Dean's Letter: Fall 2008

Dean's Letter, Fall 2008
College of Architecture
Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design


With respects to Bell Hooks and her book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom:

• Presence is necessary.
• Excitement as transgression, in higher education excitement is viewed as "potentially disruptive of the atmosphere of seriousness assumed to be essential to the learning process. To enter classroom settings in colleges and universities with the will to share the desire to encourage excitement, was to transgress."
• The classroom is a learning community.
• There is a responsibility to contribute. The classroom is not a family; the student more a citizen than a sibling or offspring with the attendant obligation of participation.
• In order to change the world you have to reflect and operate upon the world. Learning is an act of cultural freedom. [Freire]
• Expression is a form of discourse.
• Affording the acknowledgment that there is something at risk.
• "A movement against and beyond boundaries," makes education the practice of freedom.
• A "communal awareness" developed through hearing each other that affirms value and uniqueness.
• Experiences narrate life. They are a kind of data.
• Voice. "Coming to voice is not just the act of telling one's experience. It is using that telling strategically—to come to voice so that you can also speak freely about other subjects."

Author James Agee states, "Education as it stands is tied in with every bondage ... [and] is the chief cause of these bondages." It would only be slightly unfair to describe most current environmental education as educating students about people, buildings, and the environment without the people, the building, and the influence of the environment. Architectural education in the United States is homogenized through the process of accreditation and its 37 performance evaluation criteria. The attendant curriculums are very similar, typically organizing courses and content into semesters, sequences, and design and non-design related subjects. Important concerns become consistency, focus, integration, and an understanding of the curriculum as a whole. Once the field is divided up and focused the efforts turn to how to integrate the enormous amount of information and experience into some kind of whole that is "greater than the sum of the parts." It is widely held that even a brilliant student cannot develop the necessary skills and understanding required of a professional in the time allowed. Internships, internship development programs, hybrid programs, and other structures attempt to ameliorate the problem that seems to be growing increasingly complex by the day — too much content, not enough time.

This is why we are continuously developing our curricula. This is why we practice. Learning to be an architect is like learning a sport or a musical instrument; it requires a coach and practice. The ethical dimension of this is unexpected. Practice done in an explicitly social context (school) makes values public. This connects the double meaning of practice — repetition, and the work of a professional person — through the need of design problems to be informed by both objective evidence (professional expertise) and experienced judgment (craft). Practice operates in the context of a need for action. Donald Schon in his book The Design Studio writes: "In the context of the modern research university, the architectural studio is deviant. It is a throwback to an earlier mode of education and an earlier epistemology of practice ... It is the repository of long-standing traditions for education in the artistry of designing. It is a setting for the acquisition of a competence to perform ..." In his new book The Craftsman Richard Sennett suggests that to become competent at a craft requires 7 to 10,000 hours. At 8 hours a day for 4 to 5 days a week, this takes 5 to 7 years. Because of this architectural education has a "high coefficient of adversity" that is part of what makes it a significant activity. This is also why it is rewarding.

I speak at some length about curricula as we are working to evolve both our undergraduate and graduate curricula to reflect the changing context of practice. While this is an ongoing effort we have been particularly focused on learning out-comes for the core studios and how all courses and studios should address issues related to sustainability, the environment, and how these issues are impacting practice and therefore education. To this end I have asked all faculty to develop courses and studios this fall to address these issues with the intent to facilitate discussions that will lead to evolving the curricula over the next year. We will look forward to the work of all of the students as it contributes to these discussions.

We are joined in this important effort by two new full-time faculty, one returning faculty in a new position, and a number of new and affiliate faculty teaching across both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Kathryn Dean joins us as the Director of the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. Kathryn brings incredible experience that spans practice and education to this important new position. She will maintain her innovative architectural practice in New York City, while building on her extensive teaching experience at Columbia University. Jenny Lovell will be joining us from the University of Virginia, where she taught design studio and seminar courses in advanced building systems and sustainability. Jenny has worked with Arup engineers in London as well as in the office of William McDonugh and will be joining us full-time in January after spending the fall term working on a book to be published by Princeton Architectural Press on building enclosure systems. Jen Maigret also joins the faculty as a new (but familiar) assistant professor. Jen will be continuing her work in digital fabrication as well as developing a new course in ecology and water for the spring.

While we have will have more formal occasions to thank both Paul Donnelly and Adrian Luchini for their outstanding leadership as co-directors of the graduate program in architecture, I would like you all to extend your thanks to them as they continue in their roles as chaired professors to help lead the graduate program forward.

Bruce Lindsey
Dean, E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration