Director's Letter

Dean's Letter, Spring 2017
College of Architecture
Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design
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Emerald City

Where you are is important. One of my favorite passages in the movie The Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy wakes up and says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” I had this feeling early last fall walking into Givens Hall. Graduate orientation had just concluded, and the halls were filled with amazing bass wood models that the incoming students had made over the course of two short weeks. Sure, there was some nostalgia, recalling the bass wood models that were so common in architecture schools 15 years ago. However, the more recent use of the soft wood was in response to our School’s ban on styrene. As the semester continued and concluded with final reviews, I was amazed at how a simple change—banning styrene—could impact our daily practice. Of course the ban alone was not responsible for the outcome. Our faculty took the opportunity to reflect on ways and means, content and process, and making changes that built on the innate learning that comes from creating something with materials that require precision—and the unexpected empathetic expression that results from experiencing something that was made with care. We are prompted to respond in kind.

On November 9, following the presidential election, I once again felt a little like we weren’t in Kansas anymore. However, as I went to School that morning, it was clear that I was still in St. Louis. It reminded me that it is easy to think that you may be anywhere and not somewhere. Shortly after arriving at my office, Amanda Bowles came in and we began to talk. Others joined us, wondering what to do, and spontaneously we took the table from my office and placed it in the center of the hallway at the base of the stairs in Givens Hall. We talked for a while longer, as more faculty and students joined us; soon the table had been replaced with a larger table and more chairs, as people came and went over the course of the next several days. A satellite venue even appeared outside, in front of the Kemper Art Museum, amazing us all with what a table and chairs (not altogether unlike the simple act of banning styrene) can do, emphasizing the fact that we were here…and not in Kansas.

Several days after the election, the AIA’s yes and CEO Robert Ivy set off a firestorm with a short press release saying the 89,000 members of the organization “are committed to working with President-elect Trump to address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure.” A common criticism of Ivy’s response was that the executive director, who is not elected by the membership but rather appointed by the board, spoke for the 89,000 members. Many, including deans and students of architecture schools, cited concerns about diversity and inclusion related to Trump’s rhetoric, prompting Ivy and AIA president Russ Davidson to offer two apologies.

As this year’s president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), I was a part of a lengthy discussion about how the organization should respond. Shortly after the ACSA Administrators Conference, I offered the following under the title “Cubs Win Do We:”

It was wonderful to be in Chicago for the 2016 ACSA Administrators Conference. Chi-Town held a parade for the world champion Cubs on Friday, November 4, with the route passing directly by our hotel. Reported as the seventh-largest gathering in human history with over 5 million people in attendance, Joe Maddon’s T-shirt conveyed the message, “We did not suck.”

The conference, titled “Gaps and Overlaps,” brought together over 200 administrators and school leaders. Thanks to co-chairs Marshall Brown of IIT and Meejin Yoon of MIT, and to those who participated in a series of engaging panels, keynotes, and morning breakout sessions. The breakout sessions discussed priorities laid out in ACSA’s new strategic plan and introduced the three newly formed committees that will help carry them out: the Education Committee, chaired by Lynne Dearborn; the Leadership Committee, chaired by Rebecca O’Neal Dagg; and the Research & Scholarship Committee, chaired by Shannon Criss. This new structure is off to a great start and we are excited by the strong response from member faculty to participate.

The Education Committee is tackling a complex and defining problem for architectural education and practice: diversity and its attendant action of inclusion. Current models of ecology suggest that diversity = survival and complexity = life. An ecology of design might be diversity = relevance. As stated in his definition of complementarity, Niels Bohr, the late Danish physicist, suggested that the richness of shared experience that comes from multiple, overlapping, and at times mutually exclusive points of view moves us to be creative, complex, and alive, reminding us that diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status is also intellectual diversity.

In the two weeks since the historic gathering in Chicago, it seems even more important to reiterate that ACSA steadfastly stands in support of diversity, inclusiveness, equity, civility, and civil discourse in architectural education specifically and education broadly understood as the implicit foundation of a democratic society. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, we win by the margin of our hope to call us to action.

As we look forward to this semester, I would emphasize that in the face of what sometimes seem like intractable national and international problems, cities become the operational ground for change. Education in this context becomes a radical practice of democracy. The disciplines of our School—art, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design—model our forms of engagement, reminding us of where we are.

Spring 2017 Notes

Erik L’Heureux joins us this semester as the Ruth and Norman Moore Visiting Professor, teaching a comprehensive graduate option studio. Erik is a professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore, where he leads the thesis studio, and is principal of the Singapore-based firm Pencil. An alumnus of the College of Architecture, Erik has received numerous awards for his architecture including winning the prestigious Wheelwright Prize for his proposal: “Hot and Wet: The Equatorial City and the Architectures of Atmosphere,” which focuses on the architecture of five cities in the equatorial zone: Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Pondicherry, India; Lagos, Nigeria; São Paulo, Brazil.

Ginés Garrido will teach a graduate option studio. Gines is a founding principal of Burgos & Garrido Arquitectos Asociados of Madrid, Spain, and visited last year as part of the Public Lecture Series. In partnership with West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, the Manzanares river park, among many awards, received the Biennial Prize for Urban Project at the XIII International Biennale of Architecture in Buenos Aires.

Yen Ha, founding principal of Front Studio Architects with offices in New York and Pittsburgh, will teach an undergraduate option studio. Yen has a degree in architecture from Carnegie Mellon and completed postgraduate work in urbanism at L’École d’Architecture in Paris. The firm’s work has been included in many publications including Interior Design and Wallpaper magazines and The New York Times. A tireless advocate for women in the profession, Yen is a member of the board of directors for the New School of Architecture & Design in San Diego and was recently featured in a New York Times article titled: “I Am Not the Decorator: Female Architects Speak Out.”

Saundra Weddle will be a visiting professor teaching History I and Special Topics in History & Theory: The Embodied Renaissance City. Saundra is a professor of architectural history in the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University.

We are pleased that several recent faculty will be returning as visitors. Nanako Umemoto of Reiser + Umemoto in New York will be teaching a graduate option studio, as will alumnus Michael Willis of MWA, which has offices in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon.

We are sorry to say that Seng Kuan and Angela Pang will be moving back to Hong Kong. We thank them for their great work as part of our School over the last five years and wish them well in their continued scholarship and practice.

“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma.”—The Wizard of Oz

Have a great semester.

Bruce Lindsey, AIA, Dean
E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration