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Empowerment and learning to design in a first semester studio: Students' and their professor's experience integrating cultural feminist pedagogy into a traditional architecture program

Jeannette Diaz, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Design studios, the core of architectural education, are the locus in which students develop design skills while being socialized into the culture of the architectural profession. This qualitative case study examines a first year design studio taught by an experienced professor inspired by cultural feminist principles and student-centered pedagogy. This study explores the questions: (1) How do the professor's pedagogical principles influence and shape the educational dynamic within the design studio? (2) How are students' creative processes influenced by this professor's pedagogy? and, (3) What can be learned from this case study to make design studios supportive and positive learning environments? Answering these questions led to the following conclusions: (1) The professor's personal beliefs and professional values, love for teaching, and willingness to be a co-explorer of students' ideas shaped a studio dynamic in which students' individual needs and learning styles were acknowledged within the requirements of the School and Freshman Design Studios curricula. She consciously worked out conflicts between the program's traditional goals to architectural education (developing technically and aesthetically proficient, highly competitive architects) and her own student-centered, cultural feminist pedagogy (developing environmentally aware, socially just architects). (2) The priority given to students' development as individuals meant sharing professorial authority and power. Her multidisciplinary background and experience promoted a creative pedagogy that empowered students as individuals and fostered a strong group identity through networking, thus increasing personal and collective responsibility for their work, self-awareness, confidence, and willingness to take risks in their approaches to design. Consequently, the studio dynamic evolved into a positive learning environment, supporting each student's creative process and the quality of their designs and learning. (3) This case study is an atypical learning environment for an introductory design studio within traditionally oriented professional degree programs. More in-depth studies are needed on the underlying premises of studios that create psychological climates leading to enhanced creativity and empowerment or to unproductiveness and frustration in students. Further, an interdisciplinary look at cultural politics could help build guidelines for better preparing architects to deal with the pressing demands for change in the profession and towards social justice.

Subject Area

Higher education|Architecture|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Diaz, Jeannette, "Empowerment and learning to design in a first semester studio: Students' and their professor's experience integrating cultural feminist pedagogy into a traditional architecture program" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9909161.