In the wake of the Egyptian revolution, the role of the youth and their sense of belonging, the level of their understanding
and responsibility have all been reevaluated in the society at large. It was a general belief that the youth were disconnected
from the surrounding political events, their living environment, their history and any consideration of the future.
The revolution challenged many of these convictions and this resonated in educational institutions. This paper presents
a design studio experiment where students were given an area at the heart of the city, which carries historical significance,
both in terms of events and its built environment. The area witnessed drastic change over the years, transforming
it from elegance to chaos, where listed buildings have come to decay, occupied by ill uses. The area rarely attracts
the youth who instead are attracted to emerging hubs in the city.
The paper explores an important pedagogical query; the capacity of the design studio to reinforce issues of identity,
sense of ownership and belonging. It also raises questions of the role of the teaching staff in fostering cultural
responsibility. Literature strongly recommends relating academic scope to the studentsí surroundings and environment
and for topics to be discussed in an integrated manner. It also suggests that the studio offers the ideal setting for integrating
knowledge; where synthesis and application, reflection and action take place and where a studentís architectural
identities develop. Less is mentioned in literature of a studentís cultural identity and sense of belonging.
Through a project in 2012, the students were divided into groups tackling four main aspects for a given location
(the social, economic, physical and environmental aspects), then discussed and debated among themselves, facilitated
by the tutors, in an active learning environment. Students collected their data using surveys, interviews, observations
and document analysis which informed their design of a master plan and single buildings in the area. A critical pedagogy
was adopted in the studio, encouraging students to think critically about the area reflecting on experiences and
social contexts in which they are embedded. The studio experience was assessed using focus groups, interviews and
individual project content analysis at two stages over the studentsí final year. Assessing the learning experience over a
long term, clarified the changes that occurred to the studentsí vision towards the issues and problems that their design
projects dealt with as well as their affiliation with the historic area. Results have implications both to the quest of identity
and to the methods used to support a critical pedagogy.
Keywords: Active learning, Critical pedagogy, Identity, sense of place, Design studio.
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