“They are teaching us how to think,” said Cem Bencuya, a student from The Process of Creativity, an Exeter Summer School cluster now in its second year.

Taught by three Stanford University colleagues (John Barton, Amy Larimer, and John Edmark), the program consists of three courses: Architectural Form, History of Creativity, and Visual Thinking. Thirteen students from around the world are attending the cluster, the first of its kind in the summer program.

John Barton’s course, Architectural Form, focuses on drawing and model making, but also on the “successes and failures” of design. What Barton meant was that there are situations in design when “you try something that doesn’t work, but then you try something that eventually works.” He emphasized that design does not come out done all at once, because it takes time and reflection to build things.

Writing, drawing, and model-making are a key part of this course. “Those models and drawings have different levels of sophistication, so we are trying to get the students to understand this idea, said Barton when asked about the tools used in Architectural Form.

At Stanford University, Barton is the director of the Architectural Design program. He also teaches three courses: History of Philosophy on The Idea of PlaceThe First Drawing Studio, and an introductory course called So You Want to Be an Architect?

Another course, History of Creativity, is led by Amy Larimer. It explores the number of different forms of creativity from the Renaissance (600 years ago) to the present. “As the session goes on, we are going to be comparing and contrasting things over time and understanding the lineage of creativity,” said Larimer. She heavily relies on Harkness as a teaching method, even claiming that “students are experiencing Harkness not only in the classroom, but also outside of it.”

Last Monday, students were materializing a project for this course called the Geodesic Dome, which is based on the work of R. Buckminster Fuller (one of America’s all-time greatest architects) concerning a stable, strong dome structure formed by a network of triangles. The building of the dome is taking place outside the Academy Center.

Larimer teaches Psychology of Architecture, Architectural Portfolios and a design studio about Presentation, Representation and Craft at Stanford University.


Ben Putnam/Summer School Faculty

Last but not least, there is Visual Thinking. “It’s pretty much what it sounds like, it’s about the thinking that is visual, something that all of us do but we are not necessarily aware of,” said John Edmark, the teacher of this course. But a few things about this course are not that obvious. Of course that imagining is a form of thinking, for example, but also seeing belongs to that category.

“Despite being an unconscious form of thought, it is a thought after all,” Edmark said. Sketching would be the last form of thinking: not only drawing, but also “making something with your hands.” After all, the three concepts work together, because as Edmark said, “you can either visualize something that you then want to sketch or you can sketch something that you see.”

Visual Thinking, Color Theory, Basic Design Fundamentals, Chair Design, and Stop Motion Animation are the courses taught by Edmark at Stanford.

But how was The Process of Creativity born? Well, Barton is a Phillips Exeter Academy graduate, class of ‘78. “We had been designing a new graduate program in Architecture at Stanford, and as we began to look at the ideas and how to translate them into a curriculum, everything looked a lot like Harkness,” he said. As Barton was aware of the value of the Harkness method in PEA, he had a meeting with outgoing principal Tom Hassan. The latter connected Barton to former director of Summer School Ethan Shapiro, and the project could finally come out.

Although they do not work here during that part of the year, Barton, Larimer and Edmark are very thrilled to see some interesting building for the regular session. Three students who attend the cluster are also in Exeter for the rest of the year, so that could be a useful transition point in this project.

“Our hope is to build this kind of designer-maker culture more deeply into Harkness,” said Barton, a phrase that could perfectly describe the overall goal of this innovative cluster.