Dean's Letter

Dean's Letter, Spring 2016
College of Architecture
Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design
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Diversity & Inclusion

This past fall, stemming from a charge from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Provost Holden Thorp, the University’s Steering Committee for Diversity & Inclusion released a report and a set of recommendations that commit the University to stremgthening diversity and inclusiveness. The full report can be found here.

One of the committee’s recommendations is to create a Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. Vice Provost Adrienne Davis chairs the commission, and I am pleased to serve as one of its members, along with a number of esteemed colleagues from across the University.

The charge of the commission is to implement the two-year, twelve-point action plan outlined in the committee’s report. In January, six sub-groups of the commission will commence their work, focusing on staff diversity, diversity training, University-wide engagement and dialogue, monitoring and reporting progress, recognizing leadership and impact in achieving diversity, and the recommendation to explore the possibility of a race, identity, and social justice institute.

This significant initiative comes at a particularly important moment in our School, having welcomed this past fall the largest and most diverse incoming class of both undergraduate and graduate students in our history. Our students, faculty, and programs span the globe. It is fair to say that the School is not only diverse but also complex and dynamic, matching in some ways the world that we live in. In biology, complexity = life and diversity = survival; however, for us, diversity also = creativity. Creativity emerges directly from diversity through new ideas that follow from a rich variety of experience and perspective. In his book The Grace of Great Things, Robert Grudin, professor of English at the University of Oregon, suggests that the creation of new ideas exercises "a radical act of freedom" that is risky because we often need to suspend the security of our own assumptions to consider them. While Grudin also points out that responsibility is the attendant requisite of freedom, it is a beautiful observation to see creativity as the exercise of both. He adds that anyone who engages difficult tasks with "invention and humane expressiveness" works in the presence of beauty.

Diversity can also give rise to segregation and discrimination when not understood within a context that values difference, thereby lessening the potential for creativity and relevance. I believe that this is an environmental issue. Environments have the capacity to enable us. This is obvious in the physical sense, where our environment provides for the air we breathe, but it is also true for other kinds of circumstances. We find it natural to describe environments as creative or productive and go so far as to feel confident that there can be such a thing as a "learning environment." The tenants of ecology show us that the environment is a network of relationships through context. Scientist James Lovelock makes a compelling case that the atmosphere is modulated by the interactions of life with the earth. Ian McHarg argues that creativity is the marker of an adaptive and evolving environment, the outcome of which is health. We as designers design environments—directly through our actions, which promote certain types of behaviors that in turn affect the environment, and indirectly through our own ideology. Grudin points this out when he compares ideology, for him a "closed system," to the "open system" of philosophy. He goes further to say "for people to explore [the] idiosyncrasies in their own ideology is almost as unlikely as it is for them to see through the backs of their own heads." By contrast, philosophy is, according to Grudin, "a structure of ideas with an instrument of self-scrutiny." All environments need self scrutiny, especially ours. Could it be that "self scrutiny" is to an enabling environment what natural selection is to the natural environment?

Designers have a particular relationship to environments that are important. We use the instrumentality of our representations to work on the existing environment. We also use abstraction to project future environments. We spend a lot of time walking around in our drawings and models, and while this is powerful, it can also have a side effect of diminishing our perception of our own immediate environment. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, it is difficult to see the field while in the field. Walter Benjamin adds, "Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction." Here is an illustration that will be familiar:

The unfortunate consequence of this is not just the mess. It is the erosion of consequence essential to the envisioning of a better environment either here or there, now or then. Imagine what the consequences of distraction are to the subtler and perhaps more important aspects of our own environment such as dialogue, openness, opportunity, responsibility, and collegiality. To be consequent to this requires an alternative understanding of space as contiguous with ideas and continuous in its influence, such that inclusiveness radically alters the environment by bringing it to our attention persistently.

There is a related problem that rests within the "project at all costs" mentality of so-called "studio culture." We need to be self-critical about this. To that end I have asked associate professor Zeuler Lima to chair an ad hoc committee of students and faculty to propose an environment that would result in a "learning culture." Tacit assumptions often relate important and beneficial attributes such as passion, accomplishment, and comradery to studio culture. But many years of observation have shown me that studio culture also masks discrimination, irresponsibility, and inequity. There can be no learning culture where these practices are in play, and it is by understanding that inclusion is the active dimension of our learning that makes diversity creative, our attention needs to be acute and tenacious. If so the result will be an enabling learning environment that will change how we envision the future and change how and why we work together.

Faculty

We are pleased to welcome visiting faculty to the School.

Established in 1986 through a gift from Ruth and her brother Norman Moore, the Ruth & Norman Moore Endowment supports the Ruth and Norman Moore chaired professorship, currently held by Robert McCarter, as well as a visiting professorship. Robert Cole will be the Ruth and Norman Moore Visiting Professor for the spring 2016 semester, teaching a graduate architecture option studio. Robert is co-founding principle of ColePrévost, an architectural practice in Washington DC. Robert has a diploma in architecture from the Architectural Association in London and has more than 30 years' experience in teaching and practice. His expansive understanding of detail as a substantiating aspect of architecture's significance will inform his option studio this spring.

Other visiting faculty teaching option studios include:

Dongwoo Yim and Rafael Luna, both principals and co-founders of the Boston-based architecture and research firm PRAUD. Dongwoo teaches studios and seminars at Rhode Island School of Design, where his research interests include integral urbanism and architectural typologies. Among many other honors, he and Rafael were awarded the 2013 Architectural League Prize. Dongwoo received his master's degree in architecture from Harvard University and earned his bachelor's degree from Seoul University. Rafael, who will be co-teaching with Dongwoo, earned his Master of Architecture from MIT. His research interests include hybrid architecture as an adaptive reuse strategy for interior urbanism.

Eric Cesal, an alumnus of our graduate architecture program as well as Wash U's master's programs in construction management and business administration, will be teaching a studio based on disaster relief. Eric led Architecture for Humanity's relief efforts in Haiti for more than three years and also served as the president of the organization. Eric is the author of Down Detour Road, which outlines a new proposition for the value of architecture in a dynamic and unpredictable world context. Andrei Codrescu writes: "This manifesto-memoir comes none to soon to rescue Architecture from the trash bin of postmodernism..."

Christopher Warren joins Linda Samuels in teaching the spring urban design studio, which will be focused on Los Angeles. Christopher is the president of Warren Office for Research and Design (WORD) in Los Angeles. He has taught in the school of architecture at Sci-Arc and USC, and was a project architect with Morphosis for six years before founding his own practice. Christopher has a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor's degree in environmental design from the University of Colorado Boulder.

We are excited that the spring semester will mark our first full semester program in Berlin with 16 students. The studio instructor is Johanna Meyer-Grohbruegge; Friedrich Killinger is teaching history, and Jan Trutz and Goetz Von Stuckrad are teaching an urban issues elective.

In addition, Chandler Ahrens will be teaching an undergraduate design build studio in partnership with Nahed Chapman New American Academy, a St. Louis public school that provides a gateway for refugee and immigrant children, and the architectural office of alum Peter Tao.

Lavender Tessmer and Jason Butz will be leading a graduate digital fabrication studio with an emphasis on volumetric structures from assemblies leveraging parametric design tools.

Gia Daskalakis is partnering with David Wang on a graduate architecture studio that will explore development opportunities for property and buildings in North St Louis in relation to the development proposal for a new Rams football stadium.

Patty Heyda will lead an undergraduate community-based option studio in partnership with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in Grand Center.

Congratulations to assistant professor Jesse Vogler, who will be in Tbilisi, Georgia, as a Fulbright Fellow for the semester, conducting research on the territorial ad ideological landscapes of the sovhoz, the soviet state farm system.

Have a great semester.
Bruce Lindsey, AIA, Dean
E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration