IIMS 94 contents
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Computerised architecture

Waldo Granwal and Anna Soutar
University of Auckland, New Zealand
An opportunity to demonstrate and explain interactivity, both for the educational experience it offered and for the meeting with a commercial client, came with a grant to create HyperSteel by BHP NZ Steel to the Department of Architecture, University of Auckland in January 1993. The authors, Waldo Granwal, Senior Lecturer (in Structure) and Anna Soutar, post graduate researcher at the School, are co-leaders of a team formed to investigate such innovative education methods.

Australian and New Zealand architectural and engineering communities agree that teaching in their areas should equip students to better grasp the terminology, structural principles and personal confidence of their professions as they struggle with ever increasing complexity in theory and materials - in other words, the predicament of information overload. Teaching by computer offers one to one tutorials, an environment for private exploration and the fascination of advanced technology. HyperCard and other authoring platforms give the educator new ways to create 'games for learning' and how to manage vast amounts of seemingly unrelated data.

HyperSteel II is the second stage of a cooperative effort between BHP NZ Steel, and this Department. Designed to present information in such a way as to apply the special characteristics of computers, including text, photographs, artwork, movies, and sound to the contemporary needs of tertiary teaching, it has reached the prototype stage: in other words, it has a visual style, contains sample methods of navigation and can be used to demonstrate self drive tutorial methods. In fact it has been in use for some two terms by students in Construction and Structure courses and it has been seen at conferences for both engineers and computer educators this year .

Recent analyses of needs for engineering and architectural education share a call for a deeply understanding of structural concepts as the important basis for later expression:

Focussing on the academic education of engineers and architects McKenzie (1993) suggests the learning process divides into qualitative (physical, visual, linguistic and verbal) and quantitative (linguistic algebraic - numerical) characteristics: he "considers qualitative understanding to be concerned with basic concepts themselves, which may be represented in the complemental physical, visual and linguistic verbal forms. Basic understanding, and the acquisition of it are only possible when founded on basic concepts (which are qualitative), not on computative numerical procedures (which are quantitative). Accordingly one may propose the following educational principle: An accelerated and deeper qualitative understanding of engineering concepts can be developed by initially presenting learning materials in several complemental qualitative forms, before presenting them with quantitative emphasis ..."

Granwal (1993) placed emphasis on the importance of gaining an instinctive learned skill in competent mathematical predication for an understanding of structural forces: "It is my contention that newly graduated engineers have little predictive ability other than through mathematical analysis and in fact have a poorly developed ability at synthesis of three dimensional structures. A comfortable relationship to structure is only apparent after perhaps ten years of practice. It seems to me however that the design proposals of an architect even at undergraduate level are significantly affected by the application of structural patterning. ...it is in the very much more experimental area of architect education, that we might discover ways to induce skill at structural prediction to quite an extent we are only attempting to free up the structural sense most of us are born with and which in our early years we use in play. I believe the structural cognition existed before mathematics was formally developed..."

Early use of HyperCard stacks indicate that the self paced private routine of learning via computer is conducive to training this instinctive skill. A significant feature of computer use which can be exploited by teachers is that no matter how large the. class is, each individual student engages with the tutorial in a one to one manner, choosing where and how long to work on it, what order to select material, reinforcing their own personal understanding in the way which works for them. Teaching staff can personalise the tutorial with notes, and messages on screen, changeable each term.

Figure 1

Figure 1: LearnTerms
A self paced tutorial based around learning the vocabulary of
structural elements allows the user to turn the answers on and off.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Template for historical information
This has image and navigation tabs on the left, and space for
text on the right. Any number of building examples can be
added to the stack with this template.

A second important feature of computer use is its capacity for a large amount and variety of information. The contemporary explosion in received knowledge is commonly acknowledged and equally commonly accepted a one of the too hard loads to bear by teachers - often solved with greater and greater amounts of xeroxed hand outs. Alternatively, an astute use of computers to avoid out of date technologies is what this project is designed to explore.

It offers each individual student user the chance to learn and practise their knowledge at their own pace and in their own chosen order. Finally the student is able to select a test, complete it, have it marked and correlated with other papers for what it reveals about the teaching program as well as the student's accumulated knowledge. It is intended that at the conclusion of the 1993 phase of its development, HyperSteel will include between three and five such markable tutorials, as well as considerable general knowledge about steel and its potential for construction design.

Hypermedia is not a replacement for the traditional stores of information, particularly print libraries - indeed a highly developed linguistic iconographic personal understanding of references, semiotic signs and symbols, graffiti codes, cartoon signatures, literary cross-cultural messages will heighten the reading experience - further, colours movements shapes sounds - all may carry a compendium of meaning.

Nor is this teaching method intended to replace the existing range of teaching strategies which the experienced teacher will apply, from spontaneous blackboard or overhead projector discussions, to prepared presentations using projection material and prepared examples, to 31) models, to illustrative videos; and especially, the participatory activities which give the student the physical experience of having handled materials, and applied the realities of theoretical absolutes. It is likely moreover that 'm future many of these will be achieved entirely within a computer environment, with the possible exception of the final practical activity - what McKenzie identifies as the 'quantitative model'.

There is however, an escalating tension within the tertiary education community arising out of the combined pressures of increasing student numbers, the variousness of their scholastic origins, (thus special educational difficulties), and the explosion in the amount of information to be studied. Post compulsory study, tertiary catch ups, revision courses, and re-training for career changes will be an increasingly common feature of a working life. The growing trend towards composition of classes in a 'no walls' policy, whereby students can enter a subject at any level or from distance locations - these certainly call for computer tutorial applications.

Computer aided teaching addresses this tension. If, little by little, teaching management can he absorbed and applied from within the computer, with its heightened presentation techniques, then teaching will have moved to meet the problem. It is a slow process, especially if it is to be 'personalised' to the individual teacher. However, with teacher friendly templates and foundation programs which cart be prepared and shared amongst teachers, by commercial means or by occupational networks of colleagues, then the solutions will grow exponentially.

For HyperSteel II, decisions had to be made regarding screen size, capacity and active ingredients: for the next two years, 'LC' was chosen as the most likely tertiary level Mac computer found in student laboratories. This provided a 640x480 pixel screen, colour, animation (QuickTime movies) full motion video and audio replay, at between 1 and 2 megabytes capacity. Options for video capture and replay were limited, and since capacity was tight, choice of video would have to be very careful. A Syquist drive and backup for multiple copy storage was purchased. Colour is another quality to ration because its use slows down the running of the program - the team did not say 'slow' - 'languid' sounded more graceful!

Figure 3

Figure 3: One of the nodal main menus in HyperSteel

Overall style was kept conservative - after all, this was not a comic book, nor was it a desk top version of student radio - it was a new form of medium, and in a sense we were free to choose a style - somewhere on a continuum between text book and animated comic strip. We wanted it to appear contemporary but not without intellectual weight. In time, styles of interactive production will be as defined as film genres - after all it is interesting to note that the earliest films included the first examples of science fiction and western melodramas - both accepted film genres today.

The design worry for the multimedia producer is that the eventual user will not find everything in the stack - the design of the narrative trail must make everything available but not obvious. The general aim was to provide a constantly weaving endlessness about it - rather like a Moebius strip. There is also a desire to minimise the visual effects at the same time as maximising a subtle management of the reader.

This is a universal problem for teachers - how do you closely control not only what but how the student studies? At least with a computer the student has to be sitting at the desk, the keyboard more or less on the table in front of them, the monitor more or less the only thing in their line of sight - if there is sound involved, then they are wearing headphones.

At first HyperSteel contained a small amount of material - more like a demonstration of its possibilities. Following the usual HyperCard brainstorm at an early HyperSteel II stage, them were the categories for display - "Issues: to include Structural Principles, Quality Assurance, Codes and Standards, Protection Durability, and Uses, including Materials, Common Details, Elements, Structural Systems, Proprietary Products."

As well, by way of LearnTerms, a demonstration tutorial was in existence for the 1993 teaching year and was used as general study material by the Structure students. LearnTerms' premise is that vocabulary is a powerful foundation to knowledge of a subject - as long as students cannot use the right terminology in a discipline they will be unable to accurately communicate about it, to peers, senior executives or employees.

In its response to the progress made during 1993, the sponsors of the project, BHP NZ Steel, encouraged the original production team to extend their ambitions, not only producing a more completed CD of the HyperCard stack, with its tutorials, interactive general knowledge section enlarged and strengthened, and including more teaching material. But also launching a twin effort: to supervise a matching team of academics from another tertiary institution with similar teaching goals, the Carrington Polytechnic Faculty of Technology in a north west suburb of Auckland. The resulting group is the beginning of an organic form with a central design and liaison 'trunk', supporting at the moment two branches of operatives, each contributing content data, and teaching material.

Carrington Polytechnic was invited to participate in the project for a number of reasons: it too is engaged in teaching design and architecture, it is geographically close, and it is equipped with Macintosh computers; as well, designing programs for computer aided learning is accepted as being faster and more successful if done in a group; and sharing what the Architecture Department team have learned to others beyond own institution suggested itself as a faster way to spread the learned knowledge than merely demonstrating the finished product.

The second stage of the project includes these personnel: a Project Manager; two academic author/editors; a designer/scripter; and two data collector/scanners. The academic lecturer provides all raw material, illustrations videos etc, as well as drawing on the resources of Departmental materials laboratory, video collection and library. In conjunction with the Designer and Project manager, the lecturer converts Steel based teaching material into the content, exercises and self drive tests which will realistically be applicable to an existing course. Much appropriate material already exists and the aim is to keep the content at a very elementary level. The project timetable at the time of writing, November 1993 is hoped to be completed to CD pressing stage within six weeks.

The extended picture can be imagined, has the new Carrington Polytechnic returns to its own community, with its own teaching program coming out of HyperSteel, its own exercises already active, new ideas waiting to continue growing from the start point established. From here, it is hoped other institutions will see the possibilities - indeed the pleasure of sharing the process, and join the structure.


Hypermedia and education both share those familiar characteristics of our parent disciplines of architecture and engineering: integration and synthesis, analysis and creativity. In empowering ourselves to use computer aided teaching in a way which employs these qualities, it has given us the opportunity to empower others.


The Information Design Unit of the Department of Architecture, University of Auckland is very grateful to David Newman, of BHP NZ Steel for his supportive help in this project; and to Professor Dick Aynsley, Paul Bourke and Jamie Sanderson for their participation.


McKenzie, I. W. (1993). Developing structural understanding in young engineers. Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers and Civil Engineering, UK, 1994.

Granwal, R. J. W. (1993). Multiframe and similitudinous modelling. ANZASCA Proceedings, Sydney.

Authors: R. J. W. Granwal and A. Soutar, Department of Architecture, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Tel: +64 9 373 7599 Fax: +64 9 373 7410 Email: arch@ccu1.auckland.ac.nz

Please cite as: Granwal, R. J. W. and Soutar, A. (1994). Computerised architecture. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 169-172. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/dg/granwal.html

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