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Inside View of SCUP

Insights from Madeline Burke-Vigeland on the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) 2010 Annual Conference

Q: What were SCUP attendees talking about this year?

A: Not surprisingly, more and more about planning for technologies that don't even exist today.  My colleague Mark Thaler's description of the irony of fate when the power went out in the middle of the conference hit the nail on the head---we’ve become so reliant on technology  that we struggle without it. Unchoreographed circumstances in this case  but the reality is that it continues to be a big question in the world of teaching and learning right now. Technology in the classroom is in many ways taken for granted yet questions of the role it plays in the learning process are hotly debated. Michael Hanley’s blogs on this site begin to address some of those questions.

Q: Were there any big surprises for you at this year’s conference?

A: The theme of this year’s conference was “Integrated Leadership for a New Reality,” but the reality is that this call for speakers went out a year ago as everyone was coming to grips with dealing with a "New (recession) Reality." The wonderful surprise for me was that the conference was incredibly upbeat and positive.  I didn’t hear the word “recession” in any of the seminars, instead, much more forward and creative thinking about opportunities in the new reality—exciting!

Q: You mentioned the conference theme, “Integrated Leadership.” Can you explain why it was important to address this now, this year?

From the perspective of higher education, the phrase “Integrated Leadership” has to do with the idea of administrators, faculty and students collaborating with teams of planners, architects, developers, builders, and community end-users to create new kinds of learning environments. What I heard consistently from the university perspective is that this process of orchestrating these diverse voices results in projects greater than the sum of their parts.

One of most interesting seminars I attended was “The Changing Architectural Profession” which was presented by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. His thesis was that the architectural profession is experiencing a major paradigm shift. Tools including BIM and new knowledge of sustainable design enable us to do entirely new things. This transformation also means that clients should have entirely new expectations of us. Architects work with much more than bricks and mortar today; we’re focused more on developing ideas than we are on a traditional exchange of information. He challenged the audience to lead by seeing university design as more than an opportunity to build, but rather as an opportunity to impact curriculum.

Crowds for ultimate Frisbee top football at Oberlin

Q: What college or university was everyone talking about?

A: For me, Oberlin College was a standout. I saw a presentation by Stephen Varelmann, who is in the Facilities Planning and Design department at Oberlin College. Oberlin commissioned one of the first sustainable campus buildings, and their philosophy is one of an incredibly progressive liberal arts education. This platform ties in so well with the idea of sustainability and progressive leadership in education design. Mr. Varelmann described the experience of  student engagement, and seeing how visibly excited they are by what’s happening in their campus environment. I was recently at Oberlin, on a college tour with my son. We had the experience of a  student tour which also served as a primer on sustainable living: we watched as each dorm's energy usage was displayed for all to see as they compete for the privilege of lowest user; we learned how students run dorms as co-ops, managing the day-to-day business of a not-for-profit; and there are sustainable farms that produce food for the students. The students’ passion and commitment was memorable. While it’s clear that the campus itself is a compelling recruiting tool for the college, it's not about marketing, but rather an extension of a true "cradle to cradle" philosophy about sustainability. It excited me to hear Mr. Varelmann challenging other campuses to follow Oberlin’s example.

About Madeline Burke-Vigeland

Madeline Burke-Vigeland, AIA, LEED AP is a Principal at Gensler and a leader of our global Education Practice Area. Her work has focused on not-for-profit institutions including The Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation, and La Bodega de La Familia. She has taught in the architecture and design programs at Pratt Institute, Parsons, and The New York School of Interior Design. Ms. Burke-Vigeland’s work has been published in The New York Times, Architectural Record, and Interior Design, among others.

Reader Comments (1)

What was even more ironic than losing power was the fact that it turned out to be a REALLY good session, very interactive in a human sort of way.
07.23.2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Thaler

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