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Divisive Collaboration // Karl Ndieli


Abstract - The D+M Studio functions uniquely in that it forces you to collaborate in a self sacrificial format in order for the best results to be attained. As a result of the fact that there is no hierarchy in the design of the project, students are bound to butt heads but the result is always the best iteration of whatever architectural avenue is being explored.

Audience - Recent Graduates interested in the inner workings of the KSU Design Make studio and prospective 5th years interested in understanding the work scope of the studio

"Divisive Collaboration"


Initially, I expected the design studio to be a collaborative haven; an academic year that I could use to improve my collaborative skills while simultaneously refining my hands on experience to better equip me for the work space after my graduation. Having received a little bit of insight from the students that preceded me about the workings of the studio, I anticipated a smooth seamless workflow amongst my peers, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead what I’ve continued to experience is a repetitive and slightly abrasive venture that in turn slowly shapes my character and that of my peers around me, into more seamless pieces in the puzzle of the studio’s workflow.

I suppose that this abrasive yet therapeutic workflow is as a result of the the lack of hierarchy in the studio. In my experience, for decision making to take place and for there to be a smoothness in procession of workflow, there needs to be hierarchy. Take a classic architectural workplace for example. One’s position in the office determines the purchasing power of his decisions.


Generally, the opinion of a Project Manager would have more gravity than that of an Intern Architect. In contrast, the way the design make studio is set up, everyone has an equal amount of purchasing power when it comes to decision making. The consequence is a very tedious and slow design process that results in a trickling rate of development.


At the beginning of whatever design process we’re engaged in, each of my peers brings forth their resolution to the design riddle and we begin to attempt select aspects from each scheme that solve certain problems in the overall puzzle. The qualm with this is that my peers, including myself, become personally attached to whatever they’ve brought to the table. As the design begins to unfold and better solutions are found, it becomes increasingly difficult to let go of unsuitable solutions for the now evolved project. By consistently merrygorounding, the studio has cultivated a habit of unhealthy criticism. When it charrette time approaches, individuals are more likely to point out bad ideas and dwell on those rather than highlight the promising aspects and find ways to inculcate them into the general design.

As some sort of vendetta or revenge for the rejection of previous ideas, particular classmates are more likely to disregard entire ideas as a result of the fact that it may contain bad aspects despite the fact that segments of said ideas may be crucial to fold into the design. As I stated before, these design disputes would easily be overcome in a workplace because the oversight of a manager would neutralize the trivialities in order to facilitate productivity. Despite the fact that the repetitiveness may seem unproductive, I believe this tedious process is essential to continue to further prepare us for a more collaborative design process that we may encounter as professionals.


After engaging in this sort of design process multiple times over the course of the last year, I have observed that each individual in the studio has begun to feel less individual ownership over projects and have begun approach projects from an angle of ‘We’ rather than ‘I’. This lack of individual ownership may be considered a serious problem to some, but I’d like to again highlight the unique working condition that we find ourselves in this studio. In my opinion, the presence of conviviality towards the design process allows for a more streamlined and productive workflow. However, this unification is only the beginning in terms of achieving the goals for the studio.


Not only is the studio tasked with the duty of improving our collaborative workflow, but the end results of all our mental exercises has to be Word Class Architecture. To ensure that this takes place, a couple of extra steps have to be taken to solidify the outcome. The distribution of not only tasks but leadership positions. By giving individual studio members agency over certain aspects of the design, we’re able to ensure that a final decision can be internally arrived at without much dispute.


Divvying up control over certain aspects to each member of the studio allows each student to satisfy the need to be perceived as a valuable member of the team while simultaneously streamlining the decision making process in the studio. Despite the fact that the uneven distribution of agency or responsibility may lead to more dispute I think the overall outcome is that of a positive effect.


Being in the final leg of the studio it’s been very interesting to watch as a much more streamlined collaborative process has emerged out of the former more abrasive workflow of the studio. As a studio we’ve been able to take control of certain aspects of the studio workflow but we’ve been yet to find a way to evenly divide the agency over certain programmatic requirements. The final goal is to create a piece of architecture that exudes uniformity and cohesiveness. I think we’re finally getting closer to hitting that nail right on the head.

Written by Karl Ndieli

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