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Academic Innovation


During spring 2020, in anticipation of an academic year mixing in-person and online instruction, Taubman College rolled out parallel projects, each with two goals: to create activities for our students who suddenly lost opportunities for internships, travel, and experiential learning; and to create tools specific to architecture and planning that would help us teach in a more collective and inclusive way.

We saw an opportunity to innovate and create spaces for collective learning and experience, and to evolve our culture of place, given the challenges posed by the pandemic. And we recognized that our community needed to lead that innovation. We wanted faculty and students to drive a smarter, more nuanced, and more inclusive reentry strategy; at the same time, we wanted to ensure a continuity of our college’s culture and simultaneously engage as many people as possible in the co-creation of tools, methods, and strategies for a more humane and playful and engaged way of being together in this kind of space.

Taubman College’s academic innovation team includes Anya Sirota (associate dean for academic initiatives and associate professor of architecture), Jacob Comerci (academic initiatives program manager and lecturer in architecture), and Ishan Pal, M.Arch ’20.

Students and Faculty Co-Create Education and Community for COVID and Beyond



Shortly after starting the shift to online teaching and interaction in March 2020, a group of Taubman College faculty and staff initiated a pilot for a web portal that would assemble and then create awareness of and access to the variety of digital spaces in which the Taubman College community was gathering, teaching, and sharing — from pinups and reviews to galleries and conversation spaces.

A few weeks later, the platform formally launched as CMOK, an experimental digital space for the myriad virtual happenings at Taubman College. The letters, pronounced as an acronym, refer to the CMYK third-floor review space, one of Taubman College’s primary meeting spaces, and render a hopeful message: “SEE-EM (I’M) – OK.”

In September, the team launched an updated version of CMOK, which will serve as a virtual commons for happenings at the college. It includes a number of updated features, including a user interface through which faculty and student groups can update their own rooms by adding Zoom links, galley links, and information updates. The site also will enable user-controlled room creation, so that faculty can add their own studio rooms and reviews, as well as a “Live Now” indication when events are happening in real time.

Read a feature story about CMOK’s launch

Longo Competition: Campus, City, and Pandemic


This competition challenges participants to consider how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the design and occupation of urbanism. Cities and densely urbanized environments across the world are among the sites most intensely impacted by the pandemic. Especially in the United States, this impact is unevenly distributed along lines of race and class, amplifying institutionalized inequity. Focusing on the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus and the surrounding city, this competition challenges interdisciplinary teams to imagine adaptations to our shared environment that will enable the persistence of public life within the urban milieu. While for some the novel coronavirus constitutes a profound threat to personal health and wellbeing, the more pervasive risk is one of public health. Measures such as quarantine and social-distancing are intended to not only promote individual health, but to prevent the massive fallout and collateral damage that would occur should our medical systems become overwhelmed. Similarly, for so many the virus brings personal economic precarity, and yet such individual precarity is only a prelude to systemic economic stress at the societal scale. The coronavirus is a grim reminder of an innocuous fact: that so much of our culture and society is reliant on shared systems and infrastructure, the collective, the public, the commons. Urbanism is the spatial and material milieu for such collective life.

How can we reconsider the space of the campus and city in the context of the pandemic in order to awaken modes of public life that will be valuable in a post-pandemic context? Can we imagine social-distancing, the use of masks, and other public health measures without prompting alienation? Can the present moment sponsor innovative thinking about equity, access, and justice in the urban environment? Is urban density really a problem, or can innovative spatial practices enable density without disease? How will the coronavirus pandemic impact emergent urban phenomena like the sharing economy or new forms of urban mobility? Is there an alternative to being together, apart?

View the awards ceremony (Video)

1st Place: Class CO-OP

Project team: Niels Hoyle-Dodson and McHugh Carroll
Design advisors: Sharon Haar and Chris Purdy, B.S. ’86

Longo first place winner

Class CO-OP is a project designed to merge the idealism of young academics with the popular base of a working class constituency, hoping to generate new social bonds that can revitalize a historically forgotten working class solidarity. The physical decoupling of students from their institution that is brought on by the Covid-19 Pandemic is leveraged in order to rethink the way Ann Arbor functions as a college town. Physical and intangible resources are collected from the university and dispersed into the surrounding communities. The resultant sites act as social catalysts, generating new class conscious relationships between property, community, political activism and the institutions of academia.

2nd Place: Urban Inflation

Project team: Yinan Fang, Mingrui Jiang, Yuxin Lin, and Chunyang Xu
Design advisors: Sharon Haar, Glenn Wilcox, Anca Trandafirescu, Perry Kulper, and Romil Sheth, M.U.D. ’06, M.S. ’10

The project is perceived under the possibility of inflatable structure and the notion that more space is required for public, education and business buildings. Taking mobility, temporality and distribution of student circulation into account, we choose to use inflatable bubbles to encompass urban changes. These inflatable bubbles will dynamically expand, contract, move, and morph into different shapes on a weekly cycle. Understanding the history of the bubble is crucial to our design. Throughout history, we learn that the possibility and flexibility of inflatable are unlimited. But we believe only by understanding the condition and culture that these bubbles exist, the design becomes meaningful.

3rd Place: Ann Arbor Public Wifi Collective

Project team: Nick Button, Josh Myers and Brian Pekar
Design advisers: McLain Clutter and Paul Danna, B.S. ’81 

The Ann Arbor Public Wifi Collective is a proposal designed to address the growing disparity and urgency in internet access that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Targeting lower income and disadvantaged areas the project builds off of the existing local transit infrastructure to optimize and give new agency to a public service preparing for new use conditions. Bus shelters will be altered to house SuperNode antennas that can provide internet access to entire neighborhoods while providing safe coworking and waiting space for bus riders. While smaller bus stops serve as router distribution points on a new route through the city carried by a previously underutilized bus. These systems and others work to ensure equal access to urban spaces, infrastructures, and to the digital realities that are becoming increasingly significant in society.

Sonic Scenographies


Sonic Scenographies is a research program that catalyzes experimental collaboration at the intersection of performance, music, theatre, dance, architecture, and digital space. It is an invitation for students across disciplines, with support from faculty, to speculate on ways performative digital space can offer novel social and cultural experiences. Sonic Scenographies relies on interdisciplinary collaboration and emergent technologies to test new methods in digital design, online performance, documentation, and transmission.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen an uptick in ingenuity with regards to the unorthodox presentation of architecture, music, theatre, and dance.  Whether it be online gallery tours, living room performances, video game dance parties or synchronized choral performances, artists and designers are finding ways to produce empathic spaces which transcend the banalities of ubiquitous video calls toward something altogether new.  At its core, Sonic Scenographies is a proposal which sympathizes with such undertakings and strives to take these efforts to a new virtual level, seeking to imbue students with a sense of excitement and optimism, preparing them to lead with their creativity as new modes of performance and interactivity take shape, while blazing a path towards new forms and even genres of performance.

View final presentations (Video)

Announcement of all projects awarded funding

Spatializing Digital Pedagogies


The Spatializing Digital Pedagogies grant competition was launched on the hunch that we could adapt tools that are designed for generic, universal learning environments, or we can engage our faculty and students to design those tools for a studio experience that are cognizant of what it means to work together collaboratively in intensive ways.

It first assumes that the organization of space in a digital environment is really important. That it creates an intuitive logic for collaboration and it stipulates that designers are capable of creating those tools perhaps in advance or better than technologists. It’s the opposite of what we typically do as architects and designers: we adapt tools that are out in the market and we do the best we can to make them work for us. But in this case, can we figure out a series of ways of working that comes from architecture, planning, and urban design and then inflects the way that we teach.

View an overview of each project (YouTube)

View the Spatializing Digital Pedagogies Awards Ceremony and Presentations (Video)

Announcement of all projects awarded funding

Featured project: channel TWO (Taubman Workshop Online)

Faculty leads: Julia McMorrough and John McMorrough
Student team: Megan Clevenger, Alan Escareño, Nick Garcia, Tejashrii Shankarraman, and Danrui Xiang

channel TWO (Taubman Workshop Online) is a distributed framework for the creation of student-generated design experience content. It employs students to make a series of short, lateral-learning videos over the summer, resulting in a collection of information related to Taubman College as an experience. This collection will be both a guide for incoming and continuing students navigating the "new normal," but will also act as a model and template for more students to make future videos addressing arising circumstances. With physical distancing, we see that design education is not just credit hours, but is held within the architecture, inhabitants, and interactions of the college. This project seeks to address this missing component: it is in part affective (what it feels like to be part of a school of design), part instructional (how do I do "blank" with limited means?), and part cultural (what's a "review"?).

“The stewardship of the future, represented in the Spatializing Digital Pedagogies grant program, along with the other summer initiatives coming out of the Architecture program and the College Academic Initiatives, speaks to what is the best possible version of Taubman College, generating work that is design-focused, project-based, and student-oriented, addressing unprecedented conditions.”

—Julia McMorrough and John McMorrough

“Not only did this project offer me 'work' when opportunities were bleak, but it offered a chance to address the reason for opportunities being bleak: both academia and practice have long been dependent on communicating in person, and this project was born to initiate a rethinking of this apparent prerequisite. It has been insightful to be a part of a flagbearer initiative rooted in adaptability for changing times. Apart from a wider skillset and better proficiency in certain softwares, I've learned that we need to make the screen our ally for communication. The screen and the digital medium offer various opportunities for 'online' learning to be peppered with personable quirks and humour, fostering an engagement beyond the screen and its pixels.”

—Tejashrii Shankar Raman, M.Arch ’21

“Introducing the experience of an architecture school through tutorial videos was such a fresh idea for me. It was a fun exploration to represent the culture of our college and to rethink that under current circumstances. It challenges me to explain the basic concepts in architecture using visual and verbal language to those who are new to the discipline. This project also pushes me to be creative about working with the digital tools and physical conditions that I have at hand.”

—Danrui Xiang, M.Arch ’21

Featured project: M.S.D.M.T. Care Package

Faculty leads: Mark Meier, Catie Newell, and Glenn Wilcox
Student team: Ryan Craney, M.S. ’20

The DMT Care Package embodies the strong efforts of the FABLab and the DMT program to maintain the robust connection between computational advancement with physical productions and outputs whether in the lab or at home. It provides a means to exchange ideas, codes, and materials between our community, even if we can not be physically together. This is a current challenge and opportunity in the design world.

“The competition demonstrates that academic innovation can come from challenging circumstances.”

    —Mark Meier, lecturer in architecture

“Working on the DMT care packages has been a fun design challenge. The Digital and Material Technologies program is traditionally very hands-on, so we have had to rethink how students can "learn by making" in a socially-distanced/remote environment. As an alumni of the program, I was able to apply my experience to the project and use that feedback to grow the existing curriculum. As students, we are often too busy to appreciate the work and thoughtfulness that goes into teaching a studio. Working with Catie, Mark, and Glenn has been a great opportunity to become more involved with the community at Taubman, and I've gained a new insight on what it means to teach architecture. As someone who is interested in pursuing a career in academia, this experience has been very valuable.”

—Ryan Craney, M.S. ’20

Featured project: Duo-perspective Video Cart

Faculty lead: Tsz Yan Ng
Student team: Mackenzie Bruce, Gabrielle Clune, and Jeffrey Richmond

In order to adjust how we teach for fabrication and prototyping work this year, the duo-perspective video cart will capture lectures and demonstration videos for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. While the pandemic is a difficult situation for hands-on learning, it forced us to rethink how different knowledge could be delivered more effectively. For instance, the recorded videos of tools and material demonstrations could be reviewed by students anytime. Often, there is a lot of information to absorb when students are introduced to fabrication-type work. It's great to have a resource to reference back to as a way to refresh or troubleshoot. The video cart is webcam ready as well, this will provide students the opportunity to communicate live during Zoom calls to discuss their projects during desk crits remotely. Teaching in this respect is much improved to address content delivery, reference to resources, and communication for feedback. There’s already discussion of developing consistent tool training modules so that technical training could accompany more classes, leaving contact time for teaching to be more about the students' work than technical troubleshooting. The video cart will probably find other applications as well beyond the use at the Fablab. Videography work, more generally, will also improve since it’s easy to record time-based work so attention could be focused on the content.

“The award speaks to the culture of design and innovation not just in faculty research, but also in teaching. It speaks to the strong link between what we do in creative practice and research to be tightly woven with what and how we teach. The spirit or culture in this respect is about innovation. It is also about seeking to improve beyond what we are currently doing and being agile in adjusting to unexpected complex circumstances. It speaks to the willingness of the College to support teaching — as work — unto itself.”

—Tsz Yan Ng, assistant professor of architecture

Studio Redux


Working alone or in teams, the Studio Redux competition challenges students to reimagine our studio spaces at Taubman College. Studio is a spatial experience. The kind of engaged learning that occurs in a design studio benefits significantly from face-to-face contact with faculty and other students, the ability to see what others are doing, and chance encounters that occur throughout the expanse of the studio floor. Studio in the 2020-21 academic year will require that we carefully consider how we spatialize our pedagogy. How can we rethink the use or design of desks and work surfaces to incorporate spatial distance requirements? Can we integrate protective enclosures between students and faculty without desocializing the educational experience? Can we respond in ways that abet the cultivation of peer-to-peer learning and group dynamics? How can the digital tools we have recently adopted be integrated into the space of our studios? Can these tools enhance access and equity in studio education, and provide a hinge between in-person and remote learning? Can we use this opportunity to integrate soft spaces to allow students to relieve stress, providing a respite from demands of performativity? What are the digital or analog methods that we need to develop to enhance a public-health informed  studio experience in 2020-21? Can remote sensing technologies be integrated into our work spaces to monitor health, and how might we address the issues of ethics and surveillance that these technologies often surface? How should reviews be staged in-space and online? In sum, can we use this moment to rethink the spatialization of learning in studio for lasting, positive impact well beyond the duration of this pandemic?

1st Place: Back to School

Project team: Adrian DiCorato, Waylon Richmond, Danrui Xiang, and Gary Zhang

“Back to school” imagines a day in the life, post-pandemic, at the existing building of Taubman College. The project explores how design can facilitate the everyday activities that could happen beyond just the area of the studio and considers the building as a whole learning and social environment. Interventions include an infrastructural tram system, temperature-sensing detectors, a series of modular furniture units, and an outdoor pavilion for social gatherings.

“Working on this project provided an outlet to fume our wonderings, curiosities, and nightmares about what was to come once school begins. Our project submission speaks with a voice of perseverance in a new sterile dystopia, highlighting behavior that lives on with our spirits, no matter how our school changes.”

—Adrian DiCorato, Waylon Richmond, Danrui Xiang, and Gary Zhang

2nd Place: From Reorder to Reorganization

Project team: Yiying Tang and Yue Lu

During the pandemic period when the architectural education is forced to move online, it's necessary to provide hybrid learning experience in the upcoming semester, since the face-to-face communication and health are both important to students and faculties. From Reopening to Reorganization provides a two-layer system, which provides the online reservation and information platform, as well as the on-site studio space for students to get the real-time info of college and their work space. The studio space also adopts 6 feet social distance and de-density strategies, creating flexible and multipurpose furniture to realize the demands of excellent special academic experience.

3rd Place: Redux: Rewrite, Revive, Relaunch

Project team: Shahryar Rio Beyzavi and Megan Clevenger

Redux: Rewrite, Revive, Relaunch proposes splitting studio and class schedules to manage traffic throughout the building, defining circulation routes to different sectors of the building to minimize contact, rearranging desks and adding guide marks on the floor to direct and define social distancing, and, lastly, proposing a fabricated pod to allow for further sound transfer. The overall goal was to avoid costly remodels and use internal resources to preserve a safe academic environment for learning, teaching, sharing, and connecting.

Taubman Public Design Corps


Taubman Public Design Corps presents students with the opportunity to engage in socially-driven design.  Taubman Public Design Corps, a partnership with U-M’s Ginsberg Center, is conceived of through a series of parallel and related aspirations:

  1. To broaden design’s positive social impact by guiding students in their work with partners that normally do not benefit from capital-intensive services.
  2. To help students apply architectural skills in design and spatial intelligence to projects guided by principles of equity and inclusion.
  3. To augment an understanding of the importance of community engagement in socially-driven design.
  4. To provide students with tools and methods to engage others in design processes.
  5. To assist U-M community partners in spatializing and advancing their public missions.

View the summer 2020 wrap-up presentations (YouTube)

Read a Detroit News story about one Public Design Corps project

Taubman Care Package


The Taubman College Online Teaching Care Package is a curated set of tools and techniques to assist faculty in developing online teaching for the fall 2020 hybrid term and beyond. The kit contains student-reviewed and ranked techniques, and the platforms were tested for international accessibility. In the lead-up to the fall 2020 semester, more than 50 faculty attended workshop sessions about how to use the tools, and recorded sessions were available to all faculty and students.


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