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November 28, 2001

The Envision discussion revealed that the School of Architecture’s highly ranked programs are not satisfied to rest on their laurels. With its rare combination of strengths in architecture, landscape architecture, architectural history, and urban and environmental planning, the School of Architecture is uniquely positioned to provide creative solutions to problems affecting the natural and built environment in this country and abroad. As it looks to the future, the school seeks to capitalize on its ability to influence the people and the policies shaping the world around us.

The school’s faculty are committed to addressing the issues of our time, but without diminishing the uncommon level of energy and thought they devote to their teaching. They are dedicated to sustaining an intensive, demanding, and highly personal culture of instruction that provides students with an exceptionally rewarding experience. This style of teaching impels students and faculty alike to draw on the full capacities of their intellects and their imaginations.

Addressing the Needs of Society
Faculty taking part in the discussion were asked to identify pressing issues that could be addressed by marshaling the intellectual and creative resources of the school. Prominent among the concerns they raised were the increasing disparity between rich and poor, continued degradation of the environment, and the growing homogenization of the world. The places where we live, work, and conduct business are becoming more and more alike and more and more unlikable. People are put off by their environment and feel powerless to change it, the Envision participants observed. The rise of heritage tourism is a sign that we are desperate to find places of enduring value.

Other specific issues that surfaced in the Envision discussion include the following:

  Bullet Sprawl and its effect on our quality of life
  Bullet The need to preserve and steward historic and cultural resources
  Bullet Imbalance in modes of transportation (i.e., over-dependence on automobiles) and its effect on the environment

The impact of information technology on our perception of place and community

The Envision participants also raised a number of issues affecting their professional disciplines, among them:

  Bullet Corporatization of the architecture profession and the diminishing role of the architect in creating the built environment. More and more, developers and other non-architects are carrying out the tasks of space planning and urban planning. As a result, new communities and commercial developments are springing up without benefit of the ethical, aesthetic, and humanistic principles that guide the profession. A similar problem exists in landscape architecture, it was noted. Engineers are increasingly making the design decisions that shape outdoor spaces; the results may be efficient, but they are rarely appealing or imaginative. Recognizing that the corporate world offers a wide range of opportunities for effecting change, the faculty is open to forming constructive relationships with the commercial forces that in fact make the larger decisions about the environment. Putting behind them the elitism that once marked the design professions, they wish to direct their knowledge toward more viable and practical applications, and they would like to have the assistance and backing of the University as they take on this more public role.
  Bullet Showcasing the Role of the Designer in American culture. Academics and practitioners should do more to make the public aware of the critical role of architects, landscape architects, and planners in creating environments that enrich our quality of life. By exposing the University community and the general public to the social, economic, and aesthetic benefits of good design, the school will foster greater appreciation of the role of the designer in contemporary life.
  Bullet The need for greater ethnic diversity in the profession so that it better reflects the communities it serves. Although there has been increasing diversity in architecture school enrollments, for some reason many persons of color are stepping out of the pipeline to the profession.

A dearth of innovation and experimentation, especially on this side of the Atlantic. The diminution of the profession may in part be the result of a failure of imagination. American architects must be able to present effective and compelling new models to compete with corporate pressures in the marketplace of ideas.

With multiple disciplines under one roof, the School of Architecture can bring impressive forces to bear on these and other difficult problems. Indeed, it was noted that the school has the potential to exert tremendous influence on the future development of the Southeast corridor, from Baltimore and D.C. to Atlanta. Among the possibilities envisioned by the faculty is a think tank on Metropolitan Virginia’s future growth, which would be the locus of research and design work aimed at producing new planning, landscape design, and architectural models for the state. The school needs additional funding and facilities to take on this project.

The natural cross-pollination of ideas that occurs among disciplines in the school fosters a conjunctive, multidimensional way of thinking that can be a powerful tool for addressing complex issues. One of the goals suggested in the Envision session is to extend this way of thinking not only to students in the School of Architecture but more broadly to other future leaders coming out of the University.

Serving the Needs of the University
The school’s faculty could well be of greater benefit to the University and are more than willing to be consulted when their expertise can be of value. The school feels that the University is ignoring one of its strongest assets when it fails to take full advantage of the creativity and design experience housed in Campbell Hall. Envision participants urged the University to tap into this resource when it creates new buildings and landscapes. Members of the faculty could assist with feasibility studies for new projects, and they could help the University create environments of aesthetic integrity that go beyond simulation of Jeffersonian classicism.

This will be especially important as plans go forward for the new Arts Grounds. Historically, architecture and the arts have been closely aligned, and the University should involve the Architecture School in the planning and design process to ensure that this effort to create a new environment for the arts is effective.

Building Collaborative Bridges
The Envision participants repeatedly expressed a desire to form more effective collaborative bridges with other areas of the University. Efforts to work with colleagues across Grounds have met with bureaucratic barriers or lack of interest, and the school has at times turned to specialists from other institutions to add complementary dimensions to its teaching. This appears to be a significant source of frustration for the faculty. Working in fields that are collaborative by nature, they consider the cross-disciplinary instruction and research that take place within the school as one of its key strengths. Attempts to extend this collaborative ethos outside the school, however, have been stymied by scheduling problems, lack of space, and competing demands on faculty time.

Even when there have been successful collaborations, as in a recent environmental negotiation initiative involving law, commerce, and environmental sciences, these activities have no home. The Architecture School is critically short of space. The University needs to provide facilities where faculty from different schools can work and teach together, a need expressed not only in the Architecture School but also in the Envision discussions held elsewhere on the Grounds.

Traditionally such cross-disciplinary work takes place in special centers, but faculty pointed out that a better solution would be flexible incubator spaces for developing creative ideas, much like the incubator spaces provided for business start-ups. In addition to providing adaptable space for collaboration, the University should be more open to flexible degree programs that combine professional and academic disciplines. Harvard, for example, offers a one-year master of design program that allows students to explore other professional areas.

The multiple disciplines housed by Virginia’s School of Architecture make joint degree programs within the school easy to navigate. As one participant observed, a defining quality of the school’s students should be a willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries to search for the best and most rewarding experience.

The Challenges of a Demanding Studio Culture
The studio culture in the School of Architecture offers a student experience without peer at the University. Nowhere else on Grounds, it was noted, is there such intense and frequent interaction between students and faculty. For three hours, three times a week, a senior member of the faculty is sitting with a student, offering analysis, constructive criticism, and guidance. Although the studio environment is viscerally rewarding, it places extraordinary demands on students and faculty alike. For much of the year, the lights in Campbell Hall burn around the clock, as students work through the night on design problems.

By "living their work" in this way, students learn to carry a concept through from rough idea to finished product. They also learn to discuss and defend their ideas. The culminating moment in students’ training is the final review, a public event in which faculty discuss and critique final projects, and students respond. The school even provides opportunities for first-year students to exhibit and discuss their work publicly.

The downside of the intense studio culture is that it tends to cut the school off from other parts of the University. Faculty are hard-pressed to find time to collaborate with colleagues in other schools or to assist the outside community in dealing with design and planning issues. Students outside the school find it difficult to "dip into" this way of learning. There is a real need, according to the discussion participants, to serve students who wish to major in architecture but minor in fields outside the school. It is equally important to give students in other schools the opportunity to minor in architecture.

The time demands of the studio experience also make it difficult for faculty to apply their expertise to real-world problems and to pursue their own design and consulting initiatives. The school and the University must remove the barriers that keep design faculty from remaining actively engaged in practice, such as the 1/7 consulting rule. The state also should ease the restrictions that prevent faculty from being hired by the University to take part in the planning and design of new projects. This rule prevents the University from exploiting a superb pool of talent that is recognized around the world.

Meeting the Needs of Students and Faculty
Other issues facing the school include the growing technical demands on faculty and students, according to Envision participants. The school must ensure that it gives students and faculty the ability to master changes in construction and design technology and to stay abreast of new developments. It was suggested that the school add faculty from a broader array of disciplines to help students grasp the technical, social, and economic dimensions of design and planning.

One of the concerns raised in the discussion is that the desk in the studio is gradually giving way to the laptop computer, which can be used anywhere. While it should continue to embrace new technologies, the school should also sustain and nurture a studio culture that is vital to the student experience.

It was also noted that the school should provide training not only in design but also in how to operate a design practice. Students must learn to manage their time and their finances so that they can run a sound business as well as an aesthetic enterprise. In fact, it was suggested that the MBA may be the ideal companion degree to an M.A. in architecture. As student interest in double-degree graduate programs continues to grow, the University should explore ways to meet this demand.

Opportunities for Study Abroad
As the University seeks to strengthen its international programs through the Virginia 2020 initiatives, it should look to the School of Architecture as a model. Recognizing that up-close, on-site analysis of the built environment provides an ideal way for students to gain insights into other cultures, the school provides a growing number of opportunities to study abroad. With donor support, it has begun to help students bear the costs of taking part in international programs, but more funds are needed. Like the studio experience in Campbell Hall, studio programs in other countries place great demands on faculty time.

Just as it is committed to sending students abroad, the school is also interested in enrolling more international students. More resources are needed to provide scholarships and travel funds for students from other countries.

Building Stronger Ties With Alumni
About half of the Architecture School’s graduates enter fields other than architecture, including advertising, business, and commercial real estate development. Envision participants noted that the school should make a better effort to cultivate ties to these alumni, who are often highly successful. They should not be regarded as "failures" because they have chosen career paths outside the design professions. It was also suggested that the school establish stronger ties with University alumni and friends from outside the School of Architecture.

Fulfilling the School’s Public Mission
A portion of the Envision discussion focused on how the School of Architecture could make the University and the general public better aware of its strengths and its ability to provide expert guidance and assistance. It was also emphasized that the school must work to counter the perception that the most innovative and creative ideas are coming out of industry and real-world practice rather than academic settings. To achieve this goal, the Architecture School must articulate its ideas and principles in ways that are easily understood by those outside its specialties. It must also make clear its willingness to become involved in the physical and economic revitalization of our communities.

Participants in the Envision session pointed out that one of the distinctions of the School of Architecture is its commitment to ensuring that students are culturally competent and that they understand the ethical ramifications of their design and planning decisions.

Through its multidisciplinary lens, the school allows students to examine their own values as they consider the ways we and other cultures organize our spaces and our lives. This can be a valuable exercise in self-discovery, and it is one of the many ways the School of Architecture exerts a profound and lifelong influence on its graduates.

The power of this influence has broad implications. As one of only a handful of great architecture schools based in a public institution, the University’s School of Architecture has an obligation to produce the leaders who will shape our communities and to guide the policy and design decisions that affect how and where we live and work. The school can proudly lay claim to students and faculty fully capable of fulfilling this obligation. More resources and facilities must be acquired to support their ambitious efforts.


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Last Modified: Thursday, 16-Feb-2006 08:37:28 EST
Copyright 2003 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia


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