Re-Imagining CED’s Built Environment

As the College of Environmental Design seeks to understand and redefine how people around the world experience the built environment, we are challenged to look at the ways in which our own spaces influence how we work and learn.

CED’s facilities for studio instruction — the hallmark of a design education — are 50 years old. By rethinking the outdated design models that define our current studio environment, we have the opportunity to create 21st century studios with the technology and adaptable design systems that encourage a culture of experimentation and creative interaction. Smart classroom design solutions that are flexible and foster collaboration are critical to educating future environmental design and planning students and preparing them for a world in which cross-disciplinary team work is essential.

Flex Studio
Flex Studio Enlarge [+]

Flex Studio

The Flex Studios initiative will refashion our existing studio space to provide multiple platforms for creativity, research and design collaboration, and to allow learning spaces to serve as better models for collaborative professional spaces.

The studio redesign will incorporate flexible furniture systems and increased space for collaboration and dialogue, allowing for open exchanges during the design process that reflect the challenges and excitement of professional life. that will enable students and faculty to think about the built environment through different lenses.

The new design will bring together students from multiple departments and promote a cross-pollination of ideas.

Our goal is to reconfigure and upgrade seven floors of studio space in Wurster Hall. The redesign requires replacing outdated furniture, offering ergonomic student workstations, providing functional meeting areas, and expanding digital and traditional pin-up areas. The strategy is based on a flexible “studio kit of parts” that can be reconfigured easily and adapted to any number of potential educational contexts. The kit will include height-adjustable desks, work tables, and ergonomic stools; custom fabricated metal grid studio divider system with power speedway, task lighting, shelf and pin-up space; technology facilities including rendering computers and plotters; collaboration tables for model building, group discussion and information interaction; a kitchenette; and two presentation and review rooms featuring extensive pin-up space as well as cutting edge electronic display technology.

How You Can Help

Give to CED

The estimated costs to update Wurster Hall’s studios will total $8–10 million. Our goal is to update all studio floors by 2020. But we are starting with a pilot program to completely renovate one floor in 2014–15. The cost of completing this pilot floor is $1.5 million.

We have a generous and willing partner in our efforts. Recognizing the importance of this studio redesign project for our students and faculty, campus leadership has agreed to provide a 2:1 match for any gifts to the College of Environmental Design’s new Flex Studio Fund.

Please join us in meeting this critical need and ensuring a first-rate educational experience for our students, by donating a new student workstation, putting your name on a new state-of-the art review room or studio bay — or even an entire studio floor. Become a part of the lasting legacy that will propel the CED studios to the forefront of 21st century innovation in design and planning education.

The Diverse Faces of CED

One of the core missions of the College of Environmental Design is to provide access to an extraordinarily fine university education and college experience, regardless of the financial circumstances of the students we recruit, teach and mentor. Part of this mission is to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to come to CED. At the undergraduate level, for example, we have particularly sought to increase access for students of color, as well as those who come from low income households, are immigrants, or are the first in their families to go to college.

These efforts have been led by Susan Hagstrom, Director of Undergraduate Programs, and Renee Chow, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs. Several strategies have been important. They include aggressive recruiting via the CED website, social networking, and visits to high schools and community colleges. Adviser Omar Ramirez serves as Undergraduate Diversity Officer, working with campus on larger student recruitment strategies. And, since peer-to-peer relationships are always persuasive, Susan and her advising team created the CED Admissions Ambassadors Internship Program, that mobilized current CED undergraduates to speak to high school and community college groups, talk to prospective students, and chat with them on the web.

CED students
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The results have been striking: CED is now home to UC Berkeley’s highest percentage of students coming from households of modest means, indicated by their eligibility for Pell Grants, as well as the highest percentage of historically underrepresented minority students and many immigrant and first generation college students. In 2012-13, 48% of CED undergraduates received Pell Grants, 16% above the campus average. Our unique student body creates a rich and vibrant community within the College of Environmental Design. Also enlivening our community are growing numbers of out-of-state and international students.

UC Berkeley’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Program insures that students coming from families with modest household incomes ($80,000 or less), do not pay tuition or fees. But the financial constraints of many CED students present distinct challenges for them: according to UC Berkeley’s Financial Aid Office, in 2014, the average family income of CED Pell Grant recipients was under $25,000. And, because CED offers design-based majors, our students face additional costs. They need an up-to-date computer that can run design and animation software, and are also required to purchase modeling, building and art supplies and to print and plot (in 2 and 3 dimensions) to complete their projects and their degree programs. Architecture majors, for example, spend on average more than $3600 per year (excluding books or computer). This amount constitutes 15% of the average family income of CED students who receive Pell Grants.

New CED Digital Fabrication Lab
New CED Digital Fabrication Lab Enlarge [+]

Thus almost half of our 570 undergraduate students struggle to cover both their living expenses, and the added costs of a CED education. This situation directly impacts their performance in school. As one student wrote to us, “Coupled with costs for model-making materials, each project becomes an extremely expensive endeavor. It not only takes hard work and dedication to thrive in the major, but also the ability to afford printing and material costs.” Sometimes students are forced to make untenable choices; as another student explained: “Due to limited amounts of personal funds, I have had to choose between paying for materials or lab fees, or paying for living expenses. In the past, I have chosen to pay for groceries and rent instead.”

As dean, I am committed to doing my utmost to deploy existing resources, and generate new resources, to insure that no student is compelled to go hungry in order to succeed at CED. So, we have created an Access Fee Waiver Program for Pell Grant recipients. This program offsets a portion of facility access, use and printing fees. While this existing financial waiver program is helpful, we know it is not enough. In an effort led by Assistant Dean for Infrastructure and Information Technology Patty Mead, and our Fabrication Shop Manager Semar Prom, with an Innovation Award from the UC Berkeley Office of Equity & Inclusion, we are also opening a Materials Store. At the Materials Store, students will be able to conveniently purchase a range of course-related materials and supplies, at reasonable prices; some of the proceeds will go to enlarging our Access Fee Waiver Program.

If you would like to contribute to either of these efforts — by providing Access Fee Waivers ($500 each) or supporting the Materials Store — please contact me at Wolch@berkeley.edu.