An Interview with new Chair of the School of Architecture at Clemson, Kate Schwennsen, FAIA
from May 2010 News
A Statement one often hears repeated is that there is a "disconnect" between Practice and the Academy. I'm sure it's said on both sides, but do you think the Academy has a responsibility to the industry to engage practitioners more in the education of young architects? Conversely, do you think practitioners could be doing something more or differently as well to address this disconnect?
Kate: The Academy has a responsibility to engage Practice and vice-versa. The two are co-dependent, pushing and prodding each other. I started teaching in 1990 after a decade of practice, and I see the pendulum swinging back to where both practice and theory are moving in the same direction. At times practice leads, as in Integrated Project Delivery, and at times education leads, as with new technologies that get played with first in school. In my Professional Practice classes, the students research a case study from a local film of what went right and what went wrong, and a key component of this research is the ability to work closely with the architects who in turn generously give their time and expose the students to aspects of the practice they would not otherwise experience. We need to remember that the current class of freshman will be entering the field in 2015, and that they'll be bringing with them the skills they're developing now in school and the impression they have received of what practice is really like.
You've said that architecture students today have more life experiences and technology when they enter college than previous generations did. If one of the appeals of an architectural education is that it allows students to use their creative abilities to make a difference in the world, can you elaborate on how this generation uses their education to make the world a better place?
Kate: When I first began teaching Professional Practice 15-16 years ago, the majority of my students answered the question, "What do you want to be in 10 years?" with "a Designer" (with a capital D), "practicing in a city, doing high-end work." Now the answers I get are overwhelmingly "working with a non-profit," (like Architecture for Humanity), or "starting a design-build firm," or doing CA on healthcare projects." Students now understand a broader definition of what an architect does, and they're interested in taking what they've learned and applying it in alternative ways: joining the Peace Corps, going to law school, becoming an industrial designer... This may be in part due to the increased importance of the term "architect" outside of its traditional use - "software architect" or "policy architect," for example.
As you know, South Carolina only has one school of architecture and until the opening of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston, there was only one place in the state that benefited from having a design program in its community. Do you forsee any plans to expand the program to other cities in SC?
Kate: The situation is very similar in Iowa - there's only one architecture degree program in the state. The difference though is that Iowa State is in the middle of Iowa in an area that has the largest population. One thing I believe is that as a land grant university, Clemson has a mission to engage the community. We've been doing that here in Iowa. It's good for the students to leave the confines of campus and start talking to people and realizing that they've been speaking a private language. They discover that to truly engage the community they have to reach beyond their life in school. At Clemson, the Fluid Campus paradigm addresses this and it's probably through this that we'll explore reaching further beyond the Upstate.
In July of 2009, AIA/SC signed AIA National's Gateway Commitment, a statement which outlines a plan to significantly improve the representation and management of diversity in architecture education and practice. What role do you see Clemson playing in the effort to increase the diversity of graduates entering the field?
Kate: Students today feel they have a broader array of options when they graduate. There's more than the single path of being a "Designer" and a program which values "difference" through a more inclusive curriculum will attract and retain more diverse students. At Clemson, the Fluid Campus supports this value by placing students in different places and cultures and building on that difference. Another factor in enhancing student diversity is the value placed at Clemson of maintaining an excellent program. Higher ranking attracts higher achievers and many minority students are exactly that, high achievers who have focused on a top program with an international reputation. But, minority students can only succeed within a culture that responds to them and acknowledges their "difference." As Charlotte Bunch said about affirmative action for women, "You can't just add (them) and stir." Excellence begets excellence, and Clemson has moved toward developing a diverse group of graduates that are entering the field with a diverse set of options - and that 's a good position to be in.
Barry Jones, AIA, 35+ years of architetural practice, much of it specializing in the design of senior living communities, but most recently on the World Food Prize Headquarters. He has worked on projects in 30 states.
Daughter, Megan S. Jones graduated with a BFA in Interior Design in 2009, and is working as an Interior Designer in West Des Moines, IA. Projects range from small medical to senior living to custom residential.
Daughter, Anna S. Jones will complete her B.Arch. Degree in 2010. She will be interning with the DLR Group in Phoenix, AZ this summer after returning from a semester studying in Rome, Italy.
AIA/SC is an "AIA CES Registered Provider" of continuing education programs for members. We play an active role in the continuing education of our members. We strive to provide quality programs for our members. Our goal is to provide the best available continuing education opportunities to our membership and related industry professionals.