The second post in our collaboration with New Architecture Writers sees Shawn Adams asking how swapping studio time for screen time will impact the next generation of spatial designers.

Coronavirus has utterly changed education. It has not only forced educators to reflect on how and where they teach but has also made them reassess places of learning. To ensure the safety of students and staff, many educational institutions are now making everyone stand a metre apart, creating single-lane passageways and clearing entire areas. These changes have not only altered how people navigate buildings but also how they experience space. The corridor is no longer a bustling hub of interaction between colleagues but instead a deserted vessel that simply acts as a conduit from one room to the next. The studio on the other hand – the nucleus of many design-based courses – is now a sterile zone where warning notices line the walls that previously housed project ideas.

Currently, at Central Saint Martins (where I'm an associate lecturer), teaching is happening both virtually and in person. Face-to-face lessons have been taking place at a one-m distance with students and staff having to wear face coverings as soon as they enter the building. Signage and wayfinding stickers have been installed throughout the college to safely guide students to their learning areas and clear plastic screens create barriers to help prevent the spread of infection. At the London-based university, opening hours have also been revised to support academic delivery and to reduce the number of people in the building at a time. This in turn has rendered the design studio lifeless. (NB: Since the time of writing CSM has shifted to wholly virtual tuition).

The studio is now a sterile zone where warning notices line the walls that previously housed project ideas

In art school, the studio is an integral space for the development of ideas. It is a cauldron of thought and catalyst for design thinking. Typically, the studio is a flexible communal area that acts as an energetic hub for social interactions. Here seminars, tutorials and crits are held while concepts frantically bounce around the room. It is a place of solidarity where students can be seen working together and motivating one another as heated debates happen in the background. While many elements of the design studio are intangible, they have not managed to translate well into a virtual form. You cannot walk over to your colleagues’ desk and have an informal conversation about their project over Zoom or catch a glimpse of one of your peers' work as you leave the building on Microsoft Teams. This has left a void in courses such as fashion, interior design and architecture. While the studio may still exist it simply isn’t the same with the new COVID-19 restrictions.

As schools, colleges and universities attempt to deliver high-level teaching, many of their internal areas have suffered as a result of the coronavirus. For design-based courses, studio culture has been completely crippled, and its impalpable qualities have failed to be recreated in a virtual form. While online teaching has allowed students to continue learning during the pandemic it simply hasn’t been able to emulate the design-studio. As students long to return to the environments that COVID-19 has expelled them from the question on everyone’s mind is: how will this altered experience of educational space shape the interiors designed by the next generation?

New Architecture Writers is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on Black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are underrepresented across design journalism and curation. A series of evening workshops, talks, and writing briefs form the core of N.A.W.’s programme with one-to-one mentoring from experienced design critics and editors throughout. Find out more here.