March 28, 2018

ISU Students Research and Document an Ambassador’s Residence

Group of people in front of the Villa Petschek, Czech Republic

As part of an interdisciplinary studio, DSN S 546 Preservation & Cultural Heritage Czech Republic: International Perspectives and Design Issues, two professors—Diane Al Shihabi, Interior Design, and Mikesch Muecke, Architecture—guided twenty students (of 28 total enrolled) from architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture on a study abroad over Spring break to research, document, and interpret Villa Petschek in Prague, the Official Residence of the American Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

This is the second such interdisciplinary studio taught by Al Shihabi and Muecke. In 2017, Al Shihabi guided eight, out of nineteen students in DSN S 546 Preservation & Cultural Heritage Great Britain: International Perspectives and Design Issues on a study abroad to London, while Muecke provided hands-on expertise about website design, videography, and animation. Collectively, the class researched, documented, and disseminated information about Winfield House (London), the Official Residence of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. These unique opportunities to analyze and interpret culturally significant properties abroad are the result of a collaboration between Al Shihabi and Muecke, and Tobin Tracey, Director in the Office of Cultural Heritage at the US Department of State (Overseas Building Operations). Since diplomatic buildings abroad, their interiors, and the landscapes surrounding them, are largely inaccessible to the general public, Al Shihabi and Muecke began to train ISU students to explore physical, digital, and written data in order to innovate means for publishing information about these historically and culturally significant properties to a wider audience.

Part of the pedagogical objectives explored by Al Shihabi and Muecke involve the interdisciplinary collaboration between international students in international settings, given that more than half the ISU students who travelled overseas have come from abroad (China, India, and South Korea). Not surprisingly, conversations about cultural differences and shared goals were part of the studio setting from the beginning. Learning to collaborate across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries presents both challenges and opportunities for participants in the studio. For both students and instructors the historical buildings documented in London and Prague function as built mediators between inhabitants of widely different cultures such as local staff, American diplomatic employees, educators, as well as American and international students. From this perspective, students and faculty in DSN S 546 participate in an ongoing experiment of contemporary diplomacy and design history within a design studio environment.

Another focal point of this advanced Preservation & Cultural Heritage studio is the continuous critical examination of design processes in their relation to technological innovation. Al Shihabi and Muecke have been working closely with the IT staff in the College of Design (Mike Miller, Mitchell Versteeg) to mainstream current technology in their studios. To that end they took the new Leica BLK 360 lidar scanner and the 360° Panono camera to Prague to help document the Villa Petschek. However, rather than leave the handling of the instrument to faculty, they taught students how to use the scanner/camera and then register the 3D point clouds and panoramic images it generated for further use in the studio for 3D animation and videography. The deliverables at the end of the semester are websites, videos, written analysis, physical and digital models, artistic interpretation and conceptual mapping that collectively communicate the complex history and contemporary interpretation of America’s significant cultural properties abroad.

The final review of student work (which is open to the public) will take place in the College of Design Gallery, Room 181 from 9:00 AM to Noon on Wednesday, 25 April 2018.