Dean's Letter: Spring 2008

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

The practice of architecture like many professions has moved from a position of discrete knowledge, localized influence, and professional responsibilities to one of multiple knowledge bases, global implications, and multi-disciplinary interactions. Fueled by technological change and the imperative for environmental sustainability, this reality has both been formed by educational change and currently provides the challenges for architectural education.

At the conclusion of the fall semester, the faculty met for an all-day All School Review of graduate studio work from the fall semester (undergraduate work will be the subject of the spring All School Review). Each faculty member presented one project from their studio for discussion with a simple goal of seeing how the sequence of studios and topics relate to the goals of the curriculum. Every available space in Givens and Steinberg were used to display the work and my first reaction upon walking into the buildings at 9 a.m. was WOW! While we conceptually understand that amazing work is being done and the final reviews provide an opportunity to see the work and celebrate the effort, it is a different thing to see an entire semester hanging on the walls. Discussions were lively and raised important issues of continuity, appropriate scope, scale, and complexity, and how the studios could build on course work in other areas of the curriculum. A discussion about the 419 studios centered around the topic of housing as an appropriate and important subject for the conclusion of the core sequence. A lengthy and wide-ranging discussion focused on Degree Project and how best it can reflect the highest aspirations of the students, the faculty, and the school. It was a great day, and it set in motion discussions that will continue to help us evolve the curriculum so that it can best address the complex and fluid landscape of environmental design. While this is hard work, a curriculum must be alive, adaptable, and relevant to our professional and institutional contexts.

In addition to the All School Review, we have instigated a review of both undergraduate and graduate core sequences with the goal of developing studio foci and specific learning outcomes. While it has primarily focused on studio courses, it has also brought into the conversation all of the important coursework that happens along side the studio from the history sequence to the technology courses. Some things that have already emerged from this process are refinements to the architecture minor, a new undergraduate minor in Urban Design, and a new process of evaluation for transition from the graduate core into the body of the program. Progress continues with a Sam Fox School committee that is looking at the design of a shared foundation curriculum between art and architecture that would include a new Bachelor of Design degree.

In a recent Harvard Design magazine article by architect and historian Kenneth Frampton entitled The Work of Architecture in the Age of Commodification, Professor Frampton questions:

"... what might we mean, in this fungible age, by such terms as sustainable environmental design or let us say even tradition, in as much as the finest work of any epoch always amounts to a critical reinterpretation of tradition ... To put it more evenhandedly, however: in what way may we modulate some future possible relationship between creativity and homeostasis or, let us say, between human imaginative capacity and the now all-too-evident limitations of the biosphere? This is surely the one question that the contemporary cult of the populist free-market is unable to address."

If the free market is unable to address this problem, then who is? I would suggest that it should be us. Sustainability has become at best a paradigm shift in environmental design and social justice and at worst simply a new marketing strategy for cars, corporations, and institutions. Given the complexity and scope of the issues and the importance of the beneficiary it cannot be left to others to define. We must participate in the dialogue and offer up the tests and research of our disciplines boundaries that help lead the way. It will most certainly require partners from across the university and all of our best efforts.

I would like the school to take up this important discussion with a goal in front of us. I have asked the faculty to look toward the fall of '08 with the idea that the entire school, from first year undergraduate to graduate degree project would develop studios and course work around the issues of sustainability. Much in the way that we saw our city and efforts connected to the city of New Orleans through the Mississippi River in the spring of '07, this effort would help us begin to define the issues of sustainability and how they should be addressed within our school and our university.

The University is the steward of knowledge but also has the responsibility to create new knowledge. The responsibility of the institution to the students, faculty, and community, is to seek new knowledge and make it public. This is the highest form of practice where values are demonstrated and debated, where participation is like that of a citizen where shared responsibility constitutes a foundation of civic life. This demand requires more than one bottom line. It requires passion of mind and compassion of spirit. It often requires a radical humility coupled with a confidence that precedes the idea that it is possible to create new knowledge. It requires work that is always in some way a gift, and it requires generosity of all kinds.

Frampton continues: "On the one hand, then, political consciousness, in the broadest sense, ought to be as much a part of design education as any other component in an architectural curriculum; on the other hand, it is necessary to maintain an ethical dimension in the culture of design itself ... It is a stark prospect and a difficult choice that not everyone in the design professions is equally free to make to the same degree, that is to say, the choice between going with the flow of the market or cultivating a self-conscious resistance along the lines of Ernst Bloch's projected hope, his evocation of the 'not yet.' Certainly living needs, as opposed to desires, demand to be met but surely not in such a way as to ruin the world for generations ..."

Bruce Lindsey