model, which depicted in detail the position and relationship of everty piece of timber in the house. This allowed for crucial decisions about construction detailing to be made with ease.

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Framing Model

 
Gradually a design emerged that everyone loved, and the process of developing the working drawings got under way, along with all of the necessary learnings about building regulations etc.

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ground floor plan

Ground Floor Plan

upper plan

Upper Floor Plan

 

The house was small - 1100 square feert, yet sseemed as though it would be surprisingly spacious.                    
         
model.2

 


 

Immediately the plans were submitted it was time to begin work on the site preparation, since time constraints did not allow for us to await their approval. The topsoil was cleared and the profile of the house was pegged out on the site.

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The profiles were set and the holes drilled for the grade-beam piers. Immediately this was completed we heard that the plans had been approved and scheduled out first site inspection. The task of building the formwork (boxing) was undertaken with haste, since we had little time to spare. We had them finished just in time.

 
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The First Inspection


The building inspector duly arrived (you have to understand here how incredibly nervous we all were at out first encounter with the bureaucracy) took out his plans, looked at the foundation layout (and the steel reinforcement that was already installed) that we had just spent a week working on, and told us that we had placed the foundations in the wrong place! The assembled students stood there in a daze for minutes. Two or three left the site and went for a walk around the neighbourhood - just to calm down.

One or two of the more confident ones (who had checked the positioning themselves several times) gathered around the inspector to check on the logic of his reasoning against the floor plans. He had been mistaken! The foundation trenches were accurately placed in their correct positions! A collective sigh of relief was almost audible as he admitted his error, without apology.
 
With the location of the excavations approved the students set about the task of organising the foundation concrete pour.  The formwork was checked, everything was made ready and as the big day approached we anticipated a major step forward in the building process. Little did we realise that the pouring of the foundations would lead to the very first, and perhaps the greatest test of the cohesion and effectiveness of the group. The day When we poured the foundations, disaster struck, and almost wiped out the project. As one student recounted the event:
"We had finished the formwork, the Ready-mix truck had arrived, and we were pouring the concrete down into the forms. Unfortunately, although we had wired the tops of the formwork together so that the concrete wouldn't push them apart, we hadn't wired the bottoms. "Nobody realized you had to, because on any building site, only the top wires are visible, and although it's something every builder learns on the job, it isn't anything that's part of an architect's training. The bottom ones are down inside the wall. Naturally, when we started to pour the concrete in, the boards began to splay out at the base. This would have been almost impossible to correct once the concrete dried.  We would have had to take jack hammers to it. It would have been awful."

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The Pour

 Pouring the Foundations

"It only happened on one wall, the tallest foundation wall, behind the study, but we realized that it would happen on many more walls which were also untied internally. Fortunately for us we noticed it pretty quickly. A builder friend of Cal's passed by to see how the pouring was going, and pointed it out. We decided the that the only thing to do was to cut  a hole in the bottom of the formwork and dig out all the concrete already in there before it dried, and put it somewhere else where the formworks were braced enough. Everyone was on the site that day, because it's a  pretty exciting day in any project, so we had a lot of bodies.  We decided to divide them into groups.  Some people cut the hole, others moved the concrete, and still others began to frantically build connectors for the unbraced sections of wall. Finally, one group undertook the job of pushing back the formwork that had already moved. Everyone had two hours before the truck returned with another batch of concrete."
  crisis.1small  crisis.3small
    

But our relief and joy was short-lived:

When the truck did arrive we had it all done, but then the truck (driver) blew it!  Trying to get into the driveway he hit a rock and sheared off the manifold from his radiator, which meant that he didn't have any cooling system to the truck. This meant that he couldn't pour the second batch of concrete, and had to let it sit and harden in the mixer. This was a  disaster for him and  for us.  First of all, a concrete mixer full of solid concrete is a very expensive liability. It costs thousands of dollars to clean it out. Secondly, our own concrete was already drying, and we were going to get a "dry joint" when eventually we did get some concrete in. So we took the sheared-off manifold and braced it up against the underside of the radiator with blocks of wood and then poured four garden hoses from neighbouring houses, continuously into the radiator.  

crisis.2.small     crisis.1
Braced Foundations                                                         Concrete Truck  

In that way, we managed to cool off the engine enough so that we could keep it running and pour the concrete. That was a very long, exhausting, but satisfying day. I don't know that we could have caught any of this if Cal's friend hadn't passed at that moment. This was one of the many miracles of the project, although I have a suspicion in retrospect that Cal himself might have had something to do with the visit.

It had been a remarkable day in which the on-the-spot behaviour of the group more than demonstrated the cohesion with which we had already begun to operate - what Schön would call the group's reflection-in-action. But there was something extra involved than simple quick-thinking or ingenuity. There was a whole community of support which stood behind the event, and our ability to cope with it creatively. No one person had taken or been in control. There was simply a brief and effective discussion about consequences, options and resources, and out of this the solutions emerged naturally.

The Circle of Authority

After the trauma of the concrete pour, the work progressed well. The forms were dismantled and their timber used for the floor joists (a significant economy planned beforehand). Wall frames were erected  and posts and beams connected.
 
floor framingsmall 

Framing
 
Then the services were installed, plumbing, the electrical and the heating systems. Each one of these was researched and installed by one or more students who had chosen voluntarily to take responsibility for the work involved. There was no site foreman - no site boss.

At the inception of the project, several of the students voiced concerns about how the authority structure of the process would be conducted, who would be in charge, how decisions would be made, who would take the final responsibility for the process etc.:
"I think we were all a little apprehensive, but once we got on the site it all seemed to smooth out.  People were very concerned about where the authority would be coming from. Some people were afraid of having to take orders, but on the site there wasn't any of that.  We all worked together, and it all worked out."
Authority was not institutionalised in a hierarchic structure or in one or several people for the duration of the project. As the need arose, different people moved naturally into positions of authority for the task at hand:
"Each person was an individual, and they all worked together really well.  No one tried to run the show and take over or superimpose their ideas on everyone else.  I think the guidance helped a lot to keep us all together. Although there were leaders in the group, these changed from time to time. Leadership was based much more on experience than on any egotistical power struggle."
It was interesting to watch how each member of the group confronted some quite difficult technical task, for which she had no previous experience and to see him or her learn the skills of Electrical Engineering, Plumbing, Stained Glass Design, Heating Engineering, and so on, and to listen to their amazement  at the end, that they had actually carried out their responsibilities successfully. As one student put it:
"When I got to the electrical box I was really afraid. I was sitting there looking at it, saying "Oh Shit" It's one of those black boxes, man, that I don't know shit about" I was really apprehensive, so I walked round a bit, did a bit of reading and so on. Then I went back and looked at it again and thought "Oh shit, this is fucking simple". It's really exciting to discover that things aren't as hard as one imagines. I think that my greatest accomplishment was realising that I could do anything. That anyone can."
personal change  electrical
herman plumbing.small                  plumbing.small
 
 
The technical difficulties associated with building a house are considerable - especially when there is no one available witrh the reqiuisite knowledge. One student took responsibility for decyphering the technicalities of the heating system, and, like everyone else in the group faced with a similar situation - came up trumps.

ducting.3.small  ductingsmall 
 
"Turning on the heater and hearing all that heated air come out was so nice! I never knew, after all of those months of work whether the thing was going to turn on or not. I had no idea if it was going to work. It was just a lot of ducts, and I could see afterwards that a lot of them had a very good reason not to work... but on October 1st, when I turned it on, it was an amazing experience, Cal had already been living in the house for a month, and I had no idea what I was going to do if it didn't work. I had lost the instructions..."
 
 
The technical knowledge that the students acquired was significant, but there was a deeper learning at work - particularly when confronted by strange and intimidating technologies.
"Everyone in the class was terrified that Cal might not get a house. That he might have to hire someone to finish the foundations, the plumbing, the framing, the roofing, the electrical, because no one knew how to do anything, and they were scared about all of these things. As a matter of fact, we had every right to be scared."
Summer came, and most of the "part timers" left, this being their graduating class. The rest continued. The group had one final party on site to which we invited the whole Dept. of Architecture, to which significantly, no-one came. The grades were worked out by consensus and were based upon collectively-agreed criteria, as indeed all other decisions had been until that date. In line with the general framework of the class, everyone graded everyone and also any disagreements were quickly resolved.
critsmall

The Final day of Class (Evaluation/Grading)

In fact, the competitive ethic of so much studio project work had so disappeared, and there was such a real awareness of the reality of the experience itself, that nobody seemed to care very much exactly what grade they did get. More to the point, however, was the fact that the grades which people assigned to themselves and which were assigned to them by the other group members exhibited a remarkable congruence. The grades were submitted, and those who could continued on, through the Summer (on a very small hourly wage) to finish the house. The house was occupied by Cal at the beginning of September, prior to the issuance of the occupation certificate.. In October he received the occupation permit, and, although the house remained unfinished, it was now officially his "home".
 

house.2  eaqst side 

mezzanine  window.1.1  window.2

bay window.1  bay window.2

Despite initial anxieties, most students admitted that they were surprised at the ease with which the group process worked:

"The group process worked out really well. I was surprised. In fact it's still hard to believe that one can get fifteen people together, especially Architecture students who are very definite in their ideas and concepts, and then have them design one set of plans and go out and build them without getting into hassles and getting to hate each other.  We were very lucky, but I think it was more than that."

Student Reflections: 1. The Circle of Transformation

From start to finish, the process had taken some 9 months. During that time, almost everyone in the team went through some radical change of consciousness. As the client himself put it:
"I've changed quite a lot from the person I was when I phoned about the newspaper ad. The house got me out of the shell I was crawling into. I had been trying to be alone and find myself somewhat before I made the call. This experience took me in the opposite direction, although it might have helped me to find myself better."
In particular, the design of the house helped Cal to "come out of himself". The students too, spoke frequently about their renewed sense of themselves:
"The one thing that I've realised through this whole experience is that I really don't have any fear of trying to do anything. I always had a feeling, during the project, that I didn't know what I was doing, and I realised that this was a really good feeling to have. In fact I'd like to keep this in front of me all of my life; this feeling of not knowing what I'm doing, because the I can always learn."
Perhaps the most moving and significant change came out like this:
"I used to be so afraid of doing things. I failed another design class because I couldn't handle all of that stuff. One day, about 4 years ago, I was crossing the street, and I got to the centre and found that I couldn't move. It was terrifying! I was a totally non-functioning person at that point. It's taken a long time to learn how to cope with this, and I'm amazed  now, to look back and see that I did this house. I love to go down there, and just sit, and look at it all. During the building process, I would go down there, very early in the morning, before anyone else had arrived, and just sit, and think about the house, about the class, about myself."
Almost every student said more or less the same thing:
"I've changed a great deal through this class. To me, I'm a different person from the one I remember a year ago. I'm different with regard to my feelings toward a goal that I've always loved and always will. Whether I'm a designer or not has nothing to do with it. I have a new sense of my direction in life and I don't really know what that direction is except that I feel as if I'm moving in something very positive. I feel that it's all going to work out. Before the class I knew that I was desperate and starting to sink. I was just at the point where I didn't care about Architecture, and if I didn't care about Architecture, I wasn't caring very much at all. I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't have any sense of moving. I'd just completely stopped altogether - personally and academically."
Each person had his or her own story of the changes which the class wrought in their lives, of the different perspective that they now had of education, of architecture, of architectural education, of group work, of their own capabilities, of their future and of life in general.
"Before I did this class, I didn't know where I was going.  I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was pretty cynical.... Before, I was all inside, doing things for just show, on the outside.  But there was no connection because I had this front, this shield.  In this class I dropped this shield for the first time and made a connection between what I do and how I feel.  Now I know that whatever I do "out there" shows the real feelings that are inside me... I know now that being this open and responsive to my feelings, being so expressive about them, leaves me very vulnerable to criticism.  But that's one thing that a person has to learn to deal with.  People who don't know anything about it can chop one down and make a person feel really small.  But that's a risk that has to be taken.  I learned to do this in the class because there was no criticism there.  There was just a sharing of experiences"
Almost invariably, reflections were described as "being open to my feelings", "being able to hear the other person without judgment", "not being into my ego" etc. Hardly any of the participants admitted to remaining unchanged, and each person's changes seemed related to the transformation which the project had brought to the life of the client, and the feeling of participation which they had personally experienced in Cal's change.

Their collective sense of joy and relief were proportional to their previous anxieties, and to their realisation that their commitment to the client had been something that they had taken very seriously:
"For Cal, for instance, we all felt as if we were giving him something which he otherwise couldn't have. He was quite clear, he said he couldn't do it any other way. Our work, our project made a big difference to him. I think it's really important that the job make all of the difference to the client.  It wasn't just that Cal couldn't do it cheaper but really he couldn't have done it at all"
They felt that they were making a difference to the life of this man, caught between critical periods in his own development, helping him take a stronger step into FAZE 3 of his life, and this feeling of helping to empower him, by some strange process, reflectively moved them into a process of self-empowerment which transformed their own expectations about themselves. The experience of caring about Cal was the primary bond which linked the group, and which formed the basis for the extraordinary commitments which each individual made to it - the commitment to be honest, to be clear, to be open, to be kind and to be caring. In the context of such caring, each individual seemed free to reflect upon themselves, upon their feelings and upon their relationships, and in the context of this reflection, to embark upon a process of self-transformation which reinforced each of these original movements. The intended transformation of Cal, became, by some alchemy, a process of self-transformation for everyone, which became mutually reciprocating and reinforcing:
"I can't really think of any other class that has been as involved in which I have been so involved, and in none of them did I ever work in a group like this.  It was always a search inside myself, but I never went outside to see what was going on. I'd do a project and when it came time to show it at the end of the quarter, it didn't mean anything anyway. The only person it meant anything to was myself, if anybody. In this case, I feel that the whole group has benefited from my growth.  It's kind of weird to say that, but I feel that everybody benefited from it, just as I benefited from everyone else's growth." (emphasis added)
Yet this perception of Cal by the students was also one which they also had of themselves. The extent to which they felt they have been involved in helping Cal to empower himself was directly proportional to the extent to which they themselves felt empowered. For instance, they said things like:
"It's really exciting to realize that things aren't as hard as one imagines. I think my greatest accomplishment was in realizing that I can do anything. That anyone can."
Another reflected with amazement how he also no longer feared trying to do something for the first time:
"The one thing I've realized through this whole experience is that I really don't have any fear of trying to do anything. The whole Summer experience was extremely enjoyable because I always had the feeling that I didn't know a thing about what I was doing out there; and I thought that was a pretty good feeling to have. In fact I'd like to keep this in front of me all of my life; this feeling of not knowing what I'm doing, because then I can always learn. I don't feel that I have to have a defensive attitude when someone is trying to tell me something. "
He added that the perception which others in the "outside world" now had of him seemed strangely at odds with his view of himself:
"I'd built a little planter box the Summer before this, but that was all of my experience.  Now I'm building houses for a living. Now I'm building houses for a living and I can honestly say that I don't know how to do it.  Someone down at the Whole Earth Access Store is trying to call me a carpenter because I've built houses, but that's absurd, I'm not a carpenter, I'm just involved in building a house... Any creative thing can be done if one puts ones energy into it.  I don't agree with people who say, "Oh, I just don't have talent for this or that, because I wasn't born with it".  I don't believe in that kind of thinking.... I was pretty doubtful that this whole thing was going to come off.  It seemed impossible for me to imagine myself and all these people putting together a house. It was inconceivable it was going to happen, I was confident of that, but it was rather like trying to imagine "space".  I couldn't conceive of it.  Now I've learned that no matter how big anything is, one can always try to do it.  I'm not afraid of anything.  I just say, "Sure, I'll try!""
This was a common experience among the students. One of the women noted:
"Now that I'm back in the Department, I feel even less hassled than I used to before. I feel that I have more self-confidence - that I can cope with anything that comes along. It's very funny really, but I have a different perspective on all of that. "
The other women, a Chinese student had begun the project feeling very shy and incompetent. Her transformation, though quieter than most was no less profound. She described how initially she was extremely self-conscious:
"I was one of two women in the class and I found it to be a pleasant experience during the design phase and during the initial period of construction.  I can't speak for the other lady who took the course just because we are both women, but personally I experienced it as traumatic, particularly on the site, doing heavy manual labour and somewhat dirty work. I'm so incompetent and inadequate with tools and I felt that by virtue of their extra strength and stamina, the boys would do better work.  This was no doubt erroneous, but that was the way I felt at the time.  I felt that they were always feeling that they could do things better than I could, just because they had more experience. Indeed, they could do very well in some respects.
rose  janet

From these inauspicious beginnings, she began to describe how much she had changed:
"The whole job was a very big step for me. Before the class I was very paranoid about power saws and things like that.  I'd always felt that way, so overcoming this was a big step for me. In terms of small scale things, I did in fact accomplish a great deal."
She talked about how she slowly came to overcome her feelings of self-consciousness in the context of the understanding and caring of the other students:
"I was very shy about my work.  Often when I couldn't do something like hammering in a nail, I'd sit there for an hour feeling very depressed, before someone would notice and come to show me.  They'd realize that something was wrong and would show me very nicely how to get it to work.  It wasn't like a put-down. Nobody bothered me until something went wrong, and then their help was always in the form of a friendly gesture.  At first I didn't like it. I always felt that I had to prove myself.  I had this feeling that I wanted to say, "I can do this as well as you can" which I could, given the time.  Gradually I grew to accept help without feeling bad, because I began to realize that everyone was there to help each other."
She became frustrated at her inability to act autonomously, having to depend upon other people, or being "reduced" to "helping":
"The reason I felt so bad about staying (during the Summer) - so incompetent - was that I really wanted to be able to do something by myself, without having to wander around "helping" other people. I didn't feel competent to do that. I don't know if this changed through the process, but I do know that it didn't bother me quite as much.  I gained self-confidence in small things."
Gradually, she came to feel a sense of her own potential, of what she could offer that was unique. Conscious of her need to contribute equally, she chose to design the stained glass windows which are now such an important feature of the house:
"It was a great thrill for me to do the stained glass windows.  I like them very much. I like them so much in fact that I'd like to have them for myself. I was really concerned that they wouldn't turn out. I imagined that they might leak, and that Cal would be very upset. I really wanted them to look nice and to be an integral feature of the house. Cal gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do in terms of design, and that helped me a lot.  The one of the birds is the largest I've ever done. Usually I just do small things. The windows are something that I did all by myself.  That was marvellous."
window.1.1    window.2

Concluding her reflection on the whole experience, like many of the other participants, she said:
"I feel like a different person, although I can't say precisely in what way. I feel  different in almost everything - my outlook on Architecture, on work, on human relationships, on everything. I also have a better understanding of myself."

Student Reflections: 2. Emancipatory Pedagogy and The Circle of Faith

The actual pedagogy of the course may appear at first sight to be strikingly non-pedagogical. That is, there was a distinct absence of teaching authority roles and teaching forms. This is consistent with the  models which I have alluded to elsewhere and which have been developed by Freire, Rogers, Shor and others. As I noted in my own reflective interview at the conclusion of the project:
"I more or less let the students take care of everything themselves. I spent the most amount of time with them during the earlier stages, during the choosing of a client, and during the design phase of the project. I spent a lot more time with them than I did during the construction phase for instance. I put an enormous amount of energy into helping them choose the right client, showing them how to design a group process that would work, helping them to understand what was happening within the group, to make sense of their personal feelings in the larger group setting."
This was in many respects a full-time job, and led to deficiencies in my performance elsewhere - in particular in monitoring and guiding the schedule and the budget. Yet like the client, I was also continually aware of the acute need to allow the students the room to make mistakes. I saw the element of risk as an integral component of the learning experience - no risk, no learning. Like the client, I was therefore caught in a continual struggle to withhold my own capacity and desire to "take control", aware at the same time that to do so would be to paradoxically destroy the very thing we were trying collectively to create. The matter was complicated by the fact that all of the students' prior experience led them to believe that what was being attempted was impossible.
"This class as I do it is very different from the majority of classes in the Department of Architecture. My experience is that people there normally play it safe. Students draw or write things that they know will get them a good grade; teachers set design problems they know the students can do and so on. No one is taking risks, it seems to me. In this sense, I don't really believe that it's a true learning environment."
A very great measure of faith was therefore necessary on the part of the students. What differentiated this faith from that described earlier by Schön, was that in this case, the faith, the trust, the risk and the learning were all reciprocal. It was incumbent upon the "teacher" to have as much faith in the students as he or she expected the students to have in him/herself. In the case of the group process, this faith was substantial. As one student noted:
"Everyone, including myself, was incredibly leery about getting into this with fifteen people. At the time I would have been more than happy if the class had split up into two sections, because then there would have been only seven or eight people to hassle with.  In my mind, I had an equation that the less the number of people, the better the project. I had never worked with that number of people and had any results. I was very leery about it. I think the instructor did a marvellous job of making this thing work."
It was this mutual and reciprocal faith which, above all made the Woodside project experimental, transgressing, as it did, the one-way, non-reciprocal faith demanded in normative studio pedagogies with which the students were familiar and which were the only models in their experience. The students for their part accepted this challenge to a mutuality of faith, along with a comparable mutuality of power, and their acceptance allowed the instructor the space (or rather demanded that he create the space) for the expression of their authority, of their power. Reflecting on this transaction, the students were well aware of the pedagogical differences involved, and the difficulties on the "teacher's" side of the equation:
"I think the instructor played an instrumental part in getting everything set up so it would work.  I've know other instructors who've tried the same thing; real site, real client, real money and so on. But nothing was built. Nothing really happened. That's happened twice now that I've known of. It really takes a special sort of person with a special sort of understanding to put a class together like that. Not many people can do it. He pushed for a total commitment in the very beginning and everyone accepted that. To that commitment, everything else played a secondary role."
What was critical from a "teaching" point of view, seemed to be the continual clarification of meanings, the continual affirmation of autonomies, the continual confirmation that all of the individuals in the group were collectively able to solve problems that individually they could not, the ability to create a comfort-in-silence when things were not working out, and an awareness of the importance in all of this of modelling Model II inclusive behaviours and attitudes of acceptance, caring, and faith. I have to say, that this was not a simple task, and there were many instances then, as indeed there have been since then on other projects where the temptation to "jump in and take over" was almost irresistible.

What allowed for a continuation of this faith was the recognition that the students also, were faced with their own but reciprocal dilemma. For them to seek an external authority as a means of finding a way out of their own conflict - of proposing a solution that "worked", seen from a position of greater experience, would have meant that they were surrendering their own dignity in the face of challenge. Their own sense of accomplishment, learning and empowerment was directly related to the fact that they did not buckle to this temptation. As one of them said:
"Also, the group interaction was very important. Everyone had to understand everyone else and be able to accept what everyone else had to say.  I think that in this respect Cal got a great deal. The group process worked out really well. I was surprised. In fact it's still hard to believe that one can get fifteen people together, especially Architecture students who are very definite in their ideas and concepts, and then have them design one set of plans and go out and build them without getting into hassles and getting to hate each other.  We were very lucky, but I think it was more than that... I was very skeptical about the whole thing. I kept persuading myself to "give it a chance". If it had failed I would have felt rotten, and I think everyone else would have too. That's one of the basic reasons why everything went so well."
The emancipatory rationality of the process at Woodside seems illogical from a technical rationality point of view. In it, one acquires power by surrendering it. One gains influence by surrendering control. One gains trust by being trusting. One learns a great deal by acknowledging one's ignorance, and so on. Within the framework of the emancipatory rationality itself, though, such recognitions are self-evident. The problem, as Schön rightly pointed out, is in moving from Model-I to Model-II behaviours, and in this respect, the initial rule system proved to be indispensable. It formed the conceptual boundary of acceptable actions and behaviours, framing them in the context of a mutual struggle to which everyone responded. In the process, defensive behaviours became a rarity, and the individual and collective energy of the group was released to embark upon a joint voyage of discovery: As I noted then:
"It seems to me that if so much of a person's energy is being channelled into defensive thoughts, postures and strategies, then very little energy is left over for creativity.  I don't think they are mutually exclusive. I believe that the only way people change is moving from a known situation to an unknown situation. That's really the message of the class."

Student Reflections: 3.The Circle of Difference

Throughout the entire process of design and construction, one of the most important factors in the maintenance of the collective group ethos was the parallel maintenance in each individual member of a sense of personal sovereignty. The honouring of differences in perspective of individual members became crucial to the building of trust and openness, which allowed for an extended sense of support to and from the whole group.

Based on their experiences elsewhere, many students came to the process believing that the creation of a group process required them to surrender their sovereignty to the larger group ethos. The task of convincing them that this was not the case was not easy, but was aided by their prior endorsement of the rules of operation. The contradictory nature of the group process was hard to explain. The more people felt autonomous and safe in their experience and perspective, the more they felt able to reveal more and more of themselves to the other group members. The more they did this, the more others felt safe to reciprocate this sharing.

The difficulty arose in attempting to reveal the corrosive power of judgment, and of developing forms of communication which were non-judgmental.  "That's not the way it is!" became "That's not the way I see it!" -  a subtle difference, but an important one, since the former tends to eradicate sovereign difference while the latter tends to support it. As one of the students so beautifully put it:
"It's obvious up in the studios.  Everyone is into ego tripping!  "My design is better than your design...!" As though there is some final judge somewhere who's going to say that this is good and that's bad, and that both can't be alright.  That's my experience of school.  I think it's like that unless one has a feeling within that one is directed toward."
Critical to collective dialogue, then, was the process of getting in touch with this feeling within, since it constituted a measure of both autonomy and difference. Frequently, at least in the early stages, the "feeling within" comprised having a sense of being under attack - as individuals habituated to judgmental interactions presumed a judgment whether one was intended or not. Maintaining a clarity of dialogue and language therefore became the critical factor in dispelling this misapprehension, and allowing the individual concerned to sense more clearly their actual feelings about the project, the process or the design.

The group was relatively homogeneous. There were only two women, one of them Chinese, and one man of a Hispanic background, another who was Japanese American. In neither instance did cultural difference as such become a feature of their dialogue, although all four expressed their full appreciation of the project and the way in which power itself was not institutionalised in gender or ethnic lines, but shifted, as the need arose, within the process.
"I really enjoyed working with everyone else. Being a woman didn't seem to make a lot of difference.  Each person was an individual, and they all worked together really well.  No one tried to run the show and take over or superimpose their ideas on everyone else
Within this group dynamic of support and sovereignty, each person was able to express that which was most unique about themselves and to offer this to the group - a valuable unique perspective on the situation we all found ourselves in. As a result, this multiplicity of unique perspectives gave to the group deliberations a breadth and a depth derived from a multiplicity of insights and experiences, and made each collective decision just that much more profound.

It was for this precise reason that the sanctity of the individual perception was cemented into the rules of operation.

Student Reflections: 4. The Circle of Risk

Almost without exception, the students reported that their most profound learning experiences were also associated with their greatest fears and difficulties. The Chinese woman student who worried about her shyness and about her physical "incompetence" spoke about how she now felt "relaxed" around these new friends, including her instructor, and how she had really enjoyed doing the stained glass windows.
"Initially, I was very paranoid.  I didn't like people watching me doing things, because I felt they were being critical behind my back, or generally condescending and judgmental.  I don't think I was the only one who had these feelings.  Nor do I think that I had this experience just because I was a girl.  I think some of the boys felt self conscious too.  Everyone got to feeling bad if they or their work were criticized in any way.  It's very upsetting to be criticized."
As it became clear to each person, working under the umbrella of non-judgment provided by the rules,  that criticism was "internal" rather than "external" - that one's past experience of having been judged was the actual source of a habituated and anticipated internalised judge who continually reinterpreted every gesture, every comment by the Other as a judgment - so individuals were able to stand aside from this internalised judgment and to hear their authentic voice, often for the first time. That this voice was then supported and affirmed unleashed bonds of friendship never before experienced:
"It's really surprising that everyone remained friends through this whole experience. I remember when we first came back to school in September (after the Woodside project) to pre-enrol, we all got together and decided which classes to take.  After we'd pre-enrolled, spent the whole day together, we all messed around on campus. It was just like "all of us", compared to "all of those other guys".  It was like we had something special, a really close friendship. Usually when one goes to pre-enroll it's "every man for himself' and here we had people who we wanted to do things with.  We spent almost the whole of that week just being together... This quarter we all take classes together.  We stay in touch a great deal. A long absence is about a week, then we are really happy to see each other again. It's all very different from any other relationship I've made as a student."
What seems to have happened is that people who took the risk of being open to themselves and to each other were affirmed in this risk-taking and took yet greater risks. Then, as they saw these risk-taking behaviours rewarded they felt increasingly inclined themselves to reciprocate the support which allowed their colleagues to do the same. In this way, the modelling of Model II behaviours became itself a common element of the group's process:
"I know now that being this open and responsive to my feelings, being so expressive about them, leaves me very vulnerable to criticism. But that's one thing that a person has to learn to deal with. People who don't know anything about it can chop one down and make a person feel really small. But that's a risk that has to be taken.  I learned to do this in the class because there was no criticism there. There was just a sharing of experiences."
All of this risk-taking amounted to a very personal form of experience - a dealing with one's inner reluctance to openness. This was quite different from but related to the wider risks which the entire group were taking on the project as a whole - the risk to the client's savings, his site, his future life, and not least, to their own dignity in the event of failure. One student spoke of this issue of risk, contrasting it with the risks which are attendant upon the regular studio project in school. He recognised that what he had previously considered "risky" in the studio environment was, compared to these risks, not worth mentioning:
"I felt less willing to take real risks in design on this project. It's strange to say this, but it's seen as a great risk to design, say a lightweight tension structure for a house design in a studio project.  Yet that isn't any risk at all. The only thing that's being risked is the almighty grade."
The risk of a failing grade was, on the Woodside house, a relatively minor factor, not least because the students felt themselves to be in control of the process of design, of the evaluation process and of the judgment process. The real risk, I believe, had already been taken in choosing the class, in agreeing with the client to build his house. Once taken, there was nothing left other than to succeed. And, of course, the issue of risk-taking was modelled in exemplary fashion by the client himself, investing his life in the project and in his faith in the students, and also in the instructor who continually strove to reinforce the rules of the operation and to renew the collective faith in a process which seemed to make only a cock-eyed kind of sense.

These modellings no doubt played an important part in the ability of the students to remain committed to the process on the basis of a faith which was ongoingly affirmed with each collective decision, as the group stayed focused on the process rather than the product. The risks were, nevertheless very real.
"I think from the first day, when we stood on the site and tried to decide where the front door should be, everything fell into place beautifully. I couldn't  be happier with it."
And again:
"The whole thing is a lot more than I ever hoped for. I didn't just get a house, I got a whole experience - and the house is that experience. It's my experience, it's your experience, it's our experience. The house is much more than just a house to me now. It's a lot of relationships, people, friends - a lot of beautiful feelings. I met a lot of great people, and renewed a lot of my faith in human beings. Everyone was just beautiful, and as a result the house is beautiful."
And yet again:
"In almost every single instance of the building process I would realize something I hadn't realized before. The SIZE of the house is a good example. The size of the house inside completely floored me. One looks up and it's a...a church. It's quite a feeling and it's one that I never conceived of.  In the earlier stages it wasn't possible to really experience this even with scale figure on a 1/4 inch scale model. It isn't the same as being there and looking up."
And finally:
"I have a great house. I also have a lot of beautiful memories. I've been trying to think of a name for the house but its very hard. Randy gave me a clue, one day, when he said that the whole place seemed "charmed", as if some magic spell were at work, to make sure that everything came out alright. It's difficult to explain this beautiful and flowing experience any other way, without one major disagreement or conflict - without any unhappiness. It seems a bit corny to say it, but I think that the only name that is appropriate is something like "Be charmed".  Everything worked out so perfectly, so marvellously. But perhaps such an experience is by definition nameless."
Another student, recognised that this "charmed" quality of the Woodside experience is actually grounded upon some real and important principles of self-knowledge and openness, and, as Argyris and Schön would no doubt agree,  is professionally repeatable. Increased professional effectiveness, in their terms  involves moving from Model I to Model II behaviours, and this, in the end, is a personal journey which takes no small amount of courage - "civic courage" as Giroux calls it - and moving to a position of personal vulnerability and acceptance:
"This thing about everything coming from inside one is something that I'd like to explore a little more. Everything that exists comes from within somewhere. It's magic. That is what magic is, I suppose. I have the feeling now, and I know most of the other people do, that if I can figure myself out, there isn't anything out there that I can't figure out. Everything else falls into place. It's all pretty weird. We have all talked about and come to experience the house as "filled with spirits" I think that's pretty accurate. People laugh at the ides of talking to plants, at the idea that plants have feelings... but there doesn't seem to be anything outrageous about saying that the Woodside house has feelings, that it's an alive thing. At least that's what people who have been there have come to accept. It's all very strange."

The Political and the Spiritual

This experience of the inanimate house as a living being clearly defies the logic of technical rationality. It has close parallels, in fact, with the cosmology of many indigenous peoples for whom the communal building, whether the Sarawakian Long House, the Oneida Council House or the Maori Wharenui, is experienced as a living ancestor, who is greeted ritually at each encounter. Such parallels tend to confirm not only the rationality of indigenous peoples and group design processes in critical pedagogies, but also between the socio-political imperatives of emancipatory rationality, and a deeper, less definable spirituality connected to a sense of community, of communal being.

The spiritual and the political become, in this context, part of the same collective experience - something which pre-colonial peoples knew intimately, but which is prohibited by law in Western societies as the separation of Church and State. This realisation is important, because it suggests that by the separation of Church and State, the religious and the political, we have consigned the political itself to a state of spiritual impoverishment in ways which account for the duplicity, dishonesty, corruption and cynicism of political leaders.

The act of making the world was, in past times, an act of creating communities, and it is an act which can still function in that same way today, even in the face of technical rationality, of professional ethics and of litigation. Schön and others have made clear that the continued survival of the profession possibly depends upon our ability to become more effective, and to move towards Model II activities. This means, as at Woodside, to move towards community as a conscious and spiritual act of resistance. The Woodside experiment points to how schools of architecture can help in this process. It suggests the important role that they can play in forming and sustaining community now and in the future.

Design as Critical Collaborative Research

The Woodside experience occurred in 1974, at at time when technical rationality still dominated the human sciences, and when "stories" were still considered an inferior, "narrative" form of knowledge. The intervening years have changed much of our perspective on knowledge as well as on research, and it is no longer possible to confine stories such as those described above to the margins of academic credibility. In its time, the Woodside experiment was a ground-breaking event. We did not yet have, in those days, a language to describe the experiences, or to cast them in the light of another and equally valid form of rationality. That was to come later.

I have found it an extremely moving experience to go back over the interviews that I conducted then, and to analyse them for the critical and insightful messages they have for us today. It has meant that I have relived the experience, visited once again the young people who helped to transform my life, my views of teaching and my understanding of how knowledge happens. They have become again for me a real presence, as fresh today, in my memory, as they were so long ago in reality. The immediacy of them has surprised me. I remembered the inflections in their voices, the nuances in their meanings, the smile at the corners of their lips and the affection in their eyes. It has been a good thing to revisit them.

Reflections on the Creation of Community

In 1994, twenty years after the completion of the project, I happened to be visiting California, and inquired from a mutual friend if he had seen any of the students from the 1974 project lately. A brief telephone call, and it was arranged that I would drive out with my friend to visit Hermann and his wife and children in Woodside the next evening. I arrived, with my friend, in the darkness of a February night, at a strange but elegant house set in the forested hills. Hermann opened the door, barely changed from the gentle, loving student that I  had known so long ago - now the father of two lovely children. We entered the house and moved up the stairs to the living room, where I was greeted by ten of the fourteen original students, and by Cal Spafford "our" client. For me, this was testament enough to the bonds of affection and solidarity which the participants in the Woodside Experiment still experienced as a living reality.

 

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