Sam Fox School Launches Interdisciplinary Workshop Series

Bryce Robinson, Assistant Manager, Shops and Making Spaces at Sam Fox School, leads a ping pong crossbow workshop.

Every Friday at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, students, faculty, and staff explore new concepts outside the studio through a new workshop series. The series, “Fox Fridays,” is a way for students to collaborate across disciplines and experiment with new tools, processes, and technology that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise encounter during their studio practices.

The series grew out of a desire to encourage interdisciplinary exploration between the college of art and architecture. Jonathan Hanahan, a former architect who is now Assistant Professor of Design at Sam Fox School, began collaborating with Heather Woofter, the Sam and Marilyn Fox Professor and Director of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, to find ways to help students explore curriculum in both colleges. The collaboration led to a number of different proposals experimenting with courses, workshops, and events over the years. Unfortunately, the complexities of two unique curriculum, budgets, and other factors were major roadblocks for curricular innovation.

Professor Jonathan Hanahan

Then, in December 2018, Hanahan proposed creating a free, first-come-first-serve, not-for-credit workshop series open to students from both colleges every Friday during the academic year. “We decided to make it as simple and low stakes as possible,” Hanahan said. Students, faculty, and staff show up to a workshop and try something new. Hanahan co-chairs the workshops with Heather Woofter.

The Sam Fox School launched the series in Fall 2019 to great acclaim. Each workshop features a deep dive into a particular subject in art, design, or architecture. Past topics have included laser cutting, drone photography, and textile surface design with natural dyes and this semester participants will explore augmented reality, screen printing, machine learning, and more.

A recent workshop on 3D scanning and printing allowed attendees to create busts of their head. The workshop inspired a fashion student who attended to do an independent study with the architecture professor who ran the session. The student is now using techniques from the workshop to 3D print textiles.

Another workshop allowed attendees to experiment with papermaking. Sam Fox School has always had papermaking equipment, but it was stored in a nondescript cabinet the basement where few people knew it existed, let alone had access.

Now, thanks to the success of the papermaking workshop, there’s a dedicated papermaking studio in Walker Hall where supplies and equipment are visible to all who want to use them. “A major goal of FF is to create higher degrees of access and higher degrees of ownership for tools across our campus. Seeing processes of making or results is the first step to inquiry and investment,” says Hanahan.

Part of Fox Fridays’ appeal is that it gets people out of their routine workspace. It creates clear pathways for interested students, faculty, and staff to become more involved with something that perhaps they didn’t even know they were interested in.

“Another goal of Fox Fridays is to let some of the technical teaching happen outside the studio. The workshop becomes this space for both participants and instructors to feel safe, try some weird stuff, meet people outside your cohort, and let ideas germinate,” Hanahan said.

The workshops also help students relax, an instrumental part of the creative process. Students often are drawn to art because “making stuff is fun,” but some of the joy can leave that process with the seriousness of class and credits, Hanahan said.

“It’s about reinvigorating students’ curiosity and allowing it to infiltrate those serious spaces. You show them a tool and process, and you bring people with different perspectives to experiment and see where it takes them,” Hanahan said.

The workshops are first-come, first-serve, and free for Sam Fox School students, faculty, and staff. Students from outside the Sam Fox School are welcome to attend if space is available. Interested attendees can sign up on the Fox Fridays website.

Eventually, Hanahan would like to expand the series to more WashU students, faculty, and staff from multiple disciplines.

“There’s a lot of potential for it to grow beyond the boundaries of the school and campus, but it’s still early. There’s been a ton of participation and energy in the workshops. We’re trying to keep it small and nimble and unencumbered by rules and structure. That said, The potential for students across the university to widen their approaches in response to the challenging questions of our day is a huge opportunity. We acknowledge that solving vexing problems require multi-valent thinking to prompt systemic change. We hope Fox Fridays’ bottom-up approach to complex processes and scenarios can be a catalyst for collaboration and experimentation across the university,” Hanahan said.