Schools of Thought: Rethinking Architectural Pedagogy
A conference organized by the University of Oklahoma Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture
March 5-7, 2020
In the Spring of 2020, the University of Oklahoma (OU) hosted “Schools of Thought: Rethinking Architectural Pedagogy,” a conference designed to bring together scholars, architects, and designers to explore questions about how we teach design. Dr. Sharon Sutton, Visiting Professor of Architecture at The New School, Parsons School of Design, and Joan Ockman, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania served as keynote lecturers. The symposium coincided with the exhibition Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The conference was made possible with support from the Bruce Goff Chair of Creative Architecture and the OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships, as well as generous gifts from Ben Graves and the Gunning family.
“A new school, probably the only indigenous one in the United States” is how the architect Donald MacDonald characterized the School of Architecture that developed at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in the 1950s and ‘60s.1 At the time, architectural curricula in the United States either followed the French Beaux Arts model centered on the classical tradition or the German Bauhaus model centered on abstraction and materiality. The University of Oklahoma College of Architecture stood apart from these two trends and developed an authentically American approach to design. Under the leadership of Bruce
Goff (1904-82), Herb Greene (b. 1929), Mendel Glickman (1895-1967), and others, OU faculty developed a curriculum that emphasized individual creativity and discovery. Students were taught to look to sources beyond the accepted canon of western architecture and to find inspiration in everyday objects, the natural landscape, and non-western cultures such as the designs of Native American tribes. As MacDonald described, at OU there emerged “a truly American ethic, which is being formulated without the usual influence of the European or Asian architectural forms and methodologies common on the East and West coasts of the United States.”2
While OU students developed a keen awareness of global architectural history, when they arrived in the design studio, they were instructed: “Do not try to remember.”3 Do not begin with classical column capitals and proportional systems or modernist pilotis and grids. Do not begin by imitating the designs of your instructor. Instead, begin fresh. Begin with the natural context: the slope of the land, the quality of the light, and the local materials. Be earnest in attempting to respond to the program. Sincerely listen to the needs and desires of the client. Most importantly, students were taught to begin by trusting their own creative instincts. Today, we find aspects of the American School approach resurfacing in architectural pedagogy and practice. Designers are again considering how to be materially resourceful, design sustainably, and work sincerely with clients and sites. Design-build programs are once again celebrated as a means for students to learn firsthand from the labor of construction. Digital fabrication technologies have led to a renewed interest in organic forms.
More than 70 years after Goff’s arrival at OU, the “Schools of Thought” symposium seeks to extend the American School tradition of reconsidering how and what we teach our students.
1 Donald MacDonald, “Preface,” Architecture + Urbanism 81:11 (Nov. 1981) :18.
3 Bruce Goff, “The School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, 1947-56,” Architecture and Urbanism, no. 11134 (1981): 12.
Conference Welcome and Land Acknowledgment
Welcome offered by Stephanie Z. Pilat, land acknowledgement offered by architecture student Alecia Buffington, song offered by anthropology and international development student Asher Stevens, and opening remarks offered by Gibbs College Dean Hans E. Butzer
Decolonizing Architectural Pedagogies
Chaired by Harriet Harriss, Dean of Architecture at Pratt Institute, and John Harris, Director of the OU Center for Peace and Development
“Do Not Try to Remember”: Pedagogy in Transition
Chaired by Winifred Elysse Newman, Professor and Director of the Institute for Intelligent Materials, Systems and Environments at Clemson University, and Lee Fithian, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma
Engaging Design-Build Pedagogy
Chaired by Christian Dagg, Head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University, and Hans E. Butzer, Dean of the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture
Participatory Design and Community Engagement
Chaired by Justin Ferguson, AIA, PhD, Director of Urban Design and Planning, Meticulous Design + Architecture (MDA), and Shane Hampton, Director of the OU Institute for Quality Communities
“Equity is NOT Window Dressing: Breaking Through the Cloud of Equity Rhetoric” [Interactive Session]
Facilitated by members of the Equity in Architectural Education Consortium, including Carmina Sánchez-del-Valle, Professor of Architecture at Hampton University; Mary Anne Akers, Dean and Professor at the School of Architecture & Planning at Morgan State University; Stephanie Z. Pilat, Director of Architecture at Gibbs College at the University of Oklahoma; and Joana Dos Santos, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.
Conference Closing Panel Discussion
Closing panel discussion moderated by Gibbs College dean Hans E. Butzer, with panelists Dr. Carmina Sánchez-del-Valle (Hampton University), Dr. Justin Ferguson (Meticulous Design + Architecture), Dr. Sharon Sutton (Parsons School of Design), Christian Dagg (Auburn University), and Dr. Winifred Elysse Newman (Clemson University)
The “Schools of Thought” conference was hosted in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, with some events held in Gould Hall. View the conference program here.
About the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture
The Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture, whose oldest program was established in 1916, supports a future in which all communities are designed for resiliency and empowered to maximize their social, economic and environmental well-being. The Gibbs College of Architecture educates more than 600 students through undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs across seven academic units in Architecture, Construction Science, Environmental Design, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Regional and City Planning.
About the University of Oklahoma
Established in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a doctoral degree-granting university and leader in research, health care, and academic activity impacting the state of Oklahoma and global community. The Norman campus enrolls more than 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City enroll more than 3,000 students and the OU-Tulsa campus enrolls more than 1,000. Of the 4,385 incoming freshmen in 2018, the average ACT score is 26.2 and is one of the most diverse and inclusive groups of incoming students in university history. OU began a new focus in 2018 to double research efforts in the next five years, promote OU Medicine as the health care provider of choice in the State of Oklahoma, and grow the university in northeastern Oklahoma.
Please contact the conference organizers, Angela Person (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Tony Cricchio (email@example.com), with questions about “Schools of Thought.”