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October 13, 2010
by Carl Yost

Event: Arch Schools 2010 Exhibition Reception and Deans’ Roundtable
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.02.10
Speakers: George Ranalli, AIA — City College of New York; Mark Wigley — Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation; Anthony Vidler, Assoc. AIA — The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union; Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA — New Jersey Institute of Technology; Judith DiMaio, AIA — New York Institute of Technology; William Morrish — Parsons The New School for Design; Thomas Hanrahan — Pratt Institute; Stan Allen — Princeton University; Evan Douglis — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Mark Robbins — Syracuse University; Brian Carter — SUNY at Buffalo; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA — University of Pennsylvania; Mark Foster Gage, AIA — Yale University (Assistant Dean);
Moderator: Ian Harris — Co-Producer/Director, archiCULTURE
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation
Sponsors: Kramer Levin

20100908-ArchSchools

Courtesy Center for Architecture

Design education is in something of a crisis. At least that was the impression given by the deans of 13 architecture schools in the New York Metro area (including Upstate NY, Philadelphia, and New Haven). The discussion provided a valuable snapshot of current architectural discourse and the issues being debated in universities, and where the profession might be heading.

At times, the panel adopted the tone of a jocular class reunion: asked to promote their schools, Mark Wigley of Columbia University and Anthony Vidler, Assoc. AIA, of Cooper Union praised each other’s instead, to much laughter. But disagreements soon became apparent. For one, the panelists differed on how students should conceive of their role. Given the great complexity of real-world problems, Mark Foster Gage, AIA, of Yale University, suggested that architects are becoming “managers of information flows.” Even so, NYIT’s Judith DiMaio, AIA, cautioned that students are drawn to architecture for its artistic, form-giving potential, and educators should encourage and develop that passion.

The most contentious issues, however, concerned architects’ social responsibility. “We are professionals,” said Vidler, “and professionals, I think, have to have a certain ethic towards the society they serve and they work for.” Everyone seemed to concur, but when he cast the architect’s role as advocate and educator, many hesitated. For instance, George Ranalli, AIA, of City College of NY, criticized educators who fail to take seriously the layman’s dislike of Modern architecture, and also those who rehash Modern-vs.-Postmodern, politics-vs.-capitalism debates that students themselves no longer care about. Princeton University’s Stan Allen, AIA, put it another way: “When I look around at younger colleagues and recent graduates, they don’t have this anxiety. They’re perfectly willing to dive into the marketplace and tap the creativity of that marketplace.”

At its core, the discussion betrayed a long-standing existential crisis over the architects’ position in the world, especially as disciplinary boundaries become more flexible. Urs Gauchat, Hon. AIA, of NJIT, stressed the need for architecture students to make connections to other disciplines such as ecology, transportation, real estate, or public policy, and Mark Robbins of Syracuse University noted that students are empowered when they become conversant in these other discourses.

But some members of the audience had more practical concerns on their minds: “What about the cost?” someone asked. Yes, private institutions can be quite expensive, Gauchat conceded, but public universities and grants can make school more accessible. In the end, DiMaio said, a design education is valuable because it provides a foundation to do almost anything.

Note: This program was in conjunction with the “Arch Schools 2010” exhibition at the Center for Architecture through 10.16.10

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