Master’s Academy
Inventing the New School Environment
link to Master’s NavCenter
Education means to lead out. Most school buildings trap both student and teacher within - within the closed box of a building; within a too simple view of reality and its potential; within a model of education that is not supported by the facts of how humans learn. The Master’s environment will be a cathedral to the human spirit and the experience of learning. Master’s Academy will be built in a setting of prospect - a large open section of land becoming part of a new mixed-use subdivision which will be developed in a careful if conventional way. This means there will be two aspects to the landscape: the original prairie running to the mountains and the making of what today is considered to be a modern human subdivision. How the Master’s portion of this tract is handled, and how the new school relates to both the “natural” landscape - as it will remain - and the human landscape - as it will be built - becomes both a source of an architectural theme and a major design challenge for the Design/Build/Use [link] Team.
This tug and pull between natural and social landscapes, each requiring attention and respect, metaphorically addresses innovation [link] in the general sense and also the position of Master’s Academy [link] in the process of spreading its mission in today’s local and global educational context.
It should be noted that the “natural” landscape of which I refer is not so in the pristine sense. Today, what we call natural is more often means devoid of heavy city development. It has already undergone centuries of development first by the indigenous people (themselves once pioneers) and the European settlers who followed them and now dominate the state. It is now, that a third wave is beginning which is the expansion of Calgary itself onto this still mostly open landscape. It is important to realize this ambiguity regarding the word natural and that the real task is how we use design and development to create a new landscape that is both properly organic and a human artifact [link]. The goal is to reconcile this human development/nature dichotomy.
As modern cities go, Calgary is a very pleasant place to be and quite livable. It is still steeped, however, in 20th Century technological assumptions and means. As a city of about one million, it will become increasingly difficult to sustain its present expansion much longer without a change in design strategy - but this is not an insight for the majority at this time nor is it an issue for the Master’s project unless the decision to build within this subdivision is challenged. To the extent that the school, with its considerable acreage, can demonstrate some alternative approaches to urban-suburban spread is, at present, an open question for the Program process to address. Here something very useful may be achievable. Taliesin West is an example of a natural setting of significance surrounded now by suburban bloat. In this case, is was a half a century of growth that caught up with a small enclave in the desert. The result is informative and systematic study may yield insights. How would have Taliesin been designed if it were assumed that someday this encroachment would happen? Could this have been successfully done? If not, how could it, designed the way it is, not become the anomaly that it appears today?
Modern civilization has progressed along a mostly linear path with periods of extreme punctuated evolution. Each major step has been the result of the synergy of a number of factors present at the time. The major constraint and driver has often been the limits and capabilities of the technology available. The problem is that most of the trade-offs made, at any given moment, emerged without too much awareness or debate by the greater body politic. Today, people do not know what was traded for what based on what assumptions and they have not revisited how the decision might have gone if the tools we have today - and will have in the near future - had been present. The habits of the past just get dragged forward amplified by the conventional application of the latest generation of technology. Layers upon layers of unresolved design problems “fixed” as best one can. Design by expediency. In the case of our cities, the major factor that determines their form is the automobile and the technical/social/political structures that presently support this technology.
We stand, now, at the cusp on several new technical revolutions: the hydrogen economy, personal work augmentation tools and nano-scale materials engineering, faced with the task of creating a major campus to educate a generation of children who will grow up and live in a world possibly as different from ours as ours is from the time when this land was undergoing its first wave of “indigenous” development. These buildings, presumably, will be built to last a hundred years. What will this architecture teach and facilitate? What habits will it impose upon this new generation of global citizens and those who instruct and guide them? What will be the educational consequences of this “hidden hand?”
Design should always start with as much of a blank slate as it can. The purpose of this potion of the Master’s program Statement is to do just that; to ask as fundamental as set of questions as possible with an open mind to where their answers may lead. We will avoid avoiding those questions to which there is no apparent answer or lead to uncomfortable conclusions. In a short time, these “answers” will have to be reconciled with the world of a real project that has to build in a real social setting and economy. These considerations should not drive the questions, however. The questions, if matured properly, will lead to ideas that then can “play” with the in-place world to the benefit of both. This is the process of innovation: the mixing of high ambition with a real task to get done. Master’s is an innovative school. It has the mission to positively effect education globally. This means it has to deal with transfer and issues of scale. We seek, in the Program phase of design, the appropriate architectural expression of all the factors that must be brought into form in order to create utility and relevance for both the present and future - for both Calgary and the world.

4 Projects explores both the value of creating a new urban workplace and the means necessary to accomplishing it.

to go to individual projects, click on pictures

The following questions - and speculations - are offered up as a starting position to fuel the Program development process. More of them will emerge as we progress.
The Site:


Can we turn the Prairie back into a true prairie landscape; and if so, can the the Campus sit within it with enough surround so that the school property and the subdivision boundaries are preserved and modulated?



Even if we can do this, is it a proper setting for the school given the total circumstance? Is it a proper social statement? Can we fit the Campus in and allow for future growth? Is the idea sustainable?



If so, to all of the above, would this setting with a modern Campus set in it, be the best experience for the students and faculty? Would it create the statement and context that presumably it can and would this be the right one to inspire the architecture?



Can the school be set - in a prairie-schema - so that the mountain vista and sweeping openness can be maintained while “blocking” awareness of the suburban development? Is the resulting sense of enclave a good one?



Should the master’s Academy embrace the suburban landscape, seek to be highly interactive with it similar to a college campus in a college town?



Can Master’s sufficiently influence this setting so that true engagement is achieved and also maintain the safety and the serenity necessary for education?



Would a suburban setting enhance the NavCenter, arts and business agendas of the school or would a prairie enclave, with the same accessibility actually serve these better?



Premise: one or the the other of these approaches are best; what will not work is some sort of compromise between the two. Is this a valid design assumption?



Alternative: the Master’s Campus can be suburban where it interfaces with the subdivision and predominately prairie elsewhere; can this be accomplished? would this provide the most compatibility with the physical/social setting?

Energy Strategy:


All educational institutions are futurists no matter if they recognize this or not; their “product” - educated humans - live and work, create or fail to, in the future; and, in many cases, reach peak social influence a half century from the time of their initial educational experience. Should we raise these children in an environment that reflects the energy values of the past or the future? What should be our level-of-ambition in regards how the Master’s Academy employs energy?



Values are taught in the abstract. They are learned in the concrete. The basic cycles of human health, shelter, food production and consumption, security, learning, celebration, production and energy use are taught by example and reinforced by daily habit. Our architecture both reflects and forms our attitudes about these things. Premise: as an educational institution, Master’s Academy should be a cutting edge example and exemplar in practice of the entire energy cycle in all its forms. Is this a valid goal? A prime Program objective?



Should there be any? This question is a way to challenge all of the fundamental assumptions about rooms, furniture arrangements and building configurations.



What kinds of environments promote learning? Should we educate in an environment that is a facsimile of the past or the future that the students will actually live and work in? How do we forge the specific environments - and use them well - that address the many different learning/thinking styles of the teachers and students?



What should be our model? The artificial construct of what today is called a school? Or, a community of knowledgeworkers where living, work, celebration and play are integrated with learning as a life-long exercise? [link]



What kind of a social and organizational environment would best prepare these students for the futures they are likely to encounter? How is this taught, experienced, made part of a culture gestalt? How does the architecture, in this regard, reinforce and exemplify the policy of the school and the ideas/values that are being taught?

Scale, Armature and Modules:


How do we deal with the Taliesin Syndrome mentioned above?



What are the Armature [link] elements that will tie the Campus together and make a coherent whole that is interfaced well with the greater community and landscape?



How do the schools have distinct functionality and “brand” and act as an integrated Campus that supports cross-grade activities and learning.



How do we preserve and enhance the character of the site by what we build?



What should be the fundamental MODULE of this campus?



What is the standard of human scale? We have children of all sizes and adults, how do we resolve these scale differences?

Return To Index
link to August 03 DesignShop Documentation
link to Master’s NavCenter
Matt Taylor
June 16, 2003


SolutionBox voice of this document:



posted: June 16, 2003

revised: February 8, 2004
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(note: this document is about 15% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2003, 2004



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