As architecture students we are provided with projects that often deal with the initial parameters of design briefs – a list of requirements that we are expected to meet in order to achieve the project outlines. What is the budget? Who is the client? What is the purpose of the project? All of these issues are often answered within our project briefs – we design for the imaginary client that right from the word go have a clear intention, strictly adhering to their original ideas. The imaginary client is essentially perfect – often with loose budgets and even looser concept frameworks.
This is where live projects significantly differ from the standard studio project – we deal with real clients, real situations and real budgets. Every aspect of the design has to be considered, justified and rationalized – and even then, after so many adjustments have been made to meet original requirements, the client or the economic situation of the project can change and drastically alter all of your best laid plans.
Take, for example, a cushion for a seating structure. Myself and two other students were given the task of creating cushions for a cinema-style rake. Within the design studio realm such a task would have been relatively simple – select appropriate materials and methods with clear justification, and then decide on qualities and quantities of the product. The live project, however, made this a much more difficult task. Over the space of 3 weeks the design restrictions shifted and altered so much that the final outcome will no doubt be entirely different from our original intentions; the shape, size, quantity and quality have all been compromised several times. We began with the theme of a hillside featuring green fabric floors and large decorated cushions, which has now changed to a bare wooden frame with small foam seats, with covers made from recycled/donated fabrics. Retaining concepts also proves to be quite difficult in live projects, when budget, construction, or health and safety restrictions mean that the idea you have consistently followed is no longer viable.
Live projects were a shock to system of most second year students, used to the relative stability of studio design. But they both have their benefits, and both teach us fundamental skills in design culture. University studio projects often push our creativity to the limit and can challenge our perceptions of art and design, whilst live projects remind us to be grounded and learn to adapt to changing climates (of economy, relations and project intentions). Both aid our development, resulting in a much greater understanding of our roles as designers.