Issue One Contributors: Stephen Sun


Stephen is an educational architect/ real estate developer-turned 4th grade teacher. He wrote an article about designing learning environments in the first issue of the Ottiya Magazine. Learn more about Stephen and his article below: 

How would you introduce yourself in less than 10 words?
I live at the intersection of real estate, design, and education.

You wrote a fascinating article called, “Designing Learning Environments”that explores the different ways that architects and educators look at education. What’s the main message you want educators to take from this article?
The space in which we learn is an educational instrument in it of itself. I want educators to leverage their classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, and beyond to be part of the curriculum and school’s mission. We are often working with constraints out of our control, yet one would be surprised by how much students and educators can achieve if we let our minds diverge a bit.

What do you love the most about teaching?
I designed and helped build a school in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. That building will resist the forces of time over the next century, but it won’t grow nor will it change much. Compare this to the students that I taught while I was there. They took the content, got themselves jobs, and even started a school to teach a new generation of learners. Education has the ability to scale and is enduring beyond the concrete walls of the architecture we provide for students.

What’s the most challenging thing about teaching?
In the U.S. the educational system is under so much pressure to perform social tasks that schools are neither equipped nor designed to handle. This burden unfortunately falls on the teachers. My personal challenge is that I’m currently working in an urban school in Dorcherster/Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Many of the socio-economic, racial, political, and environmental concerns that students face in their neighborhood manifest themselves in the classroom behaviorally. When there are twenty five students and only one teacher, it’s extremely difficult to balance the disciplinary/behavior needs with the academic ones.

What’s your favorite quote about education?
“Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you want.” – Dr. Randy Pausch

What are some of your favorite learning environments, spaces, or buildings?
I remember every single seat I’ve had in an academic design studio setting since 2005. Whenever I travel, I will always find the local architecture school and visit their studios. When I’m among foamcore models, yellow trace, hearing motor sounds of plotters churning out presentation drawings or smelling burnt acrylic from laser cutting, I slip into another dimension entirely. The studio spaces for the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, California, is the only place in the world I’ve ever described as magical.

The theme for the first issue of the Ottiya magazine is community. What does community mean to you?
Community to me is a very ethereal and conceptual feeling where a group of animate and/or inanimate subjects share the same values and mission.

Recommended1 recommendationPublished in For Parents and Teachers

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