Lifelong Learning

Designers prepare themselves for better times to come.

Each time I venture away from my desk, I come back energized by conversations in architecture and design offices across the country. Every engagement makes me more hopeful about the future. What brings on all this energy and hope is my tour with our film Brilliant Simplicity. Based on the high level of creativity that the Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition has been bringing to our pages since 2004, the film ignites conversations about the importance of collaboration, research, and innovation. Interestingly, this dialogue began to intensify in 2009 as architecture firms faced a dark season of slowdowns. Since then, I have been privileged to see how the shrinking-but-brave design community searches for ways to prepare for what’s next, though no one is sure what that may be.

But some of the future is clear: designers need to learn cross-disciplinary teamwork; to create a more sophisticated understanding of sustainable design; to reach out to larger communities and groups that have a voice in reshaping the urban form; to harness a new generation’s enthusiasm for saving the environment as well as its understanding of technology and connectivity.

In March I was in Seattle to present the film to members of the architecture firm GGLO, and to moderate a public discussion called “Climate Change: From Crisis to Opportunity.” Both were organized by the firm and held in its now largely unoccupied ground floor. In addition to the useful information I gleaned from this event, what I remember best is the venue itself. The ground floor, with its front door opening to Harbor Steps, a pleasant downtown descent to the water, is partly a meeting place for up to 90 people, memorably dubbed Space at the Steps. The groups that regularly gather here discuss all the things that go into building great cities in the 21st century. Our conversation about the opportunities presented by climate change included input from people in Seattle’s planning department, city council, and real estate industry.

Though GGLO uses the public space for its full-firm crit sessions, it’s the public events that benefit its members most. These architects and designers can learn about the latest thinking around planning and building—and how those issues are understood by the groups that, when the work comes, will be the firm’s natural collaborators.

Later that month, in New York, I showed the film to a group called LMNOP (Leadership, Mentoring, Networking, Opportunity for A+D Professionals) at the Milliken showroom, which gloriously overlooks Herald Square. This enthusiastic group soaked up the information and continued the conversation down the elevator and into the street. In its second year of operation, this organization of architects, interior designers, and allied professionals came together to, in the words of the group, “fine tune skills that are essential to remain competitive in today’s volatile marketplace.” Learning is going on all over town, in offices, in showrooms that generously host (and feed) these information-hungry designers. Seattle and New York are only two examples of intense sessions across the country. Today these specialists are coming together, preparing for a future in which they’ll need to call on one another.

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