Theory and Practice

15 05 2009

The Self Educating Space


Michael Zeligs

Stanford University


May 14th, 2009




The self educating space is an intuitively designed classroom that incorporates contemporary theories of emergence into a freely available experiment.  Based on combining values of contemporary art and the Montessori education method, this installation allows self-directed learning to be easily accessed, with the story and experience of the space itself evolving based on user participation. This is achieved through user-generated content in a variety of mediums:  musical instruments, recordings, instantaneous and simple performance interfaces, collaborative artwork and available educational tools.  The end result is a gathering that places its “fingerprint” on the space, and informs both participants and architects of their power and capability as creators.




Imagine walking into a room of children at play.  The energy is palpable.  Dynamic worlds of interaction are created as individuals and small groups combine the material resources around them with the world of their imagination.  These childhood environments foster experiments that lead, ultimately, to emergent social structure and a general knowledge of the universe and its laws.


If this environment were to be created for adults and teens, with the children’s world of abstract “imagination” replaced by easily accessed network knowledge, and with “games” modified to include an artistic satisfaction equal to the intellectual capabilities of participants, then new societies, ideas, and collaborative works of art become not only possible, but guaranteed.


When creativity and education are immediately accessible, then even the most subtle form of curiosity is enough to enable a diverse and rich experience. A space having a distinct physical location reduces the “level of education required to look for and retrieve information.” The architect provides the algorithm, though the creation itself does not arise until the participants show up.


No longer does web research and learning require an isolated and purely electronic process. By re-engaging the concept of the forum, and encouraging collaborative use of the information tools that enable our diverse and instantaneous access to information, we re-socialize the classroom. This represents a “simultaneous centralization and decentralization of activities,”  because the unit is the network, and a classroom simply serves as a node for emerging trends.


Local knowledge centers on the web have mirrored this need for local environments to arise.  “The loss of community, is, in fact, the founding theme of urban sociology.” By fusing the digital and the local, we can overcome the notion that “there exist audiovisual products separate from the space they occupy and the bodies they are addressed to.”  Private headphones are different than speakers.  Reading to others is a different process that reading to yourself.  


The goal of the Self Educating Space is to translate into the physical world the user generated revolution that has developed on the internet.  Our contemporary movement understands that there is difference between a pre-programmed, received experience and a user generated one.  All an architect should do is provide the opportunity for expression.  Artifact and overall meaning are ultimately created by participants themselves. Here, intuitively designed digital music interfaces can enable non-musicans to immediately engage creatively with others in forming a unique sonic environment.


When audio games and other means of collaborative, improvisational artwork merge with freely-available educational resources, the social environment of a space is transformed. New ideas develop and are implemented from a grass-roots level.  Responsibility for synthesis and creation reside solely in the hands of the participants.  And the room reflects those changes, and emerges with phenomena that could never have been predicted by the architect alone.





Intuitively designed digital music interfaces can enable musicians and non-musicians to immediately engage creatively.  A few rules apply to design:  1) Simplicity 2) Immediacy 3) Clear functional higherarchy.


The idea is to create an environment that is inviting and powerful at the same time.  Far too often designers can integrate what seem to be, for them, very clear, higher-order connections (FX processing, signal routing, etc…).  Some of these concepts are more difficult to discern for a user not familiar with the vocabulary. The majority of participants will be satisfied, if, on first touch, they are able to produce satisfying music and understand how their interaction is contributing to the sonic space.  


Building up from this sense of simplicity and immediacy, the goal of a well designed sound game is to not to enable a leading edge performance, but to provide accessibility and extend the musical capabilities of all individuals.  Games should be accompanied by clear instructions, especially for higher order functions.  Specific controls to stop audio are necessary, and it is important to identify elements which will stop audio (filter sweeps, for instance, can eliminate audio entirely).  Creating a foolproof design that continues to radically expand musical capabilities and produce satisfying results is the balance that the classroom looks for.


III.  THE SELF EDUCATING SPACE  May 29th – June 4th, Synergy House Experimental Room.



The installation to take place on May 29th represents my immediate application of these theories.  The space will contain a mix of easily accessed collaborative art projects, multimedia presentations, printed materials, and sound games.  Below are the specific elements to be implemented therein.  


Design Elements:

 See Figure 1


Controller functions:

 See Figure 2




The Self Educating Space is a framework for magnifying the social and creative possibilities of a gathering place.  The factors that constitute successful interaction and hosting are infinitely scaleable…from producing vast warehouse sound tribe gatherings to day to day public education projects, this theory represents an approach.  The desire is to produce an architect who understands the needs of his audience and can provide an adaptive approach to being a good host and offering the collective resources for building relationships and facilitating the movement.




Castells, Manuel 2000. The Rise of the Network Society  Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell.


Kelly, 1995 Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World  Perseus Books.


Lillard A, Else-Quest N (September 2006). “The early years. Evaluating Montessori education”. Science 313 (5795):


Ranciere 2004 The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible Tr. Gabriel Rockhill 


Wheeler, 2000.  “Cities in the Telecommunications age” Routledge.


figure 1:







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