Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy





First Advisor

Ann M. Gansemer-Topf


This ethnographic case study explored the learning environment of a studio design course to describe how interactions in the studio environment shape students’ understandings and behaviors as they learn the fundamental elements of design and architectural practice. The purpose of the study was to understand the role of the studio environment in supporting students’ architectural knowledge and identity and provide insight into how individual-environment interactions shape how students make meaning of their learning experiences. I spent a semester as a participant-observer in a beginning architecture course at a large, public university, and gathered data through approximately 106 hours of studio observations, 39 in-depth interviews, course-related artifacts, and reflections on studio visits. Using a conceptual framework of affordances (Gibson, 1979; Greeno 1994), I describe the various ways the studio environment creates opportunities for social interaction and how studio culture intersects with the affordances of the studio environment. The study revealed the physical affordances of the studio environment were the open layout, public/private workspaces, and co-working in proximity to others. The structural affordances were long blocks of unscheduled work time, alignment between studio and other courses in the curriculum, the project brief, and the sequencing of the projects, tasks, and deadlines. The pedagogical affordances were formal and informal critique, mini-lectures, and demonstrations. Four characteristics of studio culture as defined by the literature—(a) a community of learners and architects; (b) centralizing feedback; (c) untimetabled design activity; and (d) experimentation and risk-taking—intersected with the physical, structural, and physical affordances of the studio in how beginning architecture students made meaning of their learning. Based on the findings of this study, implications were offered for architecture and design educators, faculty interested in adopting studio learning environments in non-design fields, and future research on studio learning environments.


Copyright Owner

Melissa Leigh Rands



File Format


File Size

252 pages