On September 27, Director of the Parsons Design Studies Master’s program Susan Yelavich joined students, faculty, and alumni at Brown University to discuss the history, present, and future of design at her alma mater. Though it currently has no specific design concentration, Brown—which is currently celebrating its 250th anniversary—has nonetheless nurtured a number of influential designers and architects, among them architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934). Gathered together that weekend to further the prospects for design at the University were: Gareth Rose and Isabelle Lubin (Brown juniors who participated in the Solar Decathlon), Steve Glenn (CEO, Living Homes), Barbara Weinrich (Principal, MNArchitecture), Brown University professors Dietrich Neumann (architectural history and urban studies) and Derek Stein (physics), and Yelavich herself.
During the event, which featured a presentation and panel entitled “From T-Square to Techstyle Haus,” Yelavich emphasized the importance of carving out new academic spaces to acknowledge and explore design’s consequences in today’s world, noting, “Our dependency on things is ever stronger, but the prospects for social and environmental sustainability dangerously weaken if we fail to the consequences of those things. Design studies looks at those consequences as well as the affirmative responses design can offer when the values embodied in places and things are fully recognized.”
Today, Brown has a joint undergraduate program with the Rhode Island School of Design, a relationship that has paved the way for other initiatives. A case in point was the weekend’s presentation of the student-driven Brown/RISD 2014 Solar Decathlon entry. In that project, engineering and art students and faculty collaborated with designers at RISD. With such a fertile territory opened up to explore practice, Yelavich feels that Brown could offer complementary opportunities for design scholarship, conjoining the perspectives of art and engineering with those of the social sciences. For the potential of design to be realized and understood, she argued, it needs to be studied at the nexus of practice and theory from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including its own.