There is a growing demand for specialized knowledge and skills to address emerging and critical issues that span the architecture and design disciplines. This demand is underpinned by the sustained movement in which research informs an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary design practice. Graduate study is a way for early and mid-career design professionals to gain expertise, strategically focus and develop their career path, and even seek leadership positions. The three areas of practice framed below show how advanced design education can lead to professional development and growth.
The United States is now being tapped for its timber resources, manufacturing capacity, and innovative wood design expertise. Mass timber is a generic term that describes products of various sizes and functions, such as glue-laminated (glulam) beams, laminated veneer lumber, nail-laminated timber, and dowel-laminated timber. Yet, the most common and most familiar form of mass timber – and the one that opens up most of the new architectural and design possibilities – is cross-laminated timber.
Mass timber rivals steel and concrete because of its ability to deliver long spans, speed of installation, lightness and toughness, carbon sequestration, renewability, fire rating, acoustic isolation, and thermal resistance. Today, there are already buildings designed as tall as 40 stories built with cross-laminated timber and glulam. Even taller, an 80-story skyscraper for the city of Chicago is being designed by Perkins and Will. Even though there have been many six- to eight-story structures built for economic reasons, the race for taller mass timber buildings has just begun. Despite this burgeoning trend, graduate study is one of the few opportunities to gain this expertise due to a lack of timber design education at universities across the country.
Resiliency design addresses interconnected deficits in cities where there are increasing threats to social stability and prospects of a good life. Design has a central role to play in not only answering these grand challenges but also in linking their solutions. The most consequential deficits include food insecurity, lack of affordable housing and access to transit, ecosystem depletion, water management including flooding, inequality, aging, infectious disease, and of course, climate change.
Resilient thinking equips us to reimagine how human life might be organized differently on Earth through urban drivers of change, such as water, energy, mobility, food, housing, aging, and health. While public sectors everywhere are asking designers to solve problems with multiple variables and complex socio-economics, traditional design education does not address these problem types or scales. Holistic problem solving requires imagination but is the only way to engage such complexity. Graduate education can help design professionals advance their efficacy and impact as they confront these challenges.
The paradigm shift from brick-and-mortar to online retail, alongside the growth of place-based hospitality design, compels major changes in retail and hospitality market segments. Leading the way are demands for interactive experiences and integrated technologies that transform traditional luxury environments. Simultaneously, the customer encounter requires sensory, affective, intellectual and behavioral experiences that directly impact satisfaction and loyalty with the business. Inspiring trust and delivering the brand message occurs through tangible, spatial cues concretely.
Further complicating these high-touch, high-tech, high-affect environments is the new reality of COVID-19, modifying consumer expectations for environments that promote and protect health and wellness. The complex design problems require transdisciplinary strategies that are best honed away from immediate client pressures. Immersive graduate education provides opportunities to merge business strategies with behavioral theory and emerging technologies to advance transformational design.
Complex problems combine with increased expectations to place architects and design professions at the proverbial rock and hard place. Knowledge and skill acquisition are often low priorities as firms confront client demands and aggressive construction schedules. For the individual, however, advanced knowledge is required for personal and professional growth. A future-focused career path can be developed in a short time frame by carefully selecting a graduate program in design studies, such as the one-year intensive program comprising multiple concentration areas from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.
By Jennifer Webb, Ph.D.
Jennifer Webb, Ph.D., FIDEC, NCIDQ 8049, LEED AP, is the Graduate Coordinator at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.