In a time where more people than ever have free access to an abundance of knowledge, educational institutions need to rethink their functional role within society. It’s a shame to see some of the brightest minds take an isolated and intellectual path – one without opportunities to apply what they have learned or to refine their conceptual models based on testing, whether that involves having theoretical debates or building physical models. For our society to tackle big, hairy, and wicked problems, we need more practitioners who understand the literature of their vocation and who can use this knowledge to create value for others through collaborating, testing, and iterating. For us to cultivate more practitioners, we need to define shared spaces for them to play. Schools could be the perfect playground for curious individuals to explore and pressure-test ideas with other supportive, like-minded people.
The University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning uses their city as a living laboratory for their students to play. At the end of the 20th century, Buffalo experienced economic hardships and a declining population that resulted in vacant buildings and unused spaces. The city partnered with the university to allow the School of Architecture and Planning to embed themselves within the community. Through this partnership, the University at Buffalo was able to help rebuild and revitalize the city of Buffalo by designing, building, and installing pieces throughout the city. Their work was recently featured at the Venice exhibition TIME SPACE EXISTENCE in a documentary called “See It Through Buffalo,” which looks at how the school shapes and is shaped by its city.
Progress is often constrained by our ability to think, communicate, and learn. Educational institutions have always been at the core of developing these skills – they are our engines for change. If schools want to compete against free lecture video series, certified MOOCs, long-form blogs, open discussion forums, and other alternative educational platforms, they need to focus on developing more practitioners. The more we can upgrade our engines, the better we can run our societies.
The University of Buffalo’s architecture program was recently explored in the short documentary film below, which was created by PLANE–SITE, a global agency working at the interface of urban form, cultural space, and social life.