Lecture series bonds architecture, environment

A new lecture series connects the environment and architecture schools in order to tackle the challenges of green design and other environmental issues.
A new lecture series connects the environment and architecture schools in order to tackle the challenges of green design and other environmental issues. Photo by Christopher Peak.

A recently established lecture series at the School of Architecture aims to rejuvenate the school’s joint degree program with the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The series, which will feature conversations between professors from the two schools with overlapping research interests, is meant to facilitate interaction between students and faculty from the two disciplines, said Sheena Zhang ARC ’14 FES ’14, one of the series’ organizers. The coordinators of the series hope it will draw attention to the program, which offers both Master in Architecture and Master in Environmental Management degrees, Elisa Iturbe ARC ’14 FES ’14 said, adding that she feels students at both schools are not very aware of the cross-disciplinary enterprise.

Though the program was created in 2006, Zhang and Iturbe are currently the only two students enrolled. A third is taking a gap year.

Alexander Felson, the professor who oversees the dual-degree program, called it a rarity among American universities, despite the pressing need for architects to consider environmental issues.

“There are very few examples of architecture programs in this country that have an integration with something like [the environment school],” Felson said. “That being said, as you’re thinking about urban sustainability and the future of the built environment, it’s an important relationship to cultivate. We have a critical opportunity to make that dialogue grow.”

Zhang said that most schools that offer similar programs tend to emphasize either architecture or the environment at the expense of the other. Iturbe said that since Yale offers a joint degree, as opposed to programs that incorporate courses from both disciplines but award only one degree, it provides a unique opportunity to study each field from the ground up before students’ views are colored by cross-disciplinary analysis.

Felson added that the structure of the program allows students to maintain the integrity of their design process, since environmental concerns do not stifle the architectural component of learning from the beginning of a student’s education.

But the physical separation between the two schools often results in an intellectual separation as well, Iturbe said. While Felson said students are meant to serve as links between the otherwise unconnected schools, Iturbe said this integration is missing for much of students’ time in Yale’s program, since joint-degree students take only architecture courses for the first two of their four years.

Zhang said the new lecture series, which she and Iturbe hope will comprise one or two events per semester, is meant to bridge the gap between the two schools. The first event, which took place at the architecture school on March 20, featured forestry professor Chad Oliver FES ’75 and architecture critic Alan Organschi ARC ’88 sharing their knowledge about wood as both a sustainable material and a design element. She added that while many professors at the two schools share research interests, they often do not collaborate because they have very little contact with each other.

Oliver and Organschi may co-teach a seminar on the topic of wood next semester as a result of the conversation, Zhang said, adding that she hopes all the lectures will lead to such tangible results.

Felson said the lecture series also offers an interesting look into the varying methodologies between the two schools, since the environment school tends to teach students how to make environmentally conscious decisions on a larger scale than the Architecture School, which focuses on specific materials and design elements.

Zhang said that the audience of the first lecture filled the seminar room to capacity and contained an equal mix of students from the two schools, most of whom were not enrolled in an interdisciplinary program but were still interested in issues investigated at the other school.

The School of Architecture also has a joint-degree program with the School of Management.

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