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Practice : Winter 2010
Paideia , from the ancient Greek, is the process of educ ating students into their true form, helping them realize their genuine human nature. Not about lea rning a trade or an art, Paideia is rather about training for true citizen ship, for liberty (freedom) and nobility (beauty). Through the lens of Pa ideia , the goal of education — in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, design studies — is not only mastery of subject matter. It is the mastery of one’s own person. Subject matter is the tool: facts, techniques, methods and information are important, but the goal of design education is to understand to what effect they will be used. I mention Paideia bec ause it is one of those timeles s ideas helping us now to re-imagine de sign educ ation at the B oston Architectura l College in the face of immense and continuing change in the culture at large. A hundred and twenty-six years on, folks involved with the BAC’s several school s of design are trying to imagine what comes next. They are trying to imagine the kind of thinking, the kind of k nowledge and e xperience a ne w generation must a cc es s in order to design it. R ight now, the BAC is undergoing tremendous rene wa l: a new understanding of Foundation Studies, ne w ways of delivering Education-at-a -Distance, new project-ba sed c ommunity learning ventures like the Solar Decathlon, new Alternative Practice Opportunities, new e xperience s abroad...Paideia is a good principle to g uide our e xploration a s we c ontinue to e volve the College. Paideia allows us to shed some of our old c onceptions/definitions about know- ledge and practice. One of these is that, somehow, designers are scientists. We are not. We disqu alify ourselves at the out set, says ecologist David Orr, by professing loyalty to and affection for a sense of wonder. This sense encompasses the sheer joy in the created world rooted in the trust that this world is, on bala nce, a friendly place full of interesting life “beyond the bounda ries of huma n e xistenc e.” R achel Carson (1984). The definitions of science written by the National Academy deal almost exclusively with the creation and exercise of power. What we are after instead is a curriculum about design that will support in our students the creation and exercise of wonder for life itself : Paideia. And Paideia is an integrative idea. By what is integrated into our design curriculum and its various projects, BAC students might learn that they and their work are part of the natural world. In the past, in schools the world over, design st udios were taught without referenc e to laws of thermodynamics or ecology, and offered students a f unda mentally faulty lesson: that physics and ecology had nothing to do with lives lived in buildings. We are saddled today with an obsolete building stock that is the result of just that lesson: many of our fore- bears concentrated on building form without paying attention to building performance. Paideia is helping us rethink this f unda- mentally misg uided les son. Fina lly, Paideia in design helps us a sk: What kind of huma n relationships do our buildings and their spaces encourage? To build an understanding that can answer this question we are thinking of ways to question the Nike advertising slogan, “Just do it!” Does this notion fail to take into account the consequences of its own actions, possibly including foreign lab or practices a nd the use of unrecyclable materials? Paideia urges a different set of slog ans that describe a design curriculum in which our students will just think about it, just c onsider its consequence s, just work out its f unding, just understand its construction, just imagine how people will feel a round it for the next few generations, just imagine how to solve for the future. Paideia advocates an understanding of de sign that is about transformation. Transformation is what we seek to encour age a t the BAC: the tra nsformation of our stu- dents, of our shared physic al rea lity, the c ontinuing tra nsformation of the College itself in the direction of coherenc e. We are a fter a design educ ation more c oherent with living systems, more c oherent with how we u nderstand the natural world, more coherent with what is to come as we design our way out of the current global breakdown. A s you read this letter, a s you ponder the pos sibili- ties of Paideia , I hope your imagination leads you to envision your own c ontribution to a newly created world of understanding at the BAC. You’re c erta inly invited! letter from the dean : paideia fEaTuRE ] solaR dEcaThloN Jeff Stein, Head of Architecture and Dean Paideia advocates an understanding of design that is about transformation and is an integrative idea. dean Jeff stein 49 pRacTIcE