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Cultures, Communities and Design

Covid Distancing and its Effect on Shared Mental Models & ZPD in Teaching & Learning Architecture
L. Ariav
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Covid-imposed distancing during academic years 2020 – 2021 obliged rethinking of well-founded convictions in regard to knowledge sharing in the architectural studio Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) – characterized as the distance between the problem-solving abilities exhibited by a learner working alone and these abilities when collaborating with more experienced others. As it is widely agreed that architecture cannot be taught and relies on learning-by-doing, the studio ZPD usually relied on close-quarters explicit, implicit and tacit exchanges between the coach and student. During this collaboration, the studio master coaches, accompanies and guides the students in their attempts to cope with ill-defined architectural problems, enabling exposure to- and acquisition of- Shared Mental Models (SMM). Accordingly, for more than a century (in the western world), the studio ZPD was based on a ‘frontal teaching’ mode which enables formulation and acquisition of complex declarative and procedural knowledge (designerly ways of knowing). Thus, until the pandemic quarantines, an efficient ZPD for teaching and learning architecture was believed to compel direct unmediated interaction between the teammates/ all studio members, in the studio. The effect of an additional ZPD distance due to Zoom (virtual sharing) and Miro (virtual workspace) where unknown and dreaded. Capitalizing on Dorst’s “Situated Problem-Solving process” – however, without ignoring the “overall” design problem posed by distancing – the studio focused on self-contained dwellings for 10 students. Implicitly emulating the studio ZPD, the projects had to provide a collaborative hub for students, the nearby community and broader urban circles. This exercise yielded an extended ZPD as expected, however, also a significant effect on the Scaffolding Space between the coach and students (and between the students themselves). Curiously and counterintuitively, the Corona era ‘extra-distance’ studios produced exciting and innovative student work which mandate reflection on sharedness in the early stages of teaching and learning architecture.


Lee Ariav is an Adjunct Lecturer teaching mainly at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa for approximately 20 years. He trained as a landscape architect at the Technion, Haifa and spent a decade in private practice. He earned his Masters degree in Architecture and Urban Culture from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona Spain. Subsequently, while teaching in Israel and as a visiting academic abroad, he completed his PhD at the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, Technion, Haifa, focusing mainly on the first formative year of the students’ education, studying knowledge sharing and pedagogy in the architectural studio. Applying qualitative research methods, his research applies Vygotsky’s ZPD structure to the studio, revealing the nature of development in shared mental models from the 1st to the 3rd year studios.