Lehrstuhl für Computergestütztes Planen in der Architektur
Fakultät für Architektur / RWTH Aachen

The Virtual Campus

(A New Place For (Lifelong) Learning?)

Autoren: Russell, Peter & Elger, Dietrich (Russell )
Erschienen in: Automation in Construction, Volume 12, Issue 6, November 2003
Seiten: 671-676
Jahr: 2003


In the early spring of 2001 a collection of German universities founded a virtual faculty of architecture, which was named "Liquid Campus". Current thinking about future forms of education in the field of architecture combined with over 4 years of experience with net-based design studios, led to questions about the future of existing universities, their buildings, and their use. This problem was put to 43 students in the form of a design exercise to create a place for a virtual university. In the current situation, in which the administration of knowledge is more and more located on the internet, and even the so-called meeting places themselves can be virtualised through the help of video-conference-software, the exercise was to design a virtual campus in the framework and to carry out this design work in a simulation of distributed practice. Initial criticism of the project came from the students in that exemplary working methods were not described, but left for the students to discover on their own. The creation of a concept for the Liquid Campus meant that the participants had to imagine working in a world without the face to face contacts that form the basis (at present) of personal interaction. Additionally, the assignment to create or design possible links between the real and the virtual was not an easy task for students who normally design and plan real physical buildings. Even the tutors had difficulties in producing focused constructive criticism about a virtual campus; in effect, the virtualisation of the university leads to a distinctive blurring of its boundaries. The project was conducted using the pedagogical framework of the, a relatively well-established Internet-based communication platform. This means that the studio was organised in the "traditional" structure consisting of an initial 3-day workshop, a face to face midterm review, and a collective final review, held 3.5 months later in the Museum of Communication in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In teams of three (with each student from a different university and a tutor located at a fourth), the students worked over the Internet to produce collaborative design solutions. The groups ended up with designs that spanned a range of solutions between real and virtual architecture. Examples of the student's work (which is all available online) as well as their working methods are described. It must be said that the energy invested in the studio by the organisers of the virtual campus (as well as the students who took part) was considerably higher than in normal design studios and the paper seeks to look critically at the effort in relation to the outcomes achieved. The range and depth of the student's work was surprising to many in the project, especially considering the initial hurdles (both social and technological) that had to overcome. The self-referential nature of the theme, the method and the working environment encouraged the students to take a more philosophical approach to the design problem. The paper explores the implications of the student's conclusions on the nature of the university in general and draws conclusions specific to architectural education and the role of architecture in this process.