School of Architecture, Pratt Institute
by Harriet Harriss, Dean

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to our first week of remote teaching and learning.

Originally dubbed a ‘Study Week’, my assumption is that this title was intentionally ambiguous, to help ease us all in gently to this new phase for our institute and our school, during what is evidently a uniquely challenging and uncertain time.

To do this successfully will require a new spirit of collectivism, and a great deal of patience with ourselves, each other, our students and the technological platforms we have become dependent upon at short notice. You are expert (and often outstanding) professors of architecture, and by no means expected to become equally expert in the tools and technologies that you are now dependent upon, instantaneously.

Throughout the last two weeks, the entire Pratt senior management team and our President, Frances Bronet, were working under intense pressure to respond to circumstances that changed daily, and the reverberations of this are still being felt, with some students being relocated into alternative forms of accommodation this afternoon, as the residences are closed.

What will now constitute teaching and assessment protocols, pedagogies, or outputs is for us to determine, in negotiation with coordinators and chairs. It will require a shift in how we interpret the syllabus, and the need to foreground enabling, nurturing, flexibility and care in our transactions with our students at all times.

Beyond our now distributed and digitized classrooms, CoViD19 is forcing a rethink of the economic pandemic of global capitalism, productivism, and inequity that may well pivot us all towards a better existence in the end. There is certainly no ‘going back’ to the ‘normal’ that got us into this mess, to begin with. And there is also the possibility that our profession will become more ethical and by implication more effective as a consequence of this, too. Whether this manifests typologically or proto-professionally remains to be seen, however, things may get worse for our extended workforce before they get better, and we may be called upon to think about how we respond to these issues responsibly and even remotely in the weeks ahead.

Much is still not known about how CoViD19 will play out, but that it will inform our scholarship seems inevitable. In light of this, it may be useful to know that JStor has made its database accessible to the public and there is a dedicated CoViD19 reading list here that you might wish to draw from or choose to contribute towards.

Over the last few days, I have spoken with five different deans based in Europe and the US about the situation and later this week will join a meeting with the New York State Deans of Architecture to share tactics on how best to support each other, our schools and our field. That we should work toward strengthening our community but also expanding and developing our community seems essential at this time.

Thanks to the work of Richard Sarrach and his ITL team, we are continuing to expand the range of tools and mediums available to facilitate our community conventions and offer support to anyone facing access or utility issues. In addition to this, I am also available throughout the day, every day, to assist with any concerns you may have—either through texting or calling my mobile at 347-889-1885—or through signing up for a recently extended list of meeting times via the Dean’s Drop-in schedule. Communicating with each other whether daily and weekly, but more routinely, will help maintain the closeness of our community throughout the months ahead.

Finally, while I’m keen to avoid signing off with some glibly optimistic claim as to the innovative opportunities presented by the enforced co-authoring of a global pandemic- ogogy we must also be sensitive to the stark ecological benefits of our current social curtailment and assume that whatever emerges at the end of this process is likely to infiltrate and inform how we teach and learn more sustainably in future.

My hope is not only that we will emerge as experts in our remote teaching mediums, but that we will have evolved advanced skills in the kind of critical compassion needed to work supportively and collegially in the face of uncertainty, constraint, and isolation, too. If I have learned anything about Pratt’s latent pedagogies during the last seven months, it is that we are historically and exceptionally well placed to do this, and I sincerely look forward to seeing the results.

Thank you all, stay safe, and best of luck. Harriet

Professor Harriet Harriss, Dean


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