University of Minnesota School of Architecture
The School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota has long served as a critical voice in the architectural academic community. This is due in no small part to the exceptionally well-regarded full-time faculty who govern the school. With their highly respected books, journal publications, design awards, teaching awards, conference presentations, built projects, community projects, and research ventures, the faculty here are widely recognized for their important contributions to architectural discourse. Their expertise covers such wide-ranging topics as materials research, sustainability, fabrication, public interest design, architectural theory and history , architectural photography, design pedagogy, program, culture, sacred architecture, urban planning, and advanced building technology. To communicate how this exceptional group of faculty has shaped and influenced the culture of the school, we include here transcripts of interviews with them conducted over the past year. They were asked questions such as: “What drives your research or creative practice?” “What is the most surprising discovery in your work?” “What ideas guide your teaching?” and “What is your vision of the future of architecture and its practice?” The answers are as diverse and insightful as the faculty themselves. Their answers offer a glimpse into the classroom conversations that take place in the School of Architecture, beginning to outline the education that students can expect to receive. The images here variously show publications, student work, research outcomes and/or faculty drawings.
My goal has been to create a virtual reality set-up so that students can check out a head-mounted display and view in VR a model that they have created in SketchUp or Revit and photorealistically rendered in LightUp. They can simply take the file rendered in LightUp, drop it into Dropbox, read the file from Dropbox into the headmounted display, and walk around inside their models.
Lee Anderson Associate Professor Influence of the model on the design It’s always been of interest to me that, in architectural design, we don’t actually create the thing we are designing, we only create a representation that guides our design development and shows it to others. This representation influences what we design. The sketch or computer model, whatever it is, can critically change the way we see our own design. The particular representation that we create directs our attention to what we might want to continue to develop our design. The particular type of model, even the view of that model, greatly influences the progress of our design. The great influence that our method of representation has on design led to my interest in computer-aided design. Originally, I created Up-front, a forerunner of SketchUp and the first 3D modeler that worked directly in three dimensions. Following that I became interested in virtual reality (VR). As a new form of representation, VR could influence the way we think about design. In VR we have a feeling of being immersed in our design, as opposed to a screen that has a frame and no depth at all and which doesn’t respond to our body movements. In VR we become very aware of our physical presence in the designed space.
I am also developing a commercial product with the assistance of the University Venture Center. My goal is that the College of Design would be seen as a leader in the area of virtual reality. Design evaluation as collaborative Immersion in virtual reality has always been a solitary endeavor. However, design evaluation and development is often collaborative. Our emphasis in VR here at the College of Design is on placing multiple users in the VR space at the same time so that they can discuss the design together. VR becomes a space where designers and stakeholders collaborate—they’re all able to talk to one another while being immersed together in the same photorealistically modeled design. Our next development will be able to bring anyone who is using our software into the same VR space with others regardless of their location, however remote. Helping students learn to see I tend to emphasize how representation affects the way that we think in design, whatever it happens to be—printed, on a screen, animation, or video. I have always liked the sketch, where students start with black paper and sketch in white. How does light actually get distributed in that room? This idea of learning to see can be extended by using VR since VR extends the seeing to occupying.
Blaine Brownell Associate Professor Technology and the environment, society and design I am passionately interested in how materials are summoned in alignment with concepts to create architectureâ€”how we shape the built environment by way of employing materials to manifest ideas. I am also interested in the transformative process and the reciprocal relationships between technology and the environment, between society and design. When I teach technology I emphasize that it is not a fixed entity; there are these reciprocities and influences that change over time.
Related to this change is a curiosity about the nature of design innovation and how materials can be conceptualized and ultimately applied in ways that contribute to the discipline. There has to be some new insight or innovationâ€”yet there are inherent mysteries to how that happens. A long-term goal is to uncover those mysteries. Design as a cultural or technological disruption I believe in the fundamental value of design and its role as an agent of transformationâ€”even an agent of disruption, in the sense that design can subvert conventional
perspectives or preconceptions about how we should build and utilize space. One theoretical guide in my teaching is Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the anti-environment, which has to do with modes of perception and seeing what others don’t commonly see. McLuhan elevates the role of the artist in revealing deeper trends and important insights about environments. McLuhan’s environments are imperceptible; we don’t detect the opportunities that exist just outside our means of perception. Another favorite is Kenya Hara’s philosophy of exformation, a process in which we may glean new knowledge from what we already know. We often think that creating original designs requires a kind of frontier mentality of charting new territory. But Hara advocates the significant advantages of looking at everyday life more deeply to reveal novel insights. The agency of living things Marc Swackhamer and I have written about the blurring between design and natural systems, and I think the most significant discovery has to do with using natural
organisms and processes in the built environment. For example, a multidisciplinary team of engineers and geneticists at Newcastle University engineered a microbe to heal cracks in concrete, at the same pH and strength as the surrounding material. Another example is an algae-infused façade called the SolarLeaf, developed by ARUP. It’s a new curtain wall system that is essentially a vertical algae farm. The algae are used for shading and are later harvested as biomass. This is not like cutting down a living tree and using the dead material as engineered lumber. It’s actually employing organisms while they’re alive in a way that’s unexpected. I think we’ll continue to see more examples that blur the line between what historically have been inert materials and living materials. We will begin to treat the built environment as a living ecosystem. Learning the rules and breaking the rules I think it’s important to educate students to develop an appropriate balance between the conceptual and the concrete. It’s critical that they learn the fundamental properties of building materials and how they are currently used; however, they should also know how to break the rules. Architecture is such a
complex field. There are so many things to learn about established approaches to things like zoning codes, fire ratings, circulation networks, and so on. But I think that what we don’t do enough is teach students how to use their critical design skills to creatively undermine the rules when appropriate. If standards are never questioned, architecture stagnates. Students need to be given the space in which to question current modes of practice. This kind of teaching requires sharing with students sets of methods for disrupting conventional approaches. The potency of architecture to shape our experience My passion is to elevate the overall quality of the built environment. Much of what we have built is uninspired and wasteful—suburban sprawl, industrial parks, cookie-cutter schools and hospitals. The constructed world could be much more imaginative, innovative, and attuned to the needs of society and the natural environment. This goal comes from life experience, from travel, and from those moments when we feel more physically alive. When our consciousness is heightened, and all our senses are firing, we understand the ability of architecture to shape our experience in ways that are both measurable and immeasurable. How can we distribute and expand this approach in a much more far-reaching and meaningful way than is currently practiced? How can materials be applied to achieve such a vision? The result would be a constructed world that’s much more ecologically sound and attuned to the needs of people with different cultural backgrounds—one that speaks to the better side of humanity rather than the lowest common denominator, and one that enhances our physical, intellectual, and emotional health.
Arthur Chen Associate Professor The cultural intersections of architecture, city, and history My research focuses on the conservation of world heritage—the cultural intersection of architecture, city, and history. It’s a relatively new intellectual area born out of the UNESCO Convention on World Heritage in 1972. There have been 802 cultural heritage sites inscribed, which epitomize the cultural significance of conservation and development in mostly urban settings. Recent projects have been about conserving historic urban landscapes in eastern Africa, sites in
Zanzibar, Mozambique, Lamu, and Gondar of Ethiopia. Our students have participated in those projects to conduct in situ research in their May-term studies. Cultivating design thinking Students of architecture need to develop their ability to conceive issues and questions through design thinking. I use class discussion to cultivate students’ curiosity, to help them frame issues and questions toward the reading materials. Eventually students learn how to raise an argument or position in their pursuit of knowledge. It is important for students to develop a process of inquiry while in school, including interactive modes of writing, recoding, drawing, and making. Architecture as cultural production Architecture can be viewed as a part of cultural production and requires an emphasis on cultural sustainability by public expectation. The task of conserving cultural heritage and urban fabric becomes inevitable when architects engage in practice. Meanwhile, global practice becomes more evident because of rapidly growing digital technology. Architects need to have global perspectives on issues and knowledge in order to face the challenges from different cultural paradigms.
Renée Cheng Professor and Associate Dean of Research Increasing the productivity of the building industry I have been doing case study research on emerging practices—looking at changes in how architects document, how they manage their process, and, contractually, how owners are creating performance-based metrics and project teams are driving positive behavior. How do successful teams get great projects done? It’s not just looking the building outcomes, but looking at ways to change the ways architects practice, and how they work with others in the industry (contractors, consultants and owners), and trying even to change the building industry. In the past 50 years, productivity measured across most industries has more than doubled—except in the building industry, which is the only one that has dropped. With all of the technology, the globalization, cultural changes, social changes that have allowed for productivity to jump everywhere else, why is the building industry declining ? We know that up to one-third of what is spent is wasted due to inefficiencies, mistakes, and delays. It’s shocking how many preventable problems occur even with really smart people who are doing their best. What can academia do to help? I think we can provide some perspective, objectively understanding best practices and advising on policy and practice change. I document projects and people who have been able to get better designs for baseline or less cost than other projects. What kind of mindset, methodologies, commercial strategies, and tools do they use? What do they do that’s different? Culture change Sometimes it’s cultural improvements. In one project I documented, they had what looked like a donor wall but it was used to
acknowledge the contributions of everyone who worked on the building, all of the tradespeople. As a group they deliberated who should be on the wall and how they would be listed. They used safety picnics—mandatory, periodic meetings for going over statistics, any accidents that happened, other types of planning—to talk about something
inspiring, which was how they wanted to acknowledge everyone’s work. They tracked the kinds of mistakes that happen in the final stages of the project where the painters get paint on a finished piece of carpentry or the carpenter mars paint and they have to go back and patch it. And they saw a huge drop in those kinds of cross-trade errors because
everyone had a better understanding of what everyone does, and just more respect for all the people who were there. You didn’t mess up their work. Status quo vs. new future Pretty much everything I teach contrasts the status quo versus new future. Obviously, architecture students need a grasp of the status quo so they know what’s expected of them, where their liabilities are, their essential responsibilities, things like standard of care. But I’m also trying to embed a couple of themes that are really important, that hopefully lead to a different building industry. One is the future of research in practice. As more architectural practices get more involved with research, they begin to have continuous improvement instead of one-off after one-off after one-off. The idea of research and methodologies in practice certainly has marketing cache, but if you look at who’s doing it, who’s doing it well, and how they’re doing it, there are far fewer examples. The other theme is changes and challenges to the status quo. As architects, we work in a complex system that involves a lot of inefficiencies, a lot of waste that arises from the complexity of the system and the ways we structure the hand-off of information. If you have the owner and architect and contractor constantly in an adversarial position, you’re going to have breakdowns in communication. You’re going to have the blaming and the problems that lead to waste and lack of productivity. So we look at integrated project delivery (IPD), which is a contractual thing, and the BIM (the building information model), which is more software/implementation tool, and we look at lean process, a process-oriented tracking and managing of people and their work. If information is embedded in the BIM, there are far fewer chances for errors as each new person has to reference the exact same data. It’s different from our current system, where everyone is responsible for their own documentation (which leads to
errors) but are also liable only for their own stuff. With BIM, there is a lot more sharing, and with IPD and Lean, just more collaboration all around. My teaching is constantly comparing every aspect of architectural practice: what’s been done in the past, what we’re doing now, and where things might go in the future. Bringing research into practice The Master of Science in Research Practices is unique and hard to replicate but is important nationally for discussion that it’s been eliciting. We have three very ambitious goals: first, we aim to change the nature of the relationship between education and the profession. There used to be a firewall between education and practice, particularly for internships and licensing of graduates, and this program makes school and firms intertwined and mutually dependent. A second goal is introducing research into the firms. How do we do this, and how do we do it in a way that has some level of rigor and perspective and isn’t just what we academics think is best? The third goal is the identification of leadership. The students in this program are getting noticed. One of the students, two years out of school, was named director of research at a medium-sized firm—the program provides this path to leadership, with director-type or partner-type positions, for students who understand the value of research and how that connects back to the faculty and the university. I like the idea of this eventually being a national matching program as is done for medical residencies, where you have a large pool of students and a large pool of faculty. It’s a model that could expand. As it grows it has real implications for improving the way academia and practice support our students and grads. A deep, personal connection to design I really love design—particularly drawing, which gets at things at the core of design and
the way we think as designers. Even though I work in the legal and the business side, I donâ€™t think I could do what I do without having that deep personal connection to design, and to representation, and the abstract way of thinking, drawing, and diagramming.
John Comazzi Associate Professor From focused content to larger connections There are two parallel trajectories in my work: design pedagogy and design criticism. The pedagogy trajectory includes the development of beginning design courses (including curricula for pre-K-12 educators), design-build as unique form of active teaching and learning, and studio projects that foreground the reflective practices of architecture. I see my work in design pedagogy as operating from inside the discipline of architectural education. Then, criticism is an operation that comes from the outside, looking in on the discipline of architecture and trying to understand the profession from a different perspective. This has been a consistent trajectory in my work beginning with my master of science in architectural history and theory; through my book Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography; and continuing with my current book project on the Miller House and Gardens (in Columbus, Indiana, 1953-1957). In this work, I tend to begin with what appears to be a rather focused subject matter that expands
to include much larger connections through a deep study. Authorship and collaboration My current research on the collaborative practices that coalesced in the design of the Miller House and Gardens has begun to reshape my ideas about authorship and collaboration. The research began by focusing on the spatial characteristics and material qualities of the house and gardens, but the narrative has become more directed toward the larger professional relationships that formed between the designers and practitioners, as well as the clients, builders, and contractors. Delving more deeply into the nature of these collaborative practices has helped me understand a more complex genealogy of the project. These designers had all collaborated on previous projects— Dan Kiley, Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, the Millers—so I am trying to understand how their earlier collaborations came to influence the design of Miller House and Gardens. The deeper I go into the genealogy of these collaborations and the design of that house, the more I’m understanding the much earlier influences and practices that affected that work. It has recalibrated my ideas about authorship; it’s blurry. It is far more complex than identifying someone as the architect, and someone else as the landscape architect, and someone else as the client, etc. The research has begun to pose larger questions like: What does it really mean to collaborate? When does a collaboration begin? And what can we learn from historical examples of collaboration that can inform contemporary practice? Critical reflection Through my own research and teaching, I try to instill high degree of curiosity among our students, and a sense of responsibility to engage in a critical reflection about their work and the work of others. This type
of deliberation requires a willingness to constantly step outside of ourselves and our work and to reflect on it critically as part of the process of development and design. Whether working through a schematic design proposal, writing a paper, discussing a reading, I try to impress upon our students the importance of digging more deeply into the subject matter as a means of understanding the larger context within which they are designing, or about which they are writing, or from which a reading has been produced. A three-dimensional sensibility As I project forward, I am increasingly feeling a need to adjust my approach to teaching, criticism, and practice based on some of the emerging directions for the practice of architecture and design education. Due largely to the widespread accessibility of digital design, gaming, and information technologies, our students will increasingly enter our programs with a vastly different set of skills and sensibilities about space and form that vary greatly from those of previous generations—sensibilities that do not necessarily privilege the two-dimensional slices of the world that my generation was trained to employ in design practice. Our current and future students do not simply navigate these three-dimensional worlds, they quite literally build them, as in the case of Minecraft and other digital worlds, for example. Bridging and integrating the two sides of that schism between a two-dimensional and three-dimensional sensibility will increasingly be an important development in architecture education. It’s a fascinating and challenging time to be teaching architecture, as we try to establish what remains core to the discipline and what is dynamic, fluctuating, and changing. I feel that my roles as designer, critic, and educator will continue to be stretched and pushed, in positive and meaningful ways that I cannot fully anticipate at this time.
produce work that resonated with clients and communities.
Bill Conway Professor Embedded in the ground My work is largely framed by theories of Landscape Urbanism. I’ve always subscribed to the notion that as architects the work we do begins with an understanding of the ground. Although its surface qualities may be most accessible: orientation, surface cover, or economic value, our work must extend beyond form to explore the richness of history, political demarcation, and prior occupation. From origins we’ve learned about the socio-cultural history of the ground, and the changes that have marked it over time. The ground’s latent potential for architecture is often the result of previous actions in, on, near, above, and/or below the ground. Working within found conditions often deepens our understanding of the ground and the role it plays in shaping human experience while nurturing community. At Conway+Schulte Architects we work with landscape architects, civil engineers, historians and others, who share our understanding of the ground as a rich and generous contributor to architecture. In this collaborative model our analysis of natural and material components — from ground to sky —allowed us to fine-tune our design approach. Understanding the complex relationship of building to ground helped us
Designs become reality While introduced to architecture through my experience as a contractor, certain moments in the act of designing / building have always held my focused interest: the power of foundations to hold the earth and shape landscapes, the aerating effects and clarity of “stick-framed” structures, the dizzying joy of roofs, and the netherworld of bridges. In short I’ve always been amazed by the transition of drawing into architecture where material takes flight arranged between the limits of earth and sky. It matters not the scale of structure. I’m forever rewarded with something surprising, pleasing, and stunningly perplexing when I experience these moments. I’ll not forget my first site visit during the construction of our project for the 1994 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. I arrived to find an object I’d come to know so well through drawing and models now standing naked and proud at a busy Atlanta intersection. As I rounded the corner, walking quickly at first, my pace slowed as I followed a dozen vertical steel fingers poking the sky with rusty eagerness. Now fully aware of scale of the structure and size of individual elements, I took it all in. Amazed, I could see relationships: to the winding street, subterranean museum entrance and multi-layered parking deck beginning to resonate. Slowly construction questioned and reaffirmed design. Completed for the Olympic Games and in use for over 20 years, that first experience remains as one of amazement. Architecture, and its translation from drawing to building, always does that to me. Every single time. Since that experience I’ve worked with clients and students to gain a fuller understanding of forms in space. No matter the medium: digital or physical model, or drawing I’m consciously reminded of the difficulty
encountered by the general public when reading architectural drawings and artifacts. I’ll often be asked “Which way is up?” At that point you realize that learning to draw and learning to understand drawings is a practiced and valuable skill. Changing attitudes toward the public realm I’m also interested in changing attitudes towards and definitions of the public realm. My interest begins with history and the development of ideas regarding what was public and what was private, and when these ideas were formed. I’m fascinated by the role of culture in defining these terms: the introduction of books, trade in spices, first coffee shops and other elements that began to distinguish between Hannah Arendt’s view of a “… shadowy interior private life” and a burgeoning public one. I’m particularly interested in North American models of the public realm: their genesis and development over time and the ways in which other disciplines: law, politics, economy, science, and technologies of writing and recording, have shaped our shared understanding of public and private. School is one of the paths I often remind students that, “It’s a long life we live.” By that I mean what you learn in school is valuable, though it remains a small and distinct piece of a much larger and longer career filed with knowledge. The fact that you may not hit your stride while in school does not preclude your being a successful practitioner. School is one way to engage knowledge, though it’s not the only way. Over your career you will, and should, construct multiple knowledge paths: through online and other learning venues, hobbies, service projects, and community participation. You can use these resources and the knowledge and skills they offer in ways you choose. Yet, be prepared: for they will no doubt continue to inform the person you are and the discipline
you choose. Your career shouldn’t, and most likely won’t, rise and fall on four, five or more years of education. It’s not the path. It’s one of the paths. As an educator, my teaching has been strongly influenced by my years as a practitioner, carpenter, and contractor. What’s done in service to education is often very different from what transpires in the world of design and construction. I believe that the distance between education and practice is necessary—they’re differing yet related disciplines. My interest is in making students aware of the difference between the two. They have different protocols, different languages, and different measurements for success. It’s by understanding the space between education and practice, their similarities and difference, that we learn to value, and place in perspective, the benefits and limits of each. Buildings as part of a shared experience While it may not be difficult to do work, it’s very difficult to do high-quality work. I believe that an architect’s responsibilities extend beyond the design of buildings. And with it, the responsibility to ensure that projects add value by creating spaces that are as beneficial to the communities in which they’re built as they are for the clients for whom they’re built. If the building serves the client but fails the community, then it’s missed a critical component of architecture. A building is part of a shared experience. A house can do damage to the streetscape, a building can do damage to the community—not simply aesthetic damage—by not providing enough gathering places, or by placing a bet on a singular notion of public use only to miss it entirely. Doing work that serves the community as well as the client may be difficult, but hugely rewarding. I was buoyed by thinking of our work as part of a much larger definition of architecture. Not one shining star, though we certainly had our
share of recognition and awards. But that’s not what it’s about. The struggle is to do highquality work. Running to catch up Today, it seems that the world of industry is pushing beyond research being conducted in academia. While possibly due to the recent uptick in the economy, it appears as if industry’s been creating a consistent demand for specific tools, methods, products, and software, etc. And while academic research centers continue to generate advances, the work that’s being done in programming and technology is largely being driven by the design and construction industry. I’ve come to recognize that, if anything, institutions like universities are rather slowmoving behemoths. This most likely has to do with the scale of the academic operation than the will of it’s participants. It seems difficult for large institutions—whether corporate, NGO, or educational—to make change within native environments. It may be possible that in the future architectural education won’t continue in traditional “brick and mortar” university settings. This re-formulation may allow for smaller, more lithe, more tactical ways of gaining an education while quickly adjusting to research trends. I’d like to think that our work in architectural education may soon begin to lead rather than catch up. It may be time to recognize that the world may look and operate very differently in the coming years. Anticipating new models and implementing effective change may now be worth our undivided attention.
Gregory Donofrio Associate Professor Community collaborators Community engagement and engaged scholarship have interested me for a very long time—working with community collaborators to create what public historian Michael Frisch called “a shared authority.” It’s not the typical model of the university coming into the neighborhood and saying, we’ve studied you and here’s what we’ve found, but rather the university making partners in the community where you together form the research questions and each of you brings different sets of knowledge and perspectives
and tools. The project could not be done without the other half. For the exhibit that was hung here recently called A Right to Establish a Home, I worked with a lot of students and we worked with a lot of different people in the community. I had one person from the community in particular who was the chairperson of her neighborhood organization and who seemingly knows everybody in Minneapolis; she was really the dynamo and the inspiration for me to keep working on it. Food markets, and preserving the activities of a place I want to think more creatively within historic preservation and stretch it. In my research about food markets, I began asking, could I find preservationists in the post-World War II era who sought to preserve not just the buildings of a place but the activities of a place? The way it functioned or how it was used, and by whom—were there people who thought these aspects of a place were also historically significant? The theme I kept seeing had to do with food, either restaurants or Chinatown as food destinations, and what I settled on was historical food markets. The question started as one of preservation— could you preserve, and why would anyone want to preserve, more than just the buildings, the physicality of architecture, because that’s what we normally do. Then, what was going on with food after World War II—in
terms of government policy, supermarket shopping, and agriculture—that would make the preservation of a food use a challenge? Seeing like a state—government intervention in urban food distribution I’m very influenced by James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State and the various ways that governments take the universe and its nuance and complexity and simplify it to govern and administer. But in that process of simplification and the compression of details, certain important things are lost. Examples of state simplification that Scott sees are the use of statistics to characterize complex phenomena and the use of mapping—the selective characterization of features through maps is a way to compress complex phenomena. I see this in my research on food markets. Very different sets of professionals, some of them agricultural economists, some of them city planners, architects, chambers of commerce, reached similar conclusions about where agriculture was going and why a farmer’s market or a public market was obsolete. It seems that the government’s intervention in food market reform after World War II helped to suburbanize our food system and gave us the food system we know today. One of the unanticipated consequences may be what many are calling food deserts. There were many, many smaller grocery stores and corner food stores in cities throughout the
it is a whole resource for them to draw upon. I want them to think about their own ideas and projects as a conversation with a whole history of other ideas and projects that are going on now or happened in the past, and that people are contemplating and writing about.
nation prior to World War II, and then after the war the total number of grocery stores and supermarkets declined steadily and quite rapidly. As they decrease in number, each remaining store gets larger. The standard narrative is that the grocery stores followed their customers to the suburbs. But I believe that in demolishing these inner city food distribution markets, the government unwittingly broke a series of physical and social connections that existed in these urban markets that helped sustain smaller urban grocery stores. The major concern among urban planners in the 1920s and 30s, to the extent that they thought about food at all, was that there were too many grocery stores. Students’ engagement with scholarship, past and present There is a whole lot of information out there that it may behoove students to consider, and they are often surprised by how much other people have researched and thought about something—this world of knowledge is out there that is scholarly, that might be found on the Internet but exists beyond the places they normally see online. It can unlock a different way of thinking about their projects;
There is something to be learned at a professional school about building one’s expertise but also being a little bit humble about all there is to know and what can be known in the world. Being cognizant of that as a practitioner can be helpful to maintain a sense of that humility. Knowledge that people have in the community shouldn’t be immediately discounted—it’s helpful to work with other people as collaborators. There is so much to know in the world that you need help; you need to keep an open mind. Preservation based in designers’ creativity and inspired by community perspectives Too often in the United States preservation can be an inherently conservative practice when it comes to architecture. Where the unwritten rule is that doing less is more, sometimes doing nothing or keeping everything as found is undesirable, from aesthetic and historical perspectives. It will rarely produce exceptional architecture, and it may undermine the values associated with the building that we might like to highlight or even spotlight or restore if we were able to practice more creatively as preservation practitioners and architects. I’d like to see a mode or practice of architecture and preservation that both expresses the individual creativity of a designer and is very responsive to, and draws inspiration from, diverse community perspectives. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition where we engage communities and therefore “design by committee” or we have the solitary work of the genius architect who plops down a building from a drawing into space. There can be an exciting combination of the two.
human population, and rapid economic and demographic shifts. I am at work now on a manuscript that looks at these issues through the lens of cities, how they will change in what economists call the third industrial revolution driven by digital fabrication, renewable resources, and the mass customization of products and environments. My work as the director of the Metropolitan Design Center will be about applying these ideas in real situations, as we figure out how to stop building the 20th century city and start building the 21st century one.
Tom Fisher Professor and Director of Metropolitan Design Center Design and the question of “how should we live?” My book Designing our Way to a Better World (University of Minnesota Press, spring 2016) captures my current work on how design thinking can improve the dysfunctional systems that we have inherited from the past and how design can help us answer the question “how should we live?”—a question that has become particularly urgent in an era of dramatic climate change, a rapidly growing
A planetary Ponzi scheme We have had a “Ponzi scheme” with the planet for the last 250 years, exploiting other people, exterminating other species, and over-consuming finite resources at such a rate that we have run off the planet, since it now takes 1.4 planets to meet humanity’s current needs. When Ponzi schemes run out of people to exploit, they collapse—suddenly. That is what we now face: the imminent and inevitable collapse of our planetary Ponzi scheme and the need to imagine new ways of living that don’t depend on exploitation and over-consumption. No small task, but an urgent one and something that the design community should help lead, since our core skill involves imagining possible futures—better futures. I have long been interested in ethics, in our responsibilities to others as well as to future generations and the other species with whom we share the planet. Ethics has at its core a sense of empathy and it starts with the question: How does the world look from the perspective of others? That question should drive everything we design. We all suffer from a lot of bad design because too much of it starts from the designer’s point of view or what the designer likes. Design should start, instead, with an imaginative inhabitation of the world experienced by those we design
for. Design is not about objects or spaces; it’s about life and communities. Digital disruption Education has been disrupted by the digital revolution, which has undermined the traditional role of education to convey information. Education has to find a new purpose. I believe that lies in giving students the conceptual structures, evaluative methods, imaginative tools, and ethical grounding to help them make better decisions and have better judgment—and to help them find what they are passionate about. Educators need to model this in our own behavior. I crowd-sourced my last class to empower my students in deciding how and where they wanted to learn—I assigned students to find a space for class every week that met certain criteria. Not only did the students never choose to meet in a classroom, but they retained the material better by associating our conversations about ideas with the spaces in which we met. This recalls the old idea of teaching students to construct “memory palaces” to remember material in pre-Gutenberg Europe, but the class also used the most up-to-date social media and digital technology. By enabling students to co-create the class, I tried to prepare them for the entrepreneurial networking economy in which they will work. Education as confrontation with complex realities Teaching is a form of learning, and there is no better way to learn than to teach. I see educators becoming facilitators, instigators, and provocateurs, engaging with students in a collaborative learning process in which we all learn from one another. I think we have come to the end of the “academic exercise” and the best way to learn is through confrontation with the complex realities around us. In an era in which online learning threatens the very reason to come to a campus, I think the best way to respond is by immersing students in the complexities of real places
and real people, applying their knowledge and seeing the relationships among disciplines that the traditional structure of universities has kept hidden. Architecture as leadership I have a hunch that twenty, thirty, forty years from now less than 50 percent of architects will be designing new buildings. The rest will be exploring the many opportunities that exist before a building is designed and after it is completed—design opportunities that may not need a building, or that involve reusing existing buildings. I see architecture and design as forms of leadership. If leaders have a responsibility to look out over the horizon to see what is coming and to help communities prepare for the changes headed their way, then that is what architects do every time we look at societal or environmental trends, every time we design something that takes that into account or helps those who use or inhabit our work to adapt to the changing conditions in which they will live and work. Unfortunately, architecture, like many fields, has become specialized and separated from so-called leadership fields like politics or business. We have become far too content to play by the rules that others— mainly lawyers—write, without using the leadership skills we have to show why the world that we have created under the existing rules is unhealthy, unsustainable, and at the verge of collapse. We have a professional interest and an ethical duty to work with others in helping them envision how we can all live in more physically, socially, environmentally, and economically healthy ways. We need to have a much more expansive view of the profession and should declare all seven billion people on the planet as our clients. That will, in turn, require other practice models, similar to those of public health or public interest law, and an expansion in our services, our geographical reach, our impact.
Richard Graves Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research Integrating regenerative design with the core disciplines of design My research focus is regenerative design. It is founded on an ecological view of humanity and ecosystems as one unified community. Design creates an opportunity to transform every act of making—whether it is a product, building, or community—into a discovery of the potential and emergence of regenerative development. Regenerative design and development shifts the sustainability conversation in three fundamental ways: To be sustainable, development must align human activity with natural processes. The world is an ever-changing, impermanent, and unpredictable set of processes. Humans and nature are part of one autopoietic system where humanity participates in the production, transformation, and evolution of the ecosystem in which it finds itself. This introduces the idea that humans are not only to be responsible for consequences of their actions—reducing impact—but for the general health and well-being of the whole system of which they are part. Regenerative design has its roots in the work of Rudolph Steiner, Sim Van der Ryn, John Tilman Lyle, Ray Cole, and Bill Reed, and Ray Cole. The current challenge for the architecture profession is to extend the theory and find opportunities to bridge it to practice. This opens up an opportunity to integrate regenerative design more closely with the core disciplines of design—the core of what it means to be an architect, a designer or maker interacting with the world. Teaching systems and cycles Part of the core knowledge of being an architect is understanding how to think in systems and cycles. Regenerative systems work in cycles. John Tillman Lyle wrote Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development in the
‘90s, a set of diagrams for the way systems worked. In my graduate seminar, I teach students to think in systems and to redesign past studio projects to create the potential for regenerative sustainability to emerge. The value of regenerative design in life after cheap fossil fuels Right now, sustainability and environmental issues are seen as a separate part of design. But the act of making a building on this Earth which responds to sunlight, wind, heat, people, and the use of resources is fundamental to architecture. 200 + years of cheap fossil fuels has disconnected us from the epistemological core of architecture. Regenerative design reconciles the act of making with the impacts to socio-ecological systems. How can it have positive effects and be healthy? It’s a fundamental element of designing and making. We have a recent history within design and design theory that disconnects us from that situation, and what I would like to see is a reimagining, a reinvigorating of this kind of approach to design. In the next 50 to 100 years, as we start to transform to regenerative design, I am hoping that will mean a rediscovery the core skills the profession brings to humanity. Regenerative design is an avenue for the profession to show the value of architecture. Good design benefits the public; good design benefits ecosystems. It’s about the expansion and education of the designer’s mind— creatively combining the best of technology with a sensitive understanding of natural systems is essential as we remake our place on Earth.
Mary Guzowski Professor Designing for zero-energy in Minnesota In the last few years I have been working with the Center for Sustainable Building Research on the Zero-Energy Campus Design Project, exploring daylighting and low-energy design in the early design phases for campus buildings. The inspiration is to get at zero-energy strategies, how these issues shape design and how they can create more meaningful places and benefit the university in terms of energy consumption. It’s how light and energy are architectural in terms of experience and health and wellness and performance. The University is really trying to understand what to invest in and how to leverage a next generation of performance in design. We have reached a plateau in Minnesota where we do high-performance buildings well—but what’s the next generation of design? There are precedents around the world, in Germany and Scandinavia and other cold climates, for an architectural approach to
energy. We have really great systems and technologies, but what could we do better in Minnesota around passive design? How do passive strategies for lighting, cooling, and heating matter in a cold climate, and how are they also beautiful? What might we do to create, not just highperformance buildings, but buildings that are much closer to being “sustainable”—through low or zero energy? What’s regenerative? And how might that become more everyday and not just for high-end projects? The next generation of daylighting design Underneath everything I do are the questions of what is our role as a species and how do we have a relationship that supports life? It happens to be that my lens is through architecture. This earth is so exquisitely beautiful—how do we design in ways that support that? One of my concerns with where daylighting is going is that there’s been a real push for a numeric approach to daylighting and methods, and this can miss the experiential
aspects of daylight that are dynamic and living and changing and that respond seasonally. The working title of my new book is The Art of Architectural Daylighting, and it’s looking at 12 contemporary masters who are able to balance the poetic and the pragmatic. I have identified architects whom I think are really skillful at creating beautiful architectural experiences and also respond thoughtfully to performance and energy. They are on the edge of what I would say is a next generation of daylighting design. So much attention is paid to the building envelope and pattern and surface that the art of creating meaningfully illuminated spaces is starting to be lost. What is really the art of daylighting in the 21st century that bridges creating beautiful, meaningful experiences and deals with issues of regenerative design and sustainability? How do you wed those, and what are the trade-offs? This book will be a resource for students and practitioners to think in fresh ways about the role of light and sustainable regenerative design and to be inspired by architects. I’m also very interested in scale jumping. How is daylighting or sustainable design architectural at different scales? Both my research and my teaching are integrative; some is more qualitative, like narrative description or images or atmospheric explorations in physical models. And other projects are much more analytical, things like program mapping and diagramming, assessing climate and evaluating light levels or energy performance. I like to work both dimensions with the students, to work with a diverse toolkit to help understand and inform the poetic and pragmatic aspects of design. There continues to be some part of sustainability, daylighting, and passive design that is quantifiable and some part that is immeasurable and just art. We need to include both.
Giving students a flexible toolkit I’m always asking, what is a question that would be helpful for the next generation of designers who are students? My contributions to the curriculum design and development is continuing to make movement on understanding regenerative sustainable design. Our students are going to be practicing everywhere, and it’s important to give them a sense of, although we live here, how do we also understand that every place is unique? How can we take some overall methods and processes of design inquiry and exploration and analysis, and go beyond a particular problem or location—how can they be adapted? I try to give students a framework, a way of exploring design, as well as a toolkit that is flexible enough for them to develop their own theory and to apply it to their own practice and methods, always with a goal of how, with regenerative design and sustainability, are we progressing? The experiential meets the digital Whether it’s a class on thermal and luminous design, or acoustics, or sustainable theory in practice, we’re responsible for looking beyond—looking around the world, at what are the leading edges. Some of the methods and tools are really simple. It may be just taking the time to revisit a site over seven weeks in the studio and getting to know it through time. As we shift to more virtual and digital tools, I’m finding a need to bring back hands-on and real physical experiences to the students, like simple sketching and diagramming, or revisiting the site and getting to know climate and place, focusing more on users and linking needs with a real place in time. Our digital trajectory as a culture is changing my teaching; it’s bringing more of the experiential through physical observation, models, and drawings and exploring how that’s meeting the digital and virtual.
Lisa Hsieh Assistant Professor Play I am driven by the different conceptions of play in architecture. I don’t mean just playfulness/folly, but also other play rhetorics, as play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith distinguishes: power play, play as performance, play as transformation, the construction of identity, and so on. A paradigm shift in Japanese architecture One thing that drives my scholarship and practice is Japanese culture—architecture is a cultural product. My research investigates architecture specifically produced in the cultural context of Japanese New Wave. My work is inspired by Japanese art critic Miyakawa Atsushi’s incisive thesis, in 1964, “Descent to Everyday” [Nihijo-sei eno kaki], which consigns an end to Japanese modern art. In postwar Japan, artists began to use
everyday signs, everyday symbols, everyday objects to produce art. I look at the parallel in the world of Japanese architecture, especially the New Wave generation. A paradigm shift occurred after Metabolism, which prevailed in Japanese architecture in the 1960s. Shifting to New Wave in the 1970s, Japanese architecture dissolved into a somewhat amorphous, horizontal expansion of powers—or “clouds,” if you will—from its previous pyramidal structure. The collapse of the pyramid did not happen overnight but through small acts of play, like guerilla attacks. A fitting image is given by The Japan Architect, which uses an adaptation of the legendary Japanese folding screen “Wind God Thunder God” to portray New Wave as billowing clouds underneath two dominant Metabolist figures. And like “clouds,” the powers of New Wave continue to shift. This New Wave generation of architects was more concerned about their own grassroots
culture and in correlating architecture with it. Because of New Wave’s pluralistic nature, Atsushi’s work offers me a suitable philosophical/conceptual frame to examine the period. Interplay of design and history/theory Besides Atsushi’s work, my research is in part predicated on the French cultural theorists Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life. Instead of employing a big conceptual umbrella, my method of investigation finds logic amid disjointed ideas in the local and the details, in relation to specific circumstances and incidences—of what de Certeau calls “science of singularity.” I look for ways to connect architecture with specific cultural grassroots case by case, whether it’s Japanese or Minnesotan, so that our teaching/design/practice is more grounded and connected. It is important to ensure that our field is relational, whether to others or within our own architectural discipline, so as to open up conversations and possibilities and not grow too comfortable in doing familiar things in familiar ways. Novelty and creativity are as important as traditions. It is important to embrace change and differences, even paradoxes. Ultimately, because of my dual training as a designer and a historian/theorist, I’m always asking, how can design and history/ theory inform and inspire each other to advance the discipline of architecture? And I’m always finding ways to bridge and bring various aspects of architecture into a productive whole. The common denominators Whether it’s Japanese cultural theories, play theories, or New Wave thinking, I use them in order to communicate what is basic to the discipline of architecture. Then again, in teaching design, I must constantly adjust myself, and my work, and learn what’s contemporary and significant to our
discipline today, whether in the realm of technology, material culture, or ideas. Markedly, architects tend to borrow ideas from different disciplines, and we get drawn to what’s in fashion. If a certain school of philosophy or technology is in vogue, you bring it into architecture. Tomorrow is something else altogether. But there are common denominators in the basics of architecture that we don’t focus on enough today. It’s not about one school, one theory or another— there’s always the need to address the basics, things like enclosure, space, form, architectural language.
Cynthia Jara Associate Professor I chose to pursue a career in architecture after completing a liberal arts degree in history and a graduate degree in curriculum and teaching. Although the decision initially seemed abrupt—and dangerously arbitrary—it developed into a settled determination. Despite this late start, I completed my professional education and was working in practice when I was drafted to teach design. I believe in the primacy of design as a way of thinking—this is the core of our profession. Finding relevance in hermeneutics and literacy Early in my teaching, the philosophy of hermeneutics assumed a critical role in my
understanding of design and the creative process. Sources in my background as a history major may have biased this direction, although I did not realize their full significance at the time. Two, in particular, were R.G. Collingwood’s Idea of History (1946) and Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. Collingwood was a professor of history at Oxford University following the end of World War I. He challenged conventional views of history, laying the groundwork for new approaches based on advances in philosophy. Nearer the end of the century, Collingwood’s insistence on the importance of refining a question prior to seeking its answer would come to the attention of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer focused on this idea and used it to
further the development of his own hermeneutic arguments. Huizinga, a Dutch historian of roughly the same era as Collingwood, was widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of social history. In his final manuscript, published posthumously, Huizinga examined the anthropology and aesthetics of structured play. His work in this arena has gathered momentum since World War II and is currently seen as critical in describing the creative potential implicit in hermeneutics. My graduate focus in curriculum and teaching centered on the relationship between storytelling and literacy. During the second half of the twentieth century, the view that architectural thinking should remain primarily visual restricted attention to traditional forms of verbal expression, a position that always struck me as fundamentally incorrect. In contrast, I believe that narrative forms of telling a story are implicit in the pursuit of things yet to be imagined and made. My investigation into the role of hermeneutic processes has opened a scholarly path to the alternative idea that visual and verbal thinking interact in a way that needs to be recognized. The pragmatics of teaching Iâ€™ve heard myself say, on one occasion or another, that I gave up making buildings to make architects, and I am committed to the belief that the teaching of design is itself a creative process. Relative to the pragmatics of teaching, I think it is important to understand the distinction between epistemology and methodology. Ideally, design should be taught through an understanding of epistemologyâ€”a theory of knowledge that underlies the engagement between student and instructor. From a hermeneutic standpoint, this means that instructor and student must communicate on the same level, although it can be difficult to maneuver students into a position where they are able to appreciate this.
A corollary of the hermeneutic approach to design is that students transition to become independent professionals. At the same time, it is important that students recognize design as a service profession, similar to the way in which medicine and law are service professions. Architects must understand the needs of their clients through engagement that is free from condescension.
Lance LaVine Professor Energy, environment, and the role of technology in design My initial research focus was energy and the environment, and that culminated in a project called Energy Assets—a design assistant program from the local utility— which is still in process. My interest in energy then led me to an interest in design per se, beginning with the role of technology in design, as distinct from engineering, and I wrote a book called Mechanics in Meaning. Currently, I’m looking at the problem of where design instructors get their authority to teach the subject. Most of that authority seems to come from personal proclivity rather than a more rigorous base. So, historians in architecture have a base in the humanities, people in technology have a base in engineering, and people who teach design don’t have one that I can identify. Modernism, architecture, and the problem of meaning Architecture revolves around the problem of meaning. The problem of meaning is a significant modern problem because modernism dislodged conventional notions of meaning, beginning in 1600 but certainly in architecture after 1850 with the Crystal Palace. The
Crystal Palace to me stands for industrialization of buildings, and industrialization meant that buildings would be what machines could make easily. Machines like repetitive acts, and buildings became the product of those repetitive acts. The same ethic that drove our use of machines, that of efficiency and economy, began to drive buildings. As efficiency and economy drove buildings, buildings began to lose meaning. The outcome that you see today is the big box stores or towers. Those buildings are simply the product of industrial logics made possible through engineering. Modern architecture is a fight back against that industrialization. Our great buildings have been heroic attempts to recapture meaning. Meaning is a difficult concept; it’s the least certain, most provocative, and probably most beneficial thing that architects do for society—to create buildings that have meaning. Meaning comes in lots of flavors, but it needs to be revelatory. It
needs, in some way, to reveal something that has stayed hidden until now. Buildings and architecture reveal ideas that are central to us about habitation. Architecture is not thought of as being parallel to philosophy, literature, music, or art in terms of creating the meaning of the modern world. If you read compendia of ideas that are central to the creation of the modern world, modern architecture is not included in that pantheon of ideas. It has every right to be. The reason that it isn’t is that we don’t present our buildings to one another or to the world as worthy ideas, ideas really worth considering in terms of meaning in a modern world. Set the bar high enough, and encourage students to jump over the bar Every student comes with a different set of skills and talents, and our job is to encourage them. I think students will do as well as they can if two things occur: one, you set the bar high enough, and two, you encourage them to jump over that bar. I have found that being critical is not very helpful to students—it doesn’t really give them a place to go, and it’s hard on their self-confidence. The second skill that students need to develop is working with others. When architects leave school, they’re not going to be lone rangers the way they are here. They will be part of a team, and they need to be encouraged to hear, understand, and work with other people. Meaning is our most important product We all operate under a large umbrella of ideas, for instance, thinking that the world is understandable. We think that because the Greeks thought that. Other people think the world isn’t understandable—if you were a Talmage thinker, you wouldn’t think that the world was understandable; you would think that it was wonder. We all operate under the aegis of grand, essentially, thinking limits or proposals.
I think my work is important to architecture because I really do believe that meaning is our most important product—that we don’t specify our building that way, that we should, that they are worthy. It would certainly help teachers if we developed our notions of meaning thoroughly enough so that we understood what one another was saying; it would help our students if they understood what we were saying instead of simply going through exercises trying to please us; and it would certainly help the profession, because the profession wouldn’t be regarded as simply decorators of utility. It would be regarded as people who are central to providing meaning in a modern era. Living in the modern world I hope that my work implies thoughtfulness. I think that architecture has produced wonderful, wonderful things. I think the world would be much less rich without us. What I would hope is that architecture wouldn‘t simply be the vanguard of environmentalism, though I think that’s critical; it wouldn’t simply be the vanguard of technical efficiency, though I think that’s critical, too; it wouldn’t even just be the vanguard of beauty of image, though I think that’s important. It would be the vanguard of sets of ideas that let us know how we live, in our buildings, in the modern world.
Gayla Lindt Lecturer in Architecture and Director, Bachelor of Design in Architecture Critical thinking, divergent thinking, and epiphany Metacognition can accelerate a studentâ€™s learning and understanding. I have seen moments of epiphany, for example, when I pull back, outside of an immediate moment of impasse, and remind students of what the effort is all about. Terms like critical thinking and design process should never be taken for granted, but should be defined overtly and repeatedly for students as part of their architecture education. To me, this is a necessary part of how we help students operate within a complex arena of issues, questions, and ideas that relate to architecture.
The design process is a productive blending of critical thinking and creative thinking. Critical thinking has, at its core, three qualities. The first is seeing across four dimensions (from every possible vantage point, at all scales, and through time). The second is a relentless asking of questions. The third is discernmentâ€”establishing criteria and values that provide a framework for making decisions and developing ideas. Creative thinking is about making connections, of divergent and convergent modes of operating; and architecture is a materialized idea, so the process of making architecture is a process of thinking through materials and making. I am excited about the parallels between interdisciplinary work and the design
process, both of which are inherently about analyzing from multiple perspectives and then synthesizing a response. This means to me that design educators are well positioned to teach interdisciplinary courses far beyond interdisciplinary design studios. This is not without challenges, of course. I have found it fascinating to work with honors students from a range of academic disciplines. While they were all open to the premise of the interdisciplinary course (revealing six “simultaneous truths” about a single thing), I was surprised by the range of comfort with divergent thinking. Design students, perhaps in part by nature and in part through practice, are across the board more comfortable with divergent thinking; they understand its necessity before honing in and developing any single idea. Words as representation, words in the design process Words are a form of representation and reflect a way of thinking. In the discipline and teaching of architecture, words cannot supersede the material artifact, yet are a fundamental way of knowing and of communicating ideas. Most students enter architecture school far more comfortable with words than with making things. As teachers, we need to be aware of this and develop a student’s ability to leverage words in his or her design process. Simultaneously, and more importantly, we need to flip a word-dominant mode of understanding to be a way of knowing that is formal, spatial, material, and temporal—to be thinking through making and in three (and even four) dimensions. Words as part of education and practice are like formwork for concrete. We must consider and use them carefully, yet in the end, words are stripped away and have left an indelible impression on how the architecture itself is perceived. When, where, why, and how can words leverage or jeopardize a design process? I recently taught an interdisciplinary honors
course where we were intentionally seeking multiple perspectives on a single thing. The project was to write six essays from six different disciplinary perspectives. The common thread was using words, yet we collectively realized that we could leverage the specific, traditional forms of word-representations to reveal these myriad perspectives. Instead of writing six essays, students wrote short stories, a haiku, a grievance letter, a screenplay, a eulogy. This was a wonderfully clear comment about form + content, about how versatile words can be as a form of representation. There is something compelling about these abstractions that we call words having tremendous capacity to convey meaning, tremendous flexibility in how they moderate between the reader and the writer. The potential of children’s books Children’s book illustrations operate as a lens on architecture and vice versa. In Dr. Seuss books, for example, we see wild and wonderful expressions of things—both in words and pictures—that we have never seen before, and yet we recognize these things as “bridges,” “houses,” “landscapes,” etc. A workshop I taught in the Bachelor of Design in Architecture program explored the potential of children’s books to reveal these ideas of type and model, of visual representation of spatial ideas, of how we form deep and fundamental relationships with space and form as children. Lessons I often tell students when they are in a valley of struggle that, more often than not, some of the most important lessons they will learn while in architecture school are not professional, but are personal: getting past the fear of being wrong, being willing to put ideas that are not yet fully formed on the table for discussion, managing their time and focusing attention when there are a thousand distractions, balancing personal relationships with school work and sometimes making difficult, painful decisions along the way.
Simple frameworks on which to hang complexity We need simple frameworks on which to organize complexities. Process can be thought of as a series of actions (prompt, gather, distill, represent); we can consider our project through four lenses (site, program, circumstance, and assembly); we can ask ourselves whether we are (or should be) operating in a closed (convergent) mode or an open (divergent) mode. I am here to make a difference in how students perceive, process, and respond as architects to the world around them. The world is complex, and quite messy at times. If one of our graduates was in the middle of a messy, complex process, and he or she paused for a moment and stepped back to see, instead, a simple framework on which to hang that complexity, then my work as an educator has made a difference.
Jim Lutz Lecturer, IDP Educator Coordinator Sustainability, public interest design, and buildings as ethical statements What drives my interest in sustainability is the urgency of the situation, and the huge role that architecture plays as a possible avenue to ameliorating the negative effects of global climate change. This interest in sustainability is directly tied to public interest design, which I view as design tailored to historically under-resourced communitiesâ€”90 to 98 percent of the worldâ€™s population. Those communities are going to be the most affected and least equipped to deal with the challenges of global climate change. They donâ€™t have direct access to what designers can bring. In our entry, back in 2009, in the Solar Decathlon, working with the student-led team was very rewarding. I am also proud of the work that our students did in Haiti,
working on post-earthquake reconstruction. It was gratifying to see how they rose to the occasion and were able to apply what they had learned in the classroom and studio to real-life situations. I look at every building as an ethical statement, the physical manifestation of the core values held by the person who designed it. If you look at it that way, it changes your perspective on design and on architecture in particular. If you see a building that doesn’t meaningfully respond to the social and environmental imperatives that we’re dealing with, that says a lot about the ethical beliefs of its designer. Are those concerns secondary or tertiary or even lower on your list of priorities? How do you rank these considerations? Are they an afterthought or are you putting most of your effort into dealing with the major challenges we face? Learning to frame the questions Students come to architecture school thinking that they are going to get the answers, and what I think is the most important is learning how to ask the questions. Architects have to know what questions need to be asked and how to frame those questions. That changes how I teach, and how I try to convey to students what I think is important. It is essential to be critical and inquisitive and to learn to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” That can be very liberating. I’m a pragmatist. There are problems that need to be solved, and we need to figure out the most elegant way to do so—I use that term in the way a mathematician would. What is the shortest and most direct way between the problem and the solution? As someone once said, “Architecture is simple, but simplicity is difficult.” Responsive buildings and the givens of a site As an architect, for me it is essential to begin with the site. There are certain things you
can change and other things you cannot. You can’t change where the sun comes up in the morning or where it sets in the evening, you can’t change the direction of the prevailing winds. For high-performance, responsive buildings those are the givens that we should be working with—it starts from there. Art and science I view architecture as an art that is tempered by science and sobered by necessity. It has to stand up, it has to be durable and buffer the elements, it has to meet functional requirements; and art is the poetic aspects of architecture. That has been my touchstone. For many years I’ve been interested in the relationship between sound and space, specifically, the theoretical and historical intersections between architecture and music. That’s a pretty esoteric subject, but I do find occasional opportunities to share it with students. I co-taught a class at a liberal arts college with the head of the music program—it was called “Seeing Music, Hearing Architecture.” He would teach one week, I would teach the other. I really enjoyed that. Architecture as a verb It’s my hope that my work causes students to question the definition of architecture in the traditional sense and to think about architecture as a verb rather than a noun. And to think about making and doing and getting intimately involved with the design process, especially as it relates to under-served communities. This is an interesting time for the architecture profession. To borrow a quote: “it would be a shame to waste a good crisis.” The profession has gone through trying times in recent years, and I hope it uses this opportunity to reflect and to figure out how it can better serve a wider segment of the global population who could really benefit from what designers have to offer. It’s essential that the field of architecture broaden its base.
Andrzej Piotrowski Professor Epistemology of design My focus is on the epistemology of architectural design, how one understands the product and the act of designingâ€”the outcome, the process, and the receptionâ€” as different from the practices of writing or painting, for example. Other issues I study are a consequence of that. The geography of architectural history, for instance, focuses not on the relationship among architectural ideas within the progression of time, but rather on their relationships in space.
Cultural studies and a post-colonial perspective A post-colonial perspective helps me to research and teach complexities of cultural relationships. It is important, for example, to understand that Spaniards not only conquered but also absorbed Moorish and Mexican cultures. My book, Architecture of Thought, is different from many other architectural books, utilizing sources and theories unusual in a traditional model of architectural scholarship. I invest my time in things that are insufficiently studied, places or times of little-known consequences. My current scholarship focuses on connections that
learn how to bring rigor to nonverbal thinking. No other discipline teaches this. Young architects need this skill to conceptualize complex ideas—they must be able to comprehend or to be inspired by the non-verbal aspects of any cultural production. These explorations frequently start with visual manifestations of cultural phenomena and end in diagrammatic representations leading to design decisions. Complex cultural phenomena The world changes dynamically, and students of architecture need to learn how to observe things changing and draw conclusions useful for architecture … a changing economic and industrial landscape, a global world. The architectural profession is deeply implicated in these processes. If one questions tacit assumptions behind common beliefs or trends, one can observe what actually motivates architecture and its perception. I attempt to transform these observations into teaching strategies and contemporary ways of designing architecture. The oversimplification of educational issues to make them easy and appealing—reducing design thinking to problem solving, for example—is short-sighted. Architecture should re-establish itself as an intellectual and pragmatic profession capable of competently engaging the most complex contemporary issues.
existed between the West, Middle East, and Asia, a profound relationship of different religions and cultures. It shows that Christianity is a deeply syncretic religion, and this is most apparent in its architecture. Visual manifestations and nonverbal thinking The epistemological emphasis of my work reveals that students of architecture must
Julia Robinson Professor Social aspects of design How do we create places that build a better way of life, a better culture in the anthropological sense? My fundamental interest is in the social aspects of design. How can we make places that reflect and support our highest ideals for social justice and for beautiful daily living for all? Can we make settings that are more generous and kind, and that support human dignity and human health? It is my hope that combining the current interest in public interest design with evidence-based design will lead to a greater appreciation of the importance of, as well as an understanding of how to serve the human beings that inhabit our environments, so that social issues become as central to architecture as are questions of form. Architectural knowledge and evidence-based design My research interests are driven by a fascination with architectural knowledge and how
that relates to the way that architects, theorists/researchers, and building inhabitants think. Earlier in my career, I identified these perspectives as conception, perception, and reception of architecture (not identical, but related to Lefebvreâ€™s conceptions of space). I have written about how architecture can be analyzed and interpreted with the purpose of better understanding, teaching, and implementing what we do as designers in such texts as Programming as Design, which I co-authored with Steve Weeks, and Institution and Home: Architecture as Cultural Medium. Along with this has come a profound interest in developing architectural research to create what is now called evidence-based design, a concern to develop design methods that engage researchâ€”not just problem-solving, but with design exploration as well. Authors who have influenced my work include Rapoport, Schon, Broadbent, Alexander, Foucault, Bourdieu, Zeisel, Eco, and Lang, as I have combined interests in architectural design and theory, anthropology and social science, linguistics (semiotics/typology), and
literary theory (reception theory). Together these authors and theories address how architecture is both a process of making things, and, once built, a cultural medium that communicates how we ought to live. This has led to an understanding that architecture is both a discipline, with a knowledge base that needs to be developed, and a practice (as addressed in The Discipline of Architecture, the book edited by Andrzej Piotrowski and me). New understandings of housing, homes, and urban fabric In my research on institution and home I realized that it was possible to develop design directives that would give direction without being prescriptive—that would be open to revision and new understandings. By using the dialectic relationship between institution and home we were able to help designers see broad principles and details and bring their own observations to the process. In my research on Dutch complex housing I am working on the difference between understanding housing as a building, as we do in the United States, and understanding housing as an urban fabric. When you assume that housing is a building, you tend to understand it as existing on a limited site and having one housing type. When you conceive of housing as a fabric, you can more easily combine housing types and create urban spaces like courtyards. It opens up new ways of making a dense city an attractive and lively place. Challenging students to examine precedents, suspend judgment, and look for patterns Teachers do not need to “teach,” but rather to set a framework for student learning to take place. I challenge students to explore ideas, to observe the world around them with fresh eyes, to look at precedents, to investigate alternatives. I challenge them to suspend judgment as they explore.
Designers need to have a deep understanding of what is happening now as well as what has been done in the past so that they can make innovations that do not engender new problems or damage systems that work well. The exploration of precedents should open students to seeing underlying design principles as much as particular interesting solutions. Developing alternatives keeps us open to new ideas rather than jumping on the first good one. And as one explores ideas, it is important to allow new patterns to emerge so that each new understanding adds to the whole rather than creating a new tangent. I believe in reflective practice and evidencebased design that come from a deep understanding of design process. The goal is for students to independently apply the appropriate design tools at the right time. Cooperation between academia and practice Going forward, long-term planning and building maintenance will be essential parts of architectural practice, as architects will increasingly be on retainer and take responsibility for their buildings after they are built. And just as we now look to sustainable principles as the normal way of practicing, so in the near future we will see evidencebased design as normal. It is exciting to see research cooperation between academia and practice—as offices discover that knowledge-building creates a more trusting working relationship with clients even as it advances the profession as a whole.
Ozayr Saloojee Associate Professor Contested terrains I’m interested in how architecture, as a practice and as a discipline, participates in the larger cultural terrains around it—the interplay between buildings, politics, culture, and social practice within complex landscapes and complex urban infrastructures. I’m especially interested in how these questions can be understood spatially through contested terrains, and, as such, I have research interests in Islamic art and architecture, in the urban landscapes of Istanbul and South Africa, and in the local context of the liquid terrain of the Great Lakes and Great Lakes region.
Regional, national, continental, planetary More than ever, architecture needs to reach beyond its own disciplinary boundaries if we want to have a meaningful profession and a meaningful academy. We need more interdisciplinary work, particularly with disciplines engaged in both big and small questions of climate change, climate adaptation, community, resilience, and equity. These are critical to the education of the architect. Combining work at large scales—regional, national, continental, and planetary; landscape, urban, social, and geographical—in addition to the smaller, more micro scales of architecture, is an important arena of engagement. It’s essential to help students learn how to ask the right questions with respect to their work and what their work entails in a larger
context than only the design studio or the classroom. Community engagement, collaborative practice, interdisciplinary praxis, and crossing disciplinary boundaries is key to fostering engaged, vital, rabidly curious and focused students. I try to keep at the core of my teaching and research the importance of being aware of how one’s work connects to a larger network of understanding and expertise, partnership and equity, and of doing work that is both historically situated and creatively projective. I think it’s really important to challenge the norm of academic autonomy: work that reaches outside of itself, outside of the studio, the classroom, the university; work that reaches into meaningful and sustained partnerships with those around us, close to us, far from us; work that accepts expertise beyond our own knowledge as essential—and equal!—co-conspirators in trying to move forward, to build good things, to be good. I feel like this kind of work can help create architects who are good designers and good citizens and who have—in addition to being able to work in complex landscapes
and complex projects—compassion and empathy. Designing more resilient urban futures I hope that my work brings more productive and critical overlap in our teaching and research that goes beyond a professional definition of what architecture is, does, needs to be, should be. As our cities, demographics, politics, terrains, climate, landscapes, and technologies transform scale at hyperspeed—geologic time in an instant— how are we collaboratively helping to position the discipline to work with and in communities; to effect more human, more resilient, more creative and engaging architecture and urbanism? The work of teaching is in large part about partnering with students in trying to imagine, design, and help implement more resilient urban futures.
Daniela Sandler Assistant Professor Memory, equality, and history in cities I’m interested in social justice—in gentrification and equal access to public space and urban resources, and also how we tell certain histories. How do different regions of the world figure in the history of
architecture—Latin America as opposed to Europe? How can our scholarship reflect or redress the inequalities? My research has focused on São Paulo and Berlin. I address the same issues in both cities, but not in direct comparison. Each city raises its own particularities—in Berlin, memory and history are very pressing, and
in São Paulo the issues of equality are more to the fore. My goal is a more inclusive city from bottom up. My new research project is on a constellation of small-scale urban initiatives, most of them informal or grassroots. My project will include a digital map to geolocate these initiatives. Each initiative might be small in itself, but together they are bigger than the sum of their parts. My work will contribute both by documenting these initiatives and by
discussing them critically in a way that highlights their value, and then congregating them in a public online platform that can be divulged to other audiences and to the people in São Paulo. Production of and representations of space I’m interested in the symbolic representation of space, and how people understand it and conceptualize it in the present or the past. Memory is representation, and it plays into our understanding of space—who has a
right to a certain space, or what uses should happen there? How do the stories that we tell about spaces have to do with present political stakes? My work is framed by the idea of the social production of space. Probably the most influential thinker for me is Lefebvre and his study of space, which values different ways of producing space, acknowledging how people use it in the everyday. His work is a framework for understanding urban processes, but it is also prescriptive. I also am trying to understand certain processes, and I also have a certain argument for how I think things should be. I am interested in informal ways of transforming space that come from either collective action or individual initiatives outside of official frameworks. How architects and non-architects transform space, either through use or the way they occupy and appropriate the space, or through concerted action, be it an occupation, an event, a performance, an installation, or something more permanent. Articulating a critical and historical position I want students to come out of my class feeling confident that even if they encounter a building they have never seen before, they’ll understand it. They’ll be able to say something meaningful about it, and not just “I think it’s pretty.” I want them to develop deductive powers that they can apply to look at a building and articulate a position, both critical and historical. Not in the sense of connoisseurship, but in a sense of placing it in a cultural context. Ruinophilia in Detroit I like ruins! The idea of ruination is the center of my book manuscript on Berlin. Not ruins in themselves, but the idea of ruination and deterioration. In a new side project, I’m looking at Detroit and how it’s
been represented as a city of ruins. What does it mean to look at the post-industrial landscape? People go to Detroit just to play around in the ruins. There is a word for it: ruinophilia. The people of Detroit have reacted against it and are very resentful of this idea that others can enjoy it as a city of ruins. There is a counter image of Detroit as a city of farms, urban agriculture. So you are talking of the empty lots and the ruins and you’re transforming it into orchards and planting tomatoes. For me the two representations are problematic in preventing a deeper understanding or engagement with the city. I criticize these urban representations, but I also recognize that there is some truth in both of them. How do you take that grain of truth but also undo the representation, and then move on to something more productive? Romance of ruins in Berlin In my research on Berlin, the main discovery was the moment I realized what my topic was: that people in Berlin were embracing decrepitude as a way of living their everyday in the spaces they inhabited. I began studying official preservation practices in the city. This included some ruins, picturesque ruins left as memorials or parks. But then when I was there, I started to realize that people willingly lived in buildings that looked liked they were falling apart. I come from Brazil, so that was shocking for me, because when you live in Brazil, a building that’s falling apart is such a signifier of not having any alternatives. If you have any sort of resources, you will paint it over, you’re not going to let it fall apart. In Berlin I would meet these people— students, artists, designers, architects— who chose to live in buildings that looked like they were falling apart on the outside. The common areas were also decrepit. And then you would open the door of the apartments or offices, and they would be very well taken care of. How do these two things exist
together? When I started to interview these people, I sensed that there was a pride in that. A little bit of a romance of ruins. People had different reasons for it, but it was intentional. It was really striking; it completely changed my research, and it became my topic. Inclusive architecture My new research project (on São Paulo) is nontraditional because the things I’m looking at are not considered architecture conventionally. I’m not the only one who looks at architecture in this way, but I do think it is a new way of looking at architecture in terms of the informal and the temporary, the everyday, the collective, the grassroots, the insurgent—in a way that enlarges the definition of architecture without losing its specificity. It’s a more inclusive kind of architecture, both in the people who are included in making it and in the fruits of it.
Katherine Solomonson Associate Professor Inherited environments, shaped and reshaped over time I was drawn to the School of Architecture by the opportunity to bring my work in architectural history into conversation with contemporary design, planning, and public interest. Soon after I arrived in Minnesota, residents of north Minneapolis public housing were suing the Housing Authority. A team of University of Minnesota researchers and designers (some of them students) were brought in to evaluate the site. We began by digging into the area’s history to understand how it was shaped and reshaped over time, and this process of peeling back layers, from housing to underlying geology, deepened our understanding of current site conditions and revealed how changing configurations of buildings and landscapes had contributed both to the formation of dynamic communities and to longstanding processes of racial segregation and injustice. What we learned from the site’s history contributed to proposals for what it could become in the future. Some of these ideas took off, others didn’t. Since then, many factors have informed the way the site has been developed—geography, economics, politics, and so on. But its history is fully present, affording and constraining choices people are making today, even when they don’t fully realize it. I am intrigued with the ways the past is continuously present: in the histories we construct, the environments we experience every day, the injustices we perpetuate and seek to ameliorate, and in the ways we shape the future. We spend our lives immersed in environments we’ve inherited, places that have been shaped and reshaped over time. Newly constructed buildings often betray spatial attitudes that owe as much to the late 19th century as the 21st. Most houses—even new ones and even those that are in some
ways highly innovative—owe significant aspects of their designs to social and cultural changes that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries. How, and why? The answers to those questions deepen our understanding of houses past and present, and they may also catalyze innovation. Relationships between artifacts and spaces, cultural values and social practices As a historian, I’m particularly interested in the ideas, processes, and actors that converged to produce buildings and landscapes in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Although I focus on buildings, I work across scales, from expansive cultural landscapes to individual structures and objects small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. The College of Design, which incorporates many design-related fields, supports these cross-disciplinary inclinations. How are artifacts and spaces, cultural values and social practices, interrelated? How are economy and politics, spirituality and sensory delight, materialized and performed? To answer
these questions, I focus on space as well as style, dynamic processes and expansive systems as well as individual buildings and landscapes. Consider Itasca State Park, known to many Minnesotans as the place where the Mississippi River begins. When you first arrive in the park, you find “Headwaters” signs pointing to the spot where a slender stream emerges from Lake Itasca and spills over stepping stones that mark the place where the river begins. Each year, swarms of visitors slip and slide across those stones, play in the shallow waters, and have their pictures taken at the “source.” But what I soon learned, and what many visitors may not realize, is that Itasca State Park’s “headwaters,” stepping stones, and “source” are all part of an imaginative fabrication produced by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. With some research, I found every element of this site to be open to question: the definition
and location of the source itself, the miniaturized concept of the headwaters (a complex system expanding well beyond the park), the version of history materialized and enacted here, the idea of what a river’s source is and should look like, and clashing concepts of how the land should be understood and used, to whom it belongs, what “belonging” actually means. This led to developing a deep history of how the area we now call Itasca State Park has changed over time. It also demanded an analysis of the broader systems and networks—Ojibway and Euro-American; human and nonhuman; ecological, political, economic, social, cultural—that intersect
here. My purpose wasn’t simply to expose a delightful example of landscape architecture as some kind of hoax. It was to understand how and why this site took this particular form, and, equally important, how its design performs: the versions of history it promotes, whose interests it serves and through what means—in short, the forms of cultural work it does in the midst of clashing concepts and forms of space, place, and culture. Identifying material and spatial conditions and practices that perpetuate injustice How does this relate to architectural education? Architects draw upon precedents as
conditions and practices that perpetuate injustice? How do we move away from reproducing those conditions to envision alternatives, further social justice, and design for the public good? I tell my students that studying history is an act of imagination as well as disciplined inquiry, that it requires empathy as well as critical analysis. The latter is essential for understanding and engaging cultural diversity, whether in the past or the present. So is the importance of learning to recognize and look critically at your own assumptions, including those that seem so invisible as to be natural, but that are cultural constructs. It’s also essential to take a critical approach to the ways histories are constructed. My goal is to engage students with a range of ideas and theories and to develop a framework that they can build upon, question, and push off from as they learn to articulate their own perspectives.
they develop their own ideas, renovate older buildings to meet new needs, and intervene in sites that are far from blank slates. The type of site analysis I do—taking a longitudinal perspective that probes deeply into a site’s history—is valuable for students who will inevitably be working with sites that are palimpsests of past processes and interventions. What processes and values converged to shape these environments in the past? How have they been reshaped over time, and how do they enable and constrain our lives— and our approaches to design—today? How can a critical and self-reflective process of analysis help us identify material and spatial
Marc Swackhamer Associate Professor and Head of School Design agency I’m interested in design process that has a certain amount of unpredictability, a certain amount of uncontrolled momentum. I work with Blair Satterfield, who practices and teaches out of British Columbia, on the issue of design agency or design control. What interests us is the moment when a designer loses control of the project, and how one can become more aware of that. How can we leverage that moment as an opportunity? In our early work we brought in outside partners, people who thought differently than we did—engineers, biologists, computer scientists, and material scientists; students and designers—who would influence the work and take it in directions we would have never taken it. We began using open source methodology to design work, where the designers
may set up parameters for the work but then they solicit input from people out of the disciplines, from the public at large. We may set up a competition where you ask for people to submit ideas about how to develop a design. For example, in the project OSWall, which is open-source, we designed a kind of structural system that was infilled by a building panel and a skin system that was crowd-sourced. This was inspired by things like a group out of California called Local Motors that designs parts out of open-source methodologies. We’re really interested in how the larger community can participate and have agency in the design process. Relocating the authorship of the designer More recently we’ve been interested in how material properties push back on a design proposition and how the fabrication process can be the result of a loss of control, using
materials that have their own tendencies, their own proclivities, their own characteristics that react to certain scenarios or certain processes in ways you can’t predict. With Var Vac wall we developed a vacuum molding system that, rather than creating the same parts over and over again, leveraged the unpredictability of the material to create difference from one part to the next. We couldn’t 100 percent predict how one part would react; we could only set up the system and then allow the system to take over and produce surprising, novel results. The material becomes a participant in the authorship of the work. The most surprising discovery in working this way is that it doesn’t take away the authorship from the designer. It just relocates the authorship of the designer—the work of the designer happens in different points in the design process. The design is setting the stage for the work to unfold on its own, and the designer is kind of a strategist behind the project as opposed to deciding the final appearance and visual appeal of the work. Making and thinking An important skill to develop in school is a kind of questioning disposition. Some people call it critical thinking; some people call it design thinking. Any office can teach you the how-to mechanics of how a building goes together; how to write a specification, or how to research zoning laws, but one of the things that school does better than the profession is that it teaches critical thinking skills. It imbues students with the ability to ask bigger questions, to understand the why of what they’re doing. Beyond buildings We as designers can fit our expertise into a much wider range of human endeavor than we ordinarily may think we can. Our skills can come to bear before the design of a building, on things after the design of a building and
things that happen inside of a building. Our way of thinking systemically is incredibly valuable, and it’s important that students understand that those skills are widely applicable, not just to architecture but to things outside of architecture. As designers, it’s also important for us to understand that the choices we make have consequences. When we make a building out of a particular material, there are far reaching consequences that the material choice has on the world around us. Our work is the outgrowth of a series of forces and pressures actively pushing on the work. The future of the School of Architecture: Commitments and content The direction of the school can be defined by three essential qualities and three orientations. The first quality is inquiry or critical and holistic thinking, something we also call curiosity. The second quality is a passion for engagement—with other disciplines, with the community, and through cultural and international engagement. And the third quality is architectural meaning—something that we understand through the discipline’s unique historical, theoretical, and cultural
contexts. Those essential qualities infuse our entire program. No matter what we do, we foreground these things. These serve as a foundation for three content areas, or orientations that define what our students and faculty feel very passionate about. One is materials and media literacy, making and drawing as a way of thinking. It’s something that builds on the legacy of our school and is something we continue to pursue as the school evolves—from some of the early emphases on drawing that Ralph Rapson brought to the school to our relationship with the practice community, which foregrounds making and construction as a mode of inquiry. The second content area is stewardship of the environment, watching over and preserving both the built and natural environments. Putting value in the work of those who have been architects before us, and having a deep appreciation and care for the natural environment. Creating an architecture that is sympathetic to the world around it and sympathetic to the past.
And the third orientation is urban-scale/ systemic thinking—an engagement with the city and the rural landscape at a scale that’s bigger than just architecture. We’re a school that is committed to urban thinking. We’re part of a land grant institution that is in the middle of a major metropolitan city. We have the Metropolitan Design Center, which for years has been working with community organizations and the city to develop new approaches to urban design. That’s work that continues to gain momentum, it’s work of which we’re really proud.