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FALL 2004

Windsor Forum Tackles Design Education Failings

Any architecture student who is taught to value precedent and the traditional city and to apply both in their work can be considered quite fortunate. Robert Steuteville points this out from what is typically built today. In fact, for the past 60 years since Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" was published, the fictional Howard Roark continues to be the heroic prototype for students and practitioners alike: practicing in a vacuum, creating object buildings based on an individual aesthetic vision.

The evidence on the ground is in fact, a culture of sprawl-a car-dominated society of mainly banal object buildings. Unintended consequences of this practice have included becoming a nation whose citizens are sedentary and fat, as outlined in a recent paper, "Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl: A National Analysis of Physical Activity, Obesity and Chronic Disease"(1) and in the TIME/ABC News Summit on Obesity. In the summit, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said obesity is "every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within."

Clearly, architects and architectural schools are ready for immediate redirection towards the making of walkable communities once more. The paper states, "Those living in sprawling counties were likely to walk less, weigh more, and have greater prevalence of hypertension than those living in compact counties." One benefit is this result in the making of humane, traditional cities and towns.

"Like stroke victims who have lost the ability to speak, architecture has lost the language of placemaking," said Steuteville, one of the participants in the Windsor Forum for Design Education. The event was held in the Town of Windsor, Fla. in spring 2002. Conducted in the format of a New Urban Council, prominent new urban educators brainstormed on bringing about architectural reform in architectural education. The quality of the built environment is directly related to how schools prepare their graduates for the task.

The content of their discussions hasjust been published in "Towards an Ideal Curriculum to Reform Architectural Education: Windsor Forum on Design Education" by New Urban Press.(2)

Stephanie Bothwell, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and CNU board member, addressed the gathering, saying "The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asked me to undertake a white paper that would explain the role of architecture in the issue of physical design, planning and their relationship to pedestrianism and life-long health." She based the white paper on the 1998 Boyer Report (officially named "Building Community; a New Future for Architectural Education and Practice"). To this she added strands from the environmental, health and building industries. An example: "What constitutes health, safety and welfare?" This legislation originated in Victorian times as a response to fire, poverty and disease in the industrial, unregulated city. Bothwell says, "These values are admirable, as far as they go, but they are inadequate for modern conditions, and they need to be supplemented by new thinking." Bothwell's white paper states recommendations and implementation strategy for change to all areas of architecture: education, licensure and practice.

The Windsor Forum book is in transcript form, with comparative examples of teaching models, which include the modernist and sociological planning model, the Beaux-Arts, the School of Cornell, and the Vernacular. These presentations are followed with discussion. Also included are results of brainstorming group sessions in which faculty designed model architectural programs. The concluding section is a series of essays. A sample: David Mohney on "Strategic Alliances"; Doug Kelbaugh on "Fallacies in Architectural Culture"; Steven Hurt on "Characteristics of Studio Education in Architecture: a Primer for the Uninitiated, a Critique for the Informed."

The book invites the reader to participate in the Socratic discussion: integrating economic systems and mechanics of politics to teach project implementation; the logic of and arts and crafts curriculum in a historic city; teaching the Transect and its building typologies; the value of traditional architecture.

The book is also sobering. In his essay Doug Kelbaugh, dean of Taubman College, writes "The United States still consumes at least five times its global share of energy and produces a commensurate proportion of greenhouse gases. United States homeowners occupy more square feet per capita than any other nation. And the average house sits on a bigger lot and has grown 40 percent larger in the last generation, even though our households have grown smaller." He observes that Americans spend more money per square foot on bathrooms than on public spaces!

Kelbaugh observes, "Balancing tradition with change is ultimately more natural, more liberating, and more sustaining than embracing one at the expense of the other. Today, the most promising and synergistic sponsors of good architecture are urbanism and sustainability."

The Windsor Forum book is a must-read for educators, as well as architecture students, and lifelong learners of architecture.

(1) Authors: Reid Ewing, Richard Killingsworth, Amy Zlot, Stephen Raudenbush

(2) Organizers: Stephanie Bothwell, Andrés Duany, Peter Hetzel, Steven Hurt and Dhiru Thadani