Identity and Vision: A Message from Dean Michelle Addington
January 17, 2018
As we begin a new year and semester, we reflect on the values, practices, and accomplishments that define us. Simultaneously, we look to the future, establishing aspirational goals, asking thoughtful questions, and mapping actionable steps that position us to make new strides in the design disciplines and better serve our students, state, and society at large.
The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture has a strong foundation and admirable legacy. When I began my position as dean, I was well-versed in the School’s remarkable history and impressed by its reputation, but had much to learn about the people who shape the identity of the School—its students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, partners, and community advocates.
Now, six months later, I am even more profoundly proud to be part of the community that is Texas Architecture. Throughout the Fall semester, I heard from students and participated in their reviews, familiarized myself with individual faculty research and teaching methods, met with alumni and supporters across the state, learned about the operations of the School from staff, and contributed to community events and policy discussions. While I still have much to learn about the School and the University, I would like to share with you my observations and thoughts about the School’s current state and future possibilities.
The School’s reputation as one of the top ten design schools in the country is well- deserved. Its programs have a strong conceptual foundation, curricula have a strategic balance of depth and breadth, faculty are committed to student success, and the students are talented and driven. Design firm leaders and hiring managers in all corners of the world have shared with me their impressions of the School of Architecture and its graduates, and the consensus is a resounding level of respect that few design schools could ever hope to achieve. The pride felt by all who have matriculated as students as well as those who have served as staff and faculty is palpable and enduring.
As we chart opportunities for the future, we will not lose sight of these attributes that make the School the great institution it is. We build on our foundation by asking the following questions: How do we forge a visionary direction while extending the breadth and openness of an interdisciplinary education? How do we develop a productive research culture that provides leadership for our disciplines while maintaining a rich classroom experience? How do we ensure that our students’ education hews to the rigorous demands of the professions, yet creates extensive opportunities to bring in other voices?
Moving forward, I have outlined three fundamental responsibilities that all of the School’s programs must be anchored upon: (1) Service to students by building their capacity to make meaningful contributions to the professions and society while securing robust employment viability, (2) Service to the University by fostering its mission to the state and the population at large, and (3) Service to the disciplines by extending their knowledge base to meet critical challenges while maintaining intellectual integrity.
The next step is to ask, if these missions form our stable core, as they should for every responsible and successful school of design, then what distinguishes The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture from its peers?
In my short time here, I have already observed components of a visionary identity that I organize into the following categories:
- Context: The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture is embedded in questions of the local, and this is a local that is inextricable from its relationship to Latin America. No other institution has the expertise, the disciplinary reach across the Americas, or the institutional backing that render our school a leader in this unique and extremely important domain.
- Content: During the twentieth century, change was relatively periodic and of limited spatial dimensions. Changes are now of shorter temporal frame and produce larger and much more complex spatial consequences. The increasing frequency of catastrophic events—whether man-made or natural—and rapidly shifting demographics and development have made us witness to regions that suffer widespread destruction in a matter of hours and cities that seemingly emerge overnight. If stability and permanence were the hallmarks of our professions for decades, indeed centuries, then uncertainty and risk are our drivers now. The School of Architecture will rethink that which is constituent and that which is contingent in this rapidly changing world.
- Community: The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture is among the most diverse of its peer institutions, but is that enough? How do we give voice to those who have gone unheard? How do we reach beyond our borders and let others in? This is not about political correctness, but about making our disciplines richer and stronger by bringing greater agency to our professions. We have much to do in regard to opening up our community, and the rewards are too important for us to maintain the status quo.
Over the next few months, we will dive into these three key areas that differentiate us, sharing with you our work and vision.
How we define ourselves as a school, and how we determine our unique contribution, are not questions to be left to a single individual, nor are they elements of a branding campaign. Rather, our identity stems from our collective voice and aspirations and is a comprehensive roadmap for how we approach research and teaching. Each of us, whether student, alumna/alumnus, faculty, staff, friend, colleague, or taxpayer, shapes the identity of the School of Architecture, through our work and through our relationships and conversations. I look forward to working with each and every one of you as we continue to build upon our strengths and coalesce our vision to build this roadmap.
I may not have shared in the hard work that brought the School to such a strong place, but I am incredibly excited to hear from you and join with you as we lead the design professions to new heights.
D. Michelle Addington
Henry M. Rockwell Chair in Architecture