Deans Discuss Relevance of Architecture

Event: “Arch Schools 2011” Exhibition Reception and Deans Roundtable
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.19.11
Speakers: George Ranalli, AIA — Dean, The City College of New York Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture; Mark Wigley — Dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Anthony Vidler — Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union; Kent Kleinman — Dean, Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning; Urs P. Gauchat, Hon. AIA — Dean, New Jersey Institute of Technology College of Architecture and Design; Frank Mruk, AIA, RIBA — Associate Dean, New York Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Design; William Morrish — Dean, Parsons The New School of Design School of Constructed Environments; Thomas Hanrahan — Dean, Pratt Institute School of Architecture; Stan Allen, FAIA — Dean, Princeton University School of Architecture; Evan Douglis — Dean, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Undergraduate Department in the School of Architecture; Mark Robbins — Dean, Syracuse University School of Architecture; Robert Shibley, FAIA — Dean, University at Buffalo (SUNY) School of Architecture and Planning; Keith Krumwiede — Associate Dean, Yale School of Architecture
Moderator: Sarah Whiting, Assoc. AIA — Dean, Rice School of Architecture
Introduction: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA — Founder, Deans Roundtable and Arch Schools Exhibition
Sponsors: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Robert Dell Vuyosevich, AIA


Center for Architecture

For the past seven years, the Center for Architecture has showcased exemplary student work from New York area schools in an annual exhibition highlighting high caliber curricula that seek to produce a new generation of talent. The “Arch Schools 2011” exhibition was kicked off by a discussion among deans of the schools of architecture at 13 of the 14 institutions represented in this year’s annual show. Posited by moderator Sarah Whiting, Assoc. AIA, dean of the Rice School of Architecture, the topic of debate addressed the issue of architects’ social relevance and the role of the profession in public discourse. Each of the deans offered insight into how this charge is integrated into their respective curricula. Mark Robbins, Dean of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, wants to expose his students to difficult design challenges while providing them with the practical ability to converse with a client. His goal is to breed designers who are “agile enough to deal with a broad scope.” The objective of creating a broad bandwidth resonated with Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s Mark Wigley, who feels the responsibility of architecture schools is to equip students with the ability to define the public across a trans-generational spectrum. Many public events orchestrated by Wigley’s department are examples of utilizing discourse as a form of the profession’s social relevance.

The roundtable participants debated the architectural discipline in relation to the Occupy Wall Street movement at some length. The dispersive efficiency with which the movement has gained momentum was noted by Whiting, commenting that this type of discussion parallels architectural discourse. Referencing a recent New York Times article by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman that noted the role of public space as a stage, the participants discussed the role of architecture as a catalyst for social change. “We must not neglect the citizenship of the school,” commented Wigley, adding that the institution needs to take a position in society.

The trend toward exposing students to social relevance appears to be prevalent among many of the schools represented. SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning Dean Robert Shibley, FAIA, commented that the mix of expert discourse and local knowledge are the ingredients that make architects powerful contributors to the larger environment. By engaging in activities such as the Solar Decathlon and designing innovative housing projects for Habitat for Humanity, students are becoming agents of public change, using their skills to make a difference and fit into the context of society. With a great sense of optimism, deans are collectively empowering students to move away from linear thinking by translating their experience across disciplines and becoming integral informants of society.

Note: The “Arch Schools 2011” Exhibition Reception and Deans Roundtable took place during ConvergenceNYC2011, an annual conference for architecture students in the NY region organized by AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) and the AIAS at local schools. This year’s theme, “Possibilities,” set out to explore different career paths students may take after graduation from architecture school. Panels on alternate careers and the IDP/ARE process were part of this weekend, along with firm tours and walking tours hosted by the AIANY Architectural Tourism Committee.