An interactive game of architecture practice.

Architecture graduates often hit a wall when they enter the workplace. They’re unprepared for practice realities that place emphasis on practical issues over design. They find the traditionally creative aspects of design, aspects to which they devoted 90 percent of their time and energy, and aspects they derived so much satisfaction from and that fueled their energy for charrettes, suddenly account for only 10 percent of their time and more importantly, a small percentage of their satisfaction. The result of the sudden impact is that many students question if architecture was the right career decision for them.

The disillusionment is due to students’ lack of experience with these issues and understanding of their relevance to design. Education is failing to equip students with the strategic skills necessary to apply the experiences of education to a practical setting. More importantly, it is due to education’s failure to help students develop the values and attitudes necessary to understand that the realities of practice are distinctively different than those of the academy. The “Boyer Report” drew attention to this, and other studies such as NCARB’s practice analyses continue to spotlight this issue.

The failure can also be attributed to teaching methods. Educational methods have changed little over time; architecture education is no exception. While design education is often recognized by other disciplines such as business and management for its innovative ability to incorporate a variety of learning environments and methods from collaboration to learning through doing, design education still largely relies upon Beaux Arts and Bauhaus models and has been slow to respond positively to external factors such as technological developments. Courses outside of the studio setting still rely largely upon traditional teaching methods; attempts to change those methodologies are limited.

New technology offers potential to drastically reinvent design education and better prepare students for professional careers. At the Savannah College of Art and Design, we are teaming architecture students and interactive design and game development students with local, regional and international architects and building professionals to develop games that simulate practice. The games place students in architects’ roles were they to face critical issues and make real-time judgment calls and decisions. Collaborative and competitive aspects allow students to interact with architects and further simulate practice settings by factoring in issues such as multidisciplinary teams, time management, client relations, economic factors, energy use and international practice. The goal is to use the concepts of entanglement and gating — key to interactive game design and relevant to architecture practice — to simulate conditions students experience only hypothetically through textbooks or case studies.

The project, “Disentanglement and Gates,” is tailored to millennials. It communicates in the first language of 21st-century education and resides in the environments of today’s students and interns. In doing so, it allows them to experience the realities of professional practice at an earlier, more appropriate stage of education. Negotiating a real-world environment requires students to act, react, strategize and respond to unexpected consequences. Gaming environments provide unique opportunities in which students can experience cause and effect in a safe environment where success is rewarded and failure is safe. It allows students to learn by doing and gain confidence. Gaming technology also provides a more malleable and adaptable resource that is able to respond to the dynamic worlds of practice, industry, information and economics in ways that physical publications are unable to do.

“Disentanglement and Gates” was recognized by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards with the 2012 NCARB Award for the Integration of Practice and Education, an award that recognizes innovative methods to integrate practice and education. The $40,000 awarded to SCAD is the largest amount given in the 2012 NCARB Award program and the largest single amount awarded during the 12-year history of the NCARB Prize, NCARB Grant and NCARB Award programs.

Our project approach is based on two key concepts, entanglement and gating. These concepts are drawn from the interactive game industry and are especially relevant to the realities and challenges of the shifting dynamics of architecture practice:

  • Entanglement: the condition of being deeply involved, complicated or confusing. Interactive games and architecture projects are, by their very nature, entangled activities. They are a combination of a variety of individual smaller elements; a success in both interactive games and architecture project requires an ability to proactively disentangle.
  • Gating: the process by which a party is led to experience a specific event or meet a specific goal in order to progress through a game or a process. Interactive games use gates as stages of the game sequence. Architecture, design and construction are organized into phases, synonymous with gating, with specific events and goals.

Architects are trained to be experts at disentangling the intricate and complex processes of design and construction in order to lead the project through gates of development. The goal of our prospect is to equip students with these same skills in order to better prepare them.

Although the project started only last year, it is well underway. Students and faculty from the architecture and interactive design and game development programs at SCAD are participating in the project during winter, spring, and summer quarters. The game will launch in professional practice classes in Fall 2013.

Students are collaborating with architects and building professionals to identify key issues and gain an understanding of the interrelationship of decisions to design and construction processes and projects. Local, regional and international architects are serving as resources for the students for detailed information about projects, project constraints, specific project conditions and time lines. The project has provided an excellent means to strengthen our relationship with local practitioners and the Savannah chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Contractors, interior designers, engineers and consultants are providing additional viewpoints and information about projects to compliment and contrast with architects’ perspectives. At collaborative sessions with the students, architects excel at opening up entire new perspectives on practice issues and situations, readily offering advice from deep caches of previous experience and the invaluable benefit of hindsight.

Based on this research, architecture students are developing problem scenarios in collaboration with students from SCAD’s interactive design and game development program as a basis for interactive games that will allow students to play the role of the architect and make decisions as projects advance through various levels of development and implementation. Unforeseen outcomes are incorporated to reflect dynamic practice settings and force students to make value judgments and ethical decisions. The overall result is to require students to strategize decisions in anticipation of subsequent and unexpected consequences of their actions.

Cutting-edge game engine technology is central to the game. State-of-the-art game development technology provides a framework that can be easily adapted and modified. It provides a way to present multidimensional situations that textbooks and other educational tools can only suggest. Additionally, it provides a way of allowing students to explore a single issue repeated times with unique and variable outcomes that encourage exploration, testing and experimentation. It allows the students to fail and ask, “What if?”

Most importantly, game technology provides a way to engage students in a medium that is their own. It uses tools and methods students use to communicate, learn and assimilate information. It has allowed us, as project directors, to approach education from a proactive point of view, and illustrate the challenges and rewards of assuming responsibility, leadership, decision-making and accountability in a compelling and engaging medium.

While using games to teach a variety of subject matters is not a new idea, with this project we are focusing on four key areas: blended learning, gamification, adaptive assessment and simulation. The project seamlessly integrates into existing learning environments and enhances an already well-defined curriculum. Inclusion of established game system techniques incentivizes users, while making the gaming experience engaging and compelling. The ability to assess each user’s progress and provide feedback on ways to improve performance within real world experiences gives users the opportunity to apply and improve their firsthand knowledge and experience with professional practice.

Aspects of the architect’s responsibility for public health, safety and welfare are introduced in all facets of the game. When playing the game, students are required to react to a variety of simulated practice and project settings that will challenge them to think about design decisions as they impact a variety of project constraints including, but not limited to, public health, safety and welfare. Because the game focuses on professional practice, students will be exposed to the implications and responsibilities of architectural licensure and concepts such as responsible control and comprehensive practice, helping them to appreciate the professional limitations of design professionals who are not licensed. Students will be required to make value judgments and ethical decisions that architects address daily and at all levels of practice.

A lack of realistic understanding of professional practice has created a void in the architecture student’s education. Although we are addressing this gap within our program in many ways, the development of the game has given us a head start. As we begin developing the game, architecture students have become the subject matter experts on issues of practice and are required to be able to explain professional practice issues and their context to interactive game design students who serve as the subject matter experts for game design and development. In the same way that the architect collaboratively leads interdisciplinary teams of building professionals and consultants to realize an architecture project, students are leading interdisciplinary teams of interactive game design students, each of whom serve a unique role in the game design and development process. This process serves as a model of building projects in which each person has key knowledge, experience, and responsibilities that must be efficiently exploited to successfully complete a project.

The project is connecting seemingly unrelated subjects and courses to provide a better overall understanding of architecture practice. While the project is being developed over a one-year period, the framework can easily reflect the changing world of professional practice and serve as a resource for other courses. It can be expanded to other areas of architecture education with potential to involve other architecture programs worldwide to ensure that the project becomes an open source technology in which others are able to augment the game over time to create a richer tapestry of entanglements and gates, rather than a restricted proprietary system. This will also ensure that the project uses technology to transcend geographic limitations and yield a work that, through continued growth, will be a paradigm-shifting element of architecture education.

Our project has been recognized as a groundbreaking way to address professional issues in architecture education uniquely suited to the millennial generation. It is demonstrating a potential to revolutionize architecture education by making a variety of subjects more relevant and educational experiences more immediate and relevant. Most importantly, it offers means to make critical educational experiences fun and accessible to students. In doing so, it creates a stronger foundation for students’ transition from education to internship, examination and practice and most importantly, a fulfilling and rewarding career.

About the authors

Greg G. Hall, Ph.D., AIA, NCARB, is the chair of architecture and a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In addition to teaching, research and administrative experience, Hall has more than 25 years of international professional architecture experience in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.

Luis Cataldi serves as chair of interactive design and game development at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Cataldi has more than 20 years of professional development experience. He was previously the studio and project art director at Kaos Studios, where he worked on AAA console games. He is also a former character technical artist at Blue Sky Studios, where he worked on animated feature films, including “Ice Age II” and “Robots.”

Carole Pacheco, a professor of architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design, has been involved with commercial, historical, institutional and custom residential design projects focused on sustainability for more than 30 years. Pacheco has also taught architecture at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

Aram Cookson, a professor of interactive design and game development, has taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design for more than 10 years and is a founding faculty member of the university’s interactive game program. Cookson holds a B.F.A. in sculpture and M.F.A. in computer art.

Matthew Dudzik, LEED AP, is a professor of architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In addition to teaching and lecturing internationally, he is the head of DUDZIK Studios, an atelier focused on multi-scalar investigations of design.