About Sketch Model

2017--Olin College of Engineering is pleased to announce Sketch Model, a three-year series of programs to awaken on our campus the political and cultural contexts for technology. We’re doing so by creating avenues for the arts and humanities to intersect in provocative, convivial ways with our small undergraduate college where all students major in engineering. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sketch Model is a set of experimental approaches that embody the exploratory spirit of ideas-under-construction inherent in sketch models for prototyping: imagining the creative contours and operations for an expanded practice of engineering that includes the robust expressive criticality of the arts, history, and culture.

There are lessons from the practice of sketch modeling in engineering that mirror practices in the arts. When engineers sketch model an idea, they are testing its basic feasibility with the most readily available materials, deep curiosity, and a generous imagination: tracing the possibilities by patching together a “looks like” or “works like” prototype. Sketch models may look like humble first drafts, but they pack the power of the not-yet within them: ideas being newly hatched, articulated for the first time or in novel, recombined ways. With sketch models, engineers can squint and imagine alternate futures.

Naturally, practitioners in the arts, humanities, and the social sciences may work with similar disciplinary practices that attend the birth of ideas: sketches, drafts, rehearsals, and other forms of craft that render those ideas visible, sense-able. In all the making disciplines, sketch models and exploratory gestures constitute the will to play, to test and try, to double back and rework as needed. With this initiative at Olin, we hope to draw together those similar impulses, showing how much they share in the quest to collaboratively imagine the future.

So we take up the Sketch Model metaphor to describe the spirit of our programming. We’re linking together the investigative power of the arts with engineering in playful and probing ways, and we hope you’ll join us in one of the three programs we describe below. Reach out to us for more information, and follow this space for more details about how you can get involved. For now, we’ll end with this:

The stakes are high. The artifacts of engineering do not live only in the lab; they live in the world, where the consequences for human behavior, relationships, opportunities, and well-being are profound. Olin College is an institution founded on the premise that engineering’s mandate is to acknowledge and design for lived human experiences—with a nuanced view of the future for the built environment, fortified by historical, cultural, and socio-political questions and concerns. A technical education, in other words, requires a liberal education to live up to its claims. Olin’s dual position in higher education—as a “lab school” for curriculum innovation and as a collaborative partner in transforming engineering education worldwide—carries with it a responsibility to meaningfully integrate the arts, humanities, and social sciences into its mission and practices. Sketch Model is an invitation for all of us to do more, with more collaborations and connections, than ever before.

Sara Hendren, Principal Investigator;
Benjamin Linder, Co-Principal Investigator
Debbie Chachra and Jonathan Adler, Senior Personnel

For more information: sketchmodel@olin.edu

Looks Like:   

1) a “Creative-in-Reference” program, bringing practitioners and/or scholars in the arts and humanities to Olin’s campus for significant collaborative and community-facing experiences, both inside and outside the classroom;

2) an “Arts + Action” summer fellowship program, placing undergraduate engineering students as interns in arts organizations, especially those that partner with underserved communities; and 

3) a paid week-long Summer Studio that seeks to create relationships between Olin faculty or staff and New England-based artists..