International students' blog – LTH

Engineering, Architecture and Industrial Design students write about life at the Faculty of Engineering LTH

Learning and Designing From Distance: Virtual Field Study to Africa

Having the first semester on campus, moving to distance learning was challenging, but we succeeded!
In March 2020, all our classes and studios switched to the online platform of Zoom. It was in the middle of the second semester of my master’s studies, and it has continued to start the fourth, also the last, semester online.
After a year of being a part of the Advanced Architectural Design track, I partook in a studio called Urban Shelter for the third semester.

City of Dar es Salaam Source:

“The course deals with urban shelter design in a development context with focus on the conditions of the urban poor and on how to bridge the urban divide. High quality urban shelter design is a tool for improved living quality by providing better homes and better cities. Improved shelter is a path to social inclusion, economic development, security, education and health. Therefore, architects involved in the shelter design need to carefully define what quality is.” From the presentation of the course 

The studio had three phases, 1. The preparatory studies 2. The virtual field study in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania 3. Design work; group and individual.
Usually, this course had a study trip to the selected country; however, everything went online in Autumn 2019 for the first time during the pandemic. The chosen city for this semester was Dar es Salaam the capital of Tanzania. For two and half weeks, we had several lecturers from different urban shelter actors such as Ardhi University, national and municipal government, private sectors, and NGOs.

Source: gettyimages

In this format, it was challenging to get to know and understand the local context without traveling. However, searching for information on the web, in books, and articles became more valuable. I can say now I am really looking forward to traveling to Africa and Tanzania with prior insight. After deep learning and investigation, I think the experience is much more exciting than the usual way of field trips. Because we have tried very hard to find the information needed to grasp the city’s life from searching on social media, watching YouTube videos, and talking with locals online.

The Answers to Survey Questions Created by the Author

Meanwhile, nothing was replacing the actual real interviews; we had a few Zoom interviews, but I came up with the idea of conducting an online survey to reach a wider group. In the end, we received 50 responses, which significantly helped to set the design criteria based on a closer look at the reality.

In addition to the virtual trip’s challenges, we had to be creative to do the group work entirely from a distance! For the first phase of design, in a group of 4, we had the neighborhood design of 6hectars. We managed to discuss, define and separate the tasks and combine the results, although it was not interchangeable with working together in an actual room. Thanks to the Urban Shelter’s supportive tutors, the well-organized course’s coordination helped us reach the maximum level we could get with the current situation. In the last phase of design, each team member had chosen an individual building to develop in the architecturally detailed level.

In the final review, Architects from Dar-es-Salaam joined us and gave feedbacks, and a collection of the student proposals will be sent to the collaborating partners in Tanzania.

So I can say it was an unexpected way of learning and design, but the new situation brought new solutions with a creative mind.

4 February, 2021

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