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The BAC Hosts Change Order: The Futures of Design Learning

Design educators, practitioners, and thought leaders gathered to imagine the future of design education

On the November 16, 2010, design educators, practitioners, thought leaders, and those who work to envision the future of our cities gathered at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston to imagine the future of design education. Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects; Steve Brittan, Burt Hill; Jim Cramer, The Greenway Group, and Ted Landsmark of The Boston Architectural College presented to the group, punctuated by working sessions in which roundtable groups raised questions and proposed solutions, imagined what collaborative thinking teams might look like, and envisioned new educational models.

BAC Provost Julia Halevy, BAC Dean of Research and Assessment Herb Childress, and respondents Peter Kuttner of Cambridge Seven Associates and Susan Szenasy of Metropolis Magazine provoked the group to address the challenges raised throughout the working sessions while information from the working groups displayed in real time on large plasma screens, provided by the BAC research team and facililtators with visual synthesis by Peter Kuttner.

BAC President Ted Landsmark framed the day by stating, "Professional practice has changed radically over the past few years. New technologies, building information modeling (BIM), globalization, an imploded economy, re-configurations of firms through consolidations and mergers, and new collaborations across disciplines have combined to change the ways in which practitioners work.

"Yet schools have made relatively few changes in curricula and design pedagogies to better prepare graduates for these changes in practice. Tight budgets and restrictive accreditation standards may now limit some academic flexibility, but ought not to limit how we prepare for the future of design education. We need to explore approaches to engage our students and faculty, and professional practitioners, in creating new forms of outcomes-focused design education. Change Order furthers this conversation."

Many questions were raised: What is appropriate design scholarship, and what is the professional's role in generating it? How does the Y generation access and share knowledge? Is there a disconnect between firm owners and students that relates to technology? Who teaches mentorship? How do we promote transdisciplinary programs? Should knowledge be passed down and not around? Can we keep our core expertise strong while we expand to work across the disciplines, and what disciplines do we "trans"? What is the core curriculum for design? What remains relevant about accreditation and licensure, and how do we support and affect change? Are we so focused on BIM that we are allowing it to define the architectural profession? Do we educate or dictate to clients? What do we need to know to design a library for the next design generation? Is ego management more difficult than project management? How do we evaluate individual performance in a collaborative setting? Are other industries more creative in insuring their own survival? How do we promote cultural literacy, ethical design, and social justice? Importantly, many questions addressed sustainability. Do we have the same concern for our planet that we have for our own well-being?

Along with the symposium and a web community, Change Order is also a research project. Led by Herb Childress, PhD, and by Denise Dea, studio manager at Payette Associates, the research team incorporates both BAC students and instructors. Prior to the conference, the team has conducted hour-long interviews with over 30 practitioners in design and affiliated fields, asking them what they believe will be stable about their work and what they believe will change. The themes that have emerged from this work, along with the major ideas from the web community and the conference, will become the core of strategic papers to be completed by the end of the year. The Change Order research project is designed to inform the design and design education communities about the most likely trajectories of our coming work.

Research team members include: Brien Baker, M.Arch student; Herb Childress, BAC staff; Denise Dea, BAC faculty; Susan Deily-Swearingen, BAC faculty; Reed Harmon, M.Arch student; Andrew Hovey, BDS student; Melissa Iannucci, M.Arch student; Rebecca Maisch, M.Arch student; Perla Muller, B.Arch student; Toa Rivera, BID student; Kionna Walker, M.Arch student; Jason Weldon, B.Arch student; Randolph Wolters, B.Arch student; and Mauricio Zambrano, B.Arch student.