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