These days architecture is both a weapon and a victim of intolerance. Historic buildings are destroyed for what they symbolize, and there are calls for the building of walls and the construction of refugee cities. These actions are symptoms of the global preoccupation with the fear of others and the attempt to keep people “out.” The Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) community rejects these injustices and has built the architecture department on the principle that the purpose of architecture is to support the social good.
This spring, graduate student Marian Petison from the MassArt M.Arch program won the Gensler Diversity Scholarship Award. As the first prize winner, Marian spent most of the summer interning at Gensler, gaining professional experience in a firm where engaging other cultures is part of their design process. MassArt is particularly proud of her achievement because the College has a long history of working for social change. In fact, the school was launched back in 1873 as the first public art college for the express purpose of training students to draw, so they could go on to schools of engineering with the same level of skill as students from private colleges. It was open to women from day one and graduated the woman who would go on to become the first registered female architect in the country.
Supporting diversity has always been part of the MassArt mission and it relates to architecture because architecture is a social art. How we build determines in large part how we interact with others. At its best, the built environment is the means through which we share social experiences and support diversity and inclusion. If done correctly, architecture creates opportunities to engage with people of other generations, cultures and physical abilities, which is how MassArt approaches the teaching of design.
MassArt graduate students—across nine majors—come from many backgrounds, but share a common interest in learning through making, and a strong commitment to improving our collective experience through art, design and art education. Architecture students enjoy the benefits of learning about design in the context of these other creative disciplines, and MassArt continues to provide affordable access to students who seek an education that focuses on the individual creative development and cross-cultural experiences.
Marian is one of many international students who make up almost fifty percent of MassArt’s graduate architecture department. Our students’ areas of research suggest a generation of designers who will reaffirm architecture as a discipline focused on social, cultural and economic equity. Indeed, many of our faculty members’ professional careers focus on social equity work such as affordable housing, childcare facilities, and schools in underserved regions. The faculty has integrated these values into the curriculum, including our Community Build course. This work is by nature collaborative and requires different points of view. All the work that we undertake as architect citizens have a central focus on inviting people in, in keeping with MassArt’s founding belief that the purpose of architecture is to support the social good.
See here for more information on Massachusetts College of Art and Design program.