T. Venter, E. van der Wath

University of Pretoria (SOUTH AFRICA)
Design education is often criticised for distancing itself from the everyday activities of practice. Such distancing leads to graduates well-versed in theory, creativity and concept, but ill-equipped for the challenges associated with constructing their conceptual imaginings. Additionally, students are often unfamiliar with technological processes and advances that guide industry. This paper argues that complexity and innovation in spatial design require a more pronounced link between design theory, design drawing and the eventual articulation of design. This link must be informed by technological advances in digital fabrication and should include a deeper understanding of industry manufacturing processes and the embedded nature of materials. This underpinning to design can be obtained by exposing students to real-life problems and by encouraging hands-on experimentation with materials and manufacturing processes. Within a South African educational context, such explorations are however often limited to manufacturing processes of low complexity and students are rarely offered opportunities to engage directly with digital fabrication during the design development phase. This paper employs a case study to investigate how this shortcoming can be overcome through mutually beneficial university and industry interactions. Additionally, the paper investigates the learning opportunities offered by full-scale prototyping through digital fabrication methods and the impact thereof on design education. The case study refers to a rapid prototyping workshop where interior architecture students from the University of Pretoria engaged directly with industry specialists from RAW Studios (a design and manufacturing practice). The workshop was implemented outside of the typical pedagogical structures that guide studio activities during the semester, which resulted in a series of richly varied design products and enriched design processes. The learning opportunities offered by this project will be discussed under the themes that emerged from a retrospective critique of the project.