Teaching at BAS; thinking about learning spaces

Bergen School of Architecture at night

I gave a lecture on the history of the Norwegian leisure cabin, emphasizing the infrastructural and systematic nature of the many interlocking technologies embedded in the cabin, for the students at the Bergen School of Architecture this week. We also discussed where the ideal of cabin living comes from and how the cultural and material history of the cabin shapes particular trajectories, possibilities and limitations for change.

After my lecture, I got a chance to listen to the students present their projects – this semester, the students all work on examining the relationship between the cabin and the primary home. While they of course had some interesting thoughts and perspectives on the cabin, I found the project format they followed perhaps even more interesting.

Architecture student projects in studio space

I think the studio space allows the architecture students to work with, manipulate, and visualize information – and to structure it into coherent arguments – in different ways than humanities students generally can. The information our students work with is almost exclusively text, and it lives in the students’ heads, in text processing programs on the computer, and in printouts meant to be read in a particular sequence. The information and the ways in which the student structures it into an argument is quite abstract, as it never leaves this private loop between the student’s mind, the computer, and the printout. The architecture students work in small groups of 2-3 students and approach their assigned topic in a much more physical way (yet still with the same tools as humanities students). The studio space with its large wall spaces allow the students to structure their project differently. A vertical row of printed sheets contain a series of claims about cabins and primary homes. These claims are supposed to be clear, forceful, and preferably a bit provocative. For each claim, a vertical row of sheets contain information that supports the claim.

In many ways, this is not very different from how we teach effective writing. The vertical row can be considered the outline of a whole article – a series of arguments that build on each other to a logical conclusion. Each horizontal row can be considered a paragraph, with the claim serving as the topic sentence, and the following sheets the supporting evidence in each paragraph. The architecture students use visual sources, statistics, newspaper articles, and traditional academic scholarship to support their claims.

Furthermore, the output of all these group projects is collected into a book – this is not uncommon for architecture and design students. I saw a couple of examples of previous project books made by BAS students, and they looked really nice. Having such an end product seems to motivate the students to work even harder on getting their projects done well. I wonder how it would work to do something like this in a class for history students? Can and should we train our students to work with more than just text in the most abstract possible sense? I think so.

Writing retreat

I was fortunate enough that I could take a week away from home to write, write, write on my book manuscript this summer. I rented a small and simple cabin in Nyvik, about 45 minutes south of Umeå, right on the coast, loaded up with food, books, coffee, chocolate, and one good bottle of beer for each night, and had my wife drive me down there.

My view through the window

Such writing binges are certainly not sustainable in the long run, as I was quite exhausted when I came back home, but I made some serious progress on the book. The problem so far is that I have done tons of writing on the cabin project, but most of it is not book-shaped. So I have spent much time structuring what I have, rewriting it for style and content, and generally stitching it together. Scrivener was very helpful at this stage, making it very easy to see the overall structure and to move things around.

Working in Scrivener

In order to finish the book this fall, I need to continue with a regular writing schedule, taking one bit at a time. I will launch an online writing group using the pomodoro technique over at Ant, Spider, Bee when the semester starts, hopefully that will keep me on track!

Surprisingly good company after a while

Forty years of cabin magazines

Hyttefolk, no. 1, 1972.

Norway’s largest cabin magazine, Hytteliv, celebrated its forty year anniversary this summer. As a good cabin historian, I have of course read every single issue, and was happy to agree when the magazine asked me to write a series of articles about the four decades of Hytteliv. It has been a great opportunity to reach out to a larger audience with my research – the magazine has a print run of about 50,000 copies and is read by more than 300,000 people. It also provided me with an opportunity to hone my writing for non-academic readers, which I see as critical for the cabin history book I’m working on.

I hope I will be able to re-publish all of these articles over at Hyttedrømmen sometime during the fall.

On cabin porn

I published an article on cabin porn and the Norwegian leisure cabin in The Atlantic! Using the Cabin Porn website as a springboard, I discussed where the dream of a simple life in nature came from, how it has frequently become channeled through cabins, and what has happened in those places where this dream has come true – such as in Norway.

Read the full article at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/what-it-means-that-urban-hipsters-like-staring-at-pictures-of-cabins/254495/.

Modernizing Rural Landscapes in Pori and Reposaari, Finland

I was invited to teach at a PhD workshop on “Modernization of Rural Landscapes” and to give a keynote at a public seminar titled “Maaseutumaisema modernisaation kourissa” in Pori, Finland in December. The workshop took place in a small research station on the island of Reposaari just outside of Pori. Pori seems to me like the Detroit of Finland, a heavily industrialized place that was hit hard by the recession that hit Finland in the 1990s. This was also visible in the island of Reposaari, where many workers used to live. Some still lived here, but the average age was getting rather high. Some new leisure cabins had been built, but the island was pretty dead in the winter (see the pictures below).

My keynote was titled “The Norwegian Leisure Cabin and the Infrastructure of Nature,” discussing how Norwegian nature was discovered and make accessible through the development of particular kinds of leisure infrastructure.

Map of the region
Stranded
Leisure cabins and shipyards
Not a whole lot of traffic