Lesley Lokko, Dr. Sharon Sutton, Shawn Rickenbacker, Lisa C. Henry, Sanjive Vaidya & Claire Weisz

A Case for Public Design Education

On July 30th the Review and The Architectural League organized ‘NEW GROUNDS FOR DESIGN EDUCATION’, gathering organizers in the movement to combat racism and encourage inclusion in higher education. But what about institutions that are already inclusive? Why should architecture be so dominated by elite - and expensive - institutions in the first place? How is the profession supposed to serve the public, if the ranks of the profession are filled by the few?

Please join Lesley Lokko, Dr. Sharon Sutton, Shawn Rickenbacker, Lisa C. Henry, Sanjive Vaidya & Claire Weisz tomorrow to discuss ‘A CASE FOR PUBLIC DESIGN EDUCATION’


After a presentation delivered by each of the participants, Dr. Sharon Sutton will take questions from the audience and guide the discussion around the following three questions:

1. Upholding the Social Contract.  Throughout the twentieth century, professionals successively established social contracts with the public, both legally and by custom.  They were granted autonomy to set standards within the labor market, which allowed them to demand mastery of complex skills and a body of knowledge.  In exchange for this privilege, they assumed responsibility for an ethic of public service that set them apart from other knowledge workers.  Given the social contract that architects have with the public, are they equally obliged to address the social crises that currently grip the nation?  Or are those architects who received a publicly funded education more responsible for upholding public values?  If so, what is society's responsibility to them?

2. Creating New Pathways to Practice.  Architecture programs reflect the extremes of wealth and privilege in the larger society.  The graduates of elite programs, who tend to be white, well-to-do, and sheltered from injustice, incur staggering debt that affects their career choices.  In contrast, graduates of programs that are heavily dependent upon public funding tend to be more socioeconomically diverse and have personally experienced injustice.  Yet, the credentialing requirements for these two different populations are the same and focused upon a narrow view of professional practice.  How might architecture education create mutuality between these two groups that stretches the field’s boundaries and bends its arc toward justice?

3. Educating Citizen Architects.  What would be your ideal for educating citizen architects?

Dr. Sutton has been with these questions for some time - the following is a passage from her article, ‘Practice Architects & Power’:

It is still abundantly clear that this predominantly white male profession is quite ineffectual in the larger scheme of things, and that many minorities who are interested in environmental issues believe that law and business offer surer routes to positions of influence. I fundamentally disagree with this perspective and would like to propose to those of you interested in the inseparable tasks of diversifying and empowering the profession that the route to all power is through knowledge.

Written by Dr. Sutton, in 1992. Find the article’s pdf in the background reading folder for the Public Design discussion, link at the end of the rsvp form.

- The Review

Credit to Hanh Le, who designed the event poster. (See the Dark Matter University version, here).

See a clip from our organizational meeting, link here.