I started to study architecture and other modes of visual expression when I was thirteen or fourteen. I don’t think this is unusual for many students in architecture school. Art and architecture interested me initially in visceral ways. Paintings were windows into new worlds. They provoked questions. I wanted to know what they told me about the cultures and times when they were created: who were the patrons; persons depicted; what were the myths and beliefs that caused artists to create artifacts of lasting beauty; how did people find the patience and ambition to create these objects? Buildings that had strength and clarity attracted my attention. They seemed to be complex spatial compositions that could be “taken apart” and put back together again through my simple drawings.
I also grew up within a mile of an exquisite Frank Lloyd Wright “Prairie House” and Louis Kahn’s Unitarian Church - both important, mature, yet lesser-known works of great American architects. I visited and drew these buildings (and especially the interior spaces) many times even before I began formal studies in school. I am reminiscing, because I am writing this blog on the morning when Tulane first year students arrive for orientation at Richardson Memorial Hall (August 24, 2008). It is raining softly outside my window, and I can see nervous parents and students walking across the quadrangle. This moment of “beginning” for our students is causing me to think back - and to think forward.
I remember my own first days in school as confusing and joyful at the same time. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by other young women and men from all over the country and world who were equally driven to learn about and create the physical and natural environment - to understand how buildings, landscapes and cities work; to develop necessary skills to be leaders in the design field and the humility to listen and collaborate with others who have a stake in what we do. Many who choose to study architecture share a sense of optimism and idealism. I know that I felt that way, and I still do.
As my attention snaps back to the present, it is useful to note that at Tulane - and indeed beyond - we have just finished viewing the first episode of ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL a 6-part Sundance Channel TV series. It is a wonderfully conceived, filmed, and edited production that does an amazing job of capturing the excitement of what it means to bring the highest aspirations of design to a real challenge of rebuilding New Orleans. The Tulane School of Architecture students and faculty, along with their partners at the non-profit organization Neighborhood Housing Services and the owner/clients of the URBANbuild houses present a picture of innovation and collaboration that can only make one optimistic about the future of our profession and our role in society. This is one important slice of a much broader educational experience that students at Tulane are privileged to enjoy. It makes me realize that even if I had a good experience in school, this is a truly great model that we should all celebrate for its relevance and aspiration. Students here are not only learning the important foundations of our profession, they are building a better future as they construct their professional identities.
For all of the fond memories of my own educational experience, I had nothing like “ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL” as a frame of reference. I am in awe of what the students and faculty have accomplished, and I can only imagine that this TV series is likely to inspire a whole new generation of students to think about design, its creative potential, and the way it can make a difference in people’s lives.
Kenneth Schwartz, FAIA
September 1, 2008