Dean's Letter: Spring 2007

Dean's Letter, Spring 2007
College of Architecture
Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design


In a time where everyone seems to suffer labels, by way of introduction I offer some of the ones that might be applied to me: I am a modernist trying to recover the social program of modernism's early foundations. I am an environmentalist who believes that our need to do significant work may well be as important an environmental resource as the rain forest. I am an [old]urbanist who defines urban as that moment when we realize that there are things we can do together that we cannot do alone. I am a realist in the sense that I find real life, real places, real projects, real people, real clients ... endlessly more fascinating than the abstractions, most of the time. For twenty years I have been a teacher, wary of Kierkegaard's warning that a professor is a teacher without paradox. My wife, Marilee Keys, is an artist.

It would only be slightly unfair to describe most current environmental design education as teaching students about people, buildings, and the environment without the people, the building, and the influence of the environment. Design education, the practice, and the profession are recursive. As always, education is to blame and our only hope.

Current models of ecology suggest that diversity = survival and complexity = life. An ecology of design might be diversity = creativity. For any environmental design solution to be creative, alive, and complex, clarity and depth of expression is required. As stated in his definition of complimentarity, Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist, suggested that the richness of shared experience that comes from such propositions can only be achieved through multiple, overlapping, and at times mutually exclusive points of view — through an emergent collective practice — emergent meaning the greater whole that comes from connected communities. Social and environmental advocacy extended through building as a collective desire to develop community at all scales will challenge our current models of education, aesthetic tendencies, and professional responsibilities at every turn. Watch out!

Beginnings are important. They set forth, set up, anticipate, precede, and prefigure things that follow. In teaching beginning design, I have believed that it is valuable to begin as many times as possible, realizing that in most other things it is clear that we have only a precious few. While a beginning to me is likely different to those who have been here, or done that, it is also the case that through a collective force of will it is possible to conjure or construct one, regardless of person, place, or circumstance. Sometimes it simply requires a change of mind, although that is rarely simple.

In the spirit of beginnings in general, and the beginning of the Sam Fox School and my beginning here specifically, and all our respective beginnings, I have suggested an idea for a project for the spring semester. Following on the work being done by John Hoal and his firm in New Orleans and our shared geographical connection, I have proposed to the faculty that we all begin by working on the same project – St. Louis down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Interpreted broadly, the two cities connected by the river provide a variety of possible project types and sites. While these projects and sites will reveal differences, they will also reveal the common ground that connects St. Louis to New Orleans, and the common good that connects us to environmental design.

Bruce Lindsey