STEAM: It’s All About the “How”

by: Clarence D. Mamuyac, Jr., FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
Clarence Mamuyac talks with Peter Sollogub of Cambridge Seven Associates.

I started working with Peter Sollogub of Cambridge Seven Associates on the new Santa Clara International Swim Center and International Swimming Hall of Fame. Although he is trained as an architect, a lot of his work focuses on immersive learning exhibits. I sat down with him recently to ask about his experience with STEAM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Arts/Mathematics).

Clarence Mamuyac: What have you focused on for the last several years?

Peter Sollogub: The “how.” That’s what I focus on. There are many phrases for it. Immersive design is one. Our firm, Cambridge Seven Associates, became well known for the design of the New England Aquarium almost 50 years ago. Back then we didn’t call this approach STEAM. But we have been collaborating with experts in all those areas to make better learning spaces of all sizes since then. These are enhanced learning environments that encourage creativity and critical thinking. They explore how things happen.

DeBartolo York Education Center, San Francisco 49ers Museum at Levis Stadium courtesy of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.
Mamuyac: What’s changed in education?

Sollogub: What’s not changed? Everybody talks about technology, and it has a role in the design of learning spaces. But one of the biggest changes, and this is pretty broad, is that students are no longer passive and solitary. Teachers don’t just present facts and students memorize them. People work together and uncover answers. The process of discovery creates a lifelong passion for learning.

Mamuyac: What have been some recent projects where this has happened?

Sollogub: Each learning environment can be organized around a different access point. It can be as broad as the weather and the oceans or as narrow as a sport like football or swimming. In our work for the NFL’s New England Patriots, one project that took place was that kids got together to develop ways to create helmets that can better protect players. That involves science, math, materials, and aesthetics.

In Santa Clara, we have been working on the 49ers’ Denise DeBartolo York Education Center. You can use the strategies of football to explore all the STEAM disciplines.

We’ve been working with your firm on the International Swimming Hall of Fame at the Santa Clara International Swim Center. From a learning point of view, the visitors will be exposed to an array of STEAM education stations centered around swimming, speed, energy, sustainability, fluid mechanics, and wellness, to name a few.

Mamuyac: What about a project without athletics as a basis?

Sollogub: Children’s museums are great for generating new ideas. And they translate across borders. At the Gyeonggi Children’s Museum in South Korea, the “Healthy Children” exhibit gallery features a basketball challenge, a soccer competition, a rock-climbing wall, a seesaw that holds a dozen children, and other full-body movement experiences. There is a 65-foot-long “river” with areas where children can build and float their own boats, move water uphill with an Archimedes screw, crawl under the water, create dams, and direct the flow.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, in our renovation of the science and technology museum Discovery Place, we created maker space labs where the kids have all kinds of opportunities to work with living animals.

Discovery Place, Charlotte, North Carolina (Exhibit Designers: Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. | Photo courtesy of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.
Mamuyac: These spaces must be expensive. Who pays for them?

Sollogub: The basic ideas surrounding STEAM are philosophies of learning. You can start with one modest lab. But the projects I’ve mentioned end up raising money from companies or organizations in the local community. And interestingly, it has not proven that difficult. It’s not like branding an arena. It’s about the mission of the potential sponsor correlating with the educational mission of the institution.

For example, Raytheon is very interested in lifelong learning in mathematics. So they contributed generously to the STEAM component at the Hall at Patriot Place, the New England Patriots’ museum.

Sony and the Chevron are both involved with the STEAM component at the 49ers Museum because these components are immensely popular—the 49ers’/Chevron/Sony STEAM experience greets 100,000+ visitors a year, and having their brand associated with an important and new education resource is good business.

More importantly, the sponsors are clear about the purpose, i.e., it’s not about selling something; it’s about discovery.

Mamuyac: How would you summarize your work in a sentence?

Sollogub: Wow. Well, I think we help shape spaces where all kinds of people can learn about how things happen.

Mamuyac: What is one way to measure whether you have succeeded?

Sollogub: The simplest measure is whether the space is messy or not. If it’s messy, we have probably done our job.

DeBartolo York Education Center San Francisco 49ers Museum at Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, California (Exhibit Designers: Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. Photo courtesy of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.