Space, Learning, Design and Technology

By Nicole Engwirda

After completing a PhD at Melbourne School of Design, Kate Tregloan has recently returned to the faculty as associate professor of teaching and learning. Here, she shares insights from a career spanning practice, research and teaching.

When did you start thinking about architecture as an area to explore?

I studied economics and commercial law here at the University of Melbourne straight after school. Those ways of thinking about big dynamic systems have been really useful in much of my recent work, although while I was studying economics I did spend lots of my time in the library, looking at architecture books.

While I was studying economics I did spend lots of my time in the library, looking at architecture books. Associate Professor Kate Tregloan

I decided to give studying architecture a go, so I enrolled in the first year at the University of New South Wales as a means of testing it out and seeing how it clicked – and I just loved it from the beginning.

I love space, and I love design. I’m fascinated by the way people use space and the potential and richness of these interactions. I am endlessly fascinated by the way the built environment can respond to, support and express a community’s needs and interests.

How did your career progress after your studies?

I worked in practice in Sydney, mostly on residential and small-scale commercial projects. One really interesting project was with Bruce Rickard on a dual occupancy with a Walter Burley Griffin house in Castelcrag. Later, I spent time in Tasmania teaching sessionally, and had my own practice.

I worked on low-cost housing and on building sites for designers I met there. It was fantastic to have hands-on experience with materials and develop a deeper understanding of construction. After returning to Sydney and working on a variety of projects – including interior architecture and exhibition design – I came back to Melbourne about 12 years ago.

There are some really consistent themes running through my career so far: space and making, education and learning. They’re really central to the way I understand the world and the things I find interesting.

Your history with this Faculty includes completing your PhD here. What was your area of research?

It was called Design Epiphany and the Opportunities of Wickedness. The research investigated moments of insight in design processes, application in wicked problems, and the way the construction of those problems offer opportunities for designers to find a way in. I was really interested to develop an understanding of how different people experience those moments, how different disciplines explored and explained those moments, and how different practitioners and researchers talked about designing as an activity.

One outcome was to develop a model of designing relevant to teaching and learning in design studios and other spaces of learning for professional students, as well as undergraduates. It has helped me think about how we can support each student to engage meaningfully with designing and creative thinking, and to develop positive contributions through their experiences of insight.

You’ve now returned to the Faculty as a staff member, what is the focus of your new role?

The Faculty is supporting a strategic focus on teaching and learning with a new Built Environment Learning and Teaching group (BELT). Our job is to celebrate and build on the great teaching already happening all over the Faculty, supporting great quality learning experiences, and communication of content that will help our graduates as they move into and impact the world. We’ll be looking at what we can learn from good practice pedagogy research across the University and elsewhere, and how this can be tailored and applied for built environment disciplines. There are approaches to learning and student engagement that are only just emerging, so working with staff and students to make best use of those for built environment teaching at ABP is a really fantastic challenge and a great opportunity.

Your recent research includes projects such as My Home Space and My Support Space – what role do you see for architects and designers in the field of health and disability support?

I think there’s great potential for designers and built environment practitioners to engage with other disciplines. Interdisciplinary research and professional work are really key opportunities. I think people who come from creative disciplines bring a skill set that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

I came to these interdisciplinary research projects while working at Monash University because I had a background in researching assessment and interdisciplinary learning, and an interest in design thinking. The first project, developed with a colleague from Occupational Therapy, was a framework for post-occupancy evaluation of supported housing models for people with significant and ongoing disability as a result of road trauma. We developed criteria, methodology and evidence frameworks.

As part of our research work, we mapped the use of interactive assisted technologies, where people were spending their time, where the majority of support was provided and what people could and couldn’t reach. This all formed part of understanding how to talk about success in order to evaluate the environments.

We also tailored communication approaches including interactive reports and navigable panoramas. The panoramas are simple digital environments people can explore and learn from. De-identified images represent different apartments, and markers flag specific things to notice and consider for designers, investors, potential clients, families and supporters.

That suite of projects and our interdisciplinary team has grown over time. More recently My Home Space focused on Specialist Disability Accommodation – funding of supported housing for some participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The findings are set up to be available and transferable to a whole range of people. We developed navigable gamespaces, not as models for housing, but a way to spatially communicate a really rich understanding of these issues for designers, so they can apply that learning in their own projects.

Our most recent project, My Support Space, launched in August. It’s a resource for students and health professionals supporting people with acquired brain injury. My contribution was in the design and delivery platform for online learning tools.

My work always ends up being at the intersection of space, learning, design and technology. My research work as well as this new role will draw on all of these themes. I am really looking forward to finding many new opportunities and combinations, and to seeing what we will make next.

Photograph: James Rafferty