A collaborative project with  ARS 283

Introduction to Architecture, Fall 2015, with James Middlebrook


We asked the students in ARS 283 to design a space for the Design Thinking Initiative. The project is a speculative one:

If we were to occupy the basement of Scott Gymnasium what would the entrance to the space be?

The students must work through the remainder of Fall 2015 to come up with a proposal for the entrance to the space. The constraints for this project are what make it an exciting design challenge:

The basement is a cavernous 23 foot deep subterranean space that will be used for making, learning, gathering, and presenting. 

The exterior walls, including existing doors and windows, of the gymnasium must remain untouched. 

The gymnasium is at the interface of multiple flows of traffic, but it is not at the center of campus.

Through the design of the entrance, the client would like to communicate that everyone is welcome.

Here are more details on the program, process, and schedule for the student work this Fall.  Stay posted for updates from the students: they will post updates on their design process on 17 November and 8 December.

Smith College has asked for you to design an entry sequence into the forthcoming Design Thinking lab space.The proposed location for this maker space is underground, specifically in the abandoned coal bunker underneath Scott Gymnasium.

This project presumes that the Design Thinking space will be accessed through an above-ground entrance that is outside of the gym building footprint. (See map below.) This entrance will both mark and access the Design Thinking space. This structure should include an elevator and a stairway. You may also propose other program elements that you think would be beneficial, such as display space for student work, seating, or signage. The entrance can be anywhere within the area indicated on the plan by dashed lines. Assume that the existing nearby house will be removed before construction.

The College would like this entrance to be clearly marked, without being too large.Therefore, this design proposal should aim for maximum effect through minimal physical means. The college would also like the entry to promote the DT space as a place for exploring interdisciplinary ideas about making and critical thinking. They have requested that the form of the entrance not be symmetrical and (although it should be contextual) it should not be based on historical style.

Note: You will only be designing the exterior component of the entrance sequence. The maker space itself (underground) is currently being designed by another firm, Centerbrook Architects. You will have a chance to listen to these designers present options to Smith College on November 16th. (Please see Schedule tab.)

First, prepare an analysis of the exterior space at the southeast corner of Scott Gymnasium. Use at least two representational methods to describe your understanding of how the space works.

Then, prepare a proposal for an entrance to the new Design Thinking space. Use at least three representational methods to describe your intervention; one of these should be a diagram.

  • Carefully analyze and represent the movements, relationships, forces, and transformations in space in the current condition and according to your prediction;
  • Focus on the physical, social, and cultural aspects of your design proposal;
  • Focus on the precise relationship between the human body and your intervention;
  • Focus on what the intervention DOES (this can be shown diagrammatically), rather than what it LOOKS LIKE;
  • Incorporate TIME into your drawing; how can movement, change, and transformation be represented?
  • Abstract everything: diagram the unseen, rather than illustrating the visual.
  • Some research will likely be helpful; for example, how large is a typical elevator? Iconic subway entrances may also be useful to look at.

When thinking about your design proposal, consider the following organizational principles:

circulation + movement
views + framing
solid + void

figure + ground
opacity + transparency

use of light

axis (movement and/or views

degrees of enclosure

  • Nov 10 Project introduction, tour of site; please read about the Design Thinking Initiative
  • Nov 12 Diagram review for pavilion extension; desk crits, analysis of exterior space (optional trip to MIT)
  • Nov 16 Presentation by Centerbrook Architects in Campus Center 205 at 4:15pm (attendance optional)
  • Nov 17 Analysis diagrams due; pin up in groups , post documentation as update on blog.
  • Nov 19 Proposal development
  • Nov 24 Pin-up design proposals as class; final requirements described


  • Dec 1 Work on presentation
  • Dec 3 Work on presentation
  • Dec 7 Project deadline 11pm, post documentation as update on blog: smithiesdesign.com
  • Dec 8 Project final review

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