Dean of Graduate School of Design at Harvard University
Former Dean of the College of Architecture at Cornell University
Former Chairman of the Architecture Association School of Architecture in London
Editor-in- Chief, Ecological Urbanism
Co-chair of the Harvard University Committee for the Arts
Member of the Executive Committees of Harvard Innovation Lab
哈佛GSD工作室 | © Zhangkan Zhou
Why wouldn’t you first briefly introduce yourself to our GARLIC audience?
I’m very happy to be here. My name is Mohsen Mostafavi. I’m the dean of the graduate school of design. I’m an architect by training. I’ve been here at the GSD as dean since 2008.
” I think there are many many different ways in which the connection to society trying to be, in a way, sort of more ethically and politically engaged institution.”
What effort GSD is trying make to raise a voice of designers, planners and get more social and political impact globally?
So, one of the things has been very important for the school and for me personally is to find ways in which we as an educational institution transcend the traditional boundaries of what educational institutions are, and to be very engaged in the world by doing projects that establish very close ties, very close relationships between the academy and real world. This is something that GSD has been involved with for a long time. But I think we reinforced those relationships.
哈佛GSD2017春季巴西圣保罗设计课 | © Weijia Wu and Chenglong Zhao
Obviously, the most important or the most obvious version of this relationship is the works that we do through our option studios. You probably know that this semester for example we have 22 option studios. The vast majority of these optional studios are involved with working in different cities all around the world. And they work with government agencies, NGOs, private philanthropists who are interested to support research, and therefore we are in a way extending the traditional notions of pedagogy to established much more significant relationship between research and pedagogy and then be located in various places. So, at any one time, we would have studios in Asia. For example, right now we have the studio in Kuala Lumpur. We have studios in the United States, we have studios in South America, in Europe. And this does mean that it makes it a lot easier but also more direct for our students and our faculties to be working with real world issues, and to really, then learn from those, but also produce projects in relation to individuals who have influence to have greater impact.
So that’s really one of the examples, but I think through encouraging the faculties through the establishment of what we call the D-Labs or Design Labs, through the encouragement of research more generally, I think the school has become much more engaged in terms of action in the real world. I think the other aspect of this is to do with our frame of mind, to do with the interests that we have, what are the projects that we focused on, what are the issues that we address, and the kinds of courses that we teach, the faculties that we hire. So, I think there are many many different ways in which the connection to society trying to be, in a way, sort of more ethically and politically engaged institution, has been worked on within the GSD over the last number of years.
What is your imagination of GSD in the future? How do you see the designs, the designers, and professions will be like in the future?
I think one of the ways in which we have thought about professional design is actually to focus both on the disciplines that we have at the GSD but also in a way to go beyond the disciplines to transcend the disciplines. This is an ongoing work and I think we need to do more work on this. For example, we’ve been very focused on making sure that our department of architecture is fantastic. The work that happens is really great, but the same thing with urban planning and design, the same thing with landscape architecture, the same thing with our advanced studies program or MDes, and PHD. But the other exciting aspect of this has been to find ways in which people can collaborate and work across from architecture to urban design, urban design to landscape, and landscape to architecture these kinds of things.
哈佛GSD2017春季巴西圣保罗城市设计期末汇报 | © Nicky Li
We believe very strongly that the design profession if it is to be more successful in the future needs to also have the capacity to be more working as a team, which is what happens in practice, but what happens in practice is that it is not worked on this collaboration so much as also trying to create new forms of knowledge. So, it’s a collaboration, but I think what we want to do here is to go beyond the collaboration to really use the cross-utilization between the different disciplines to produce new forms of knowledge. And I think this is an important aspect of the work of the institution. This is what we have worked on.
What is now beginning to transpire is that if we want designers to have more impact we have to also go beyond design itself and to work with entrepreneurs, to work with medicine, to work with engineering, to work with all sorts of people in other disciplines. On the one hand, increase the importance and value of design because this is not so high in many societies, and also through collaboration with other disciplines to really, in a way, make much bigger contributions. For example, the intersection between design, or urbanization, and public health is an issue that we feel very strongly about. And since you come from China, for example, in a country like China, the question of pollution and the relationship of the way cities are developing. On the one hand, you are pushing for progress, for advancement, and ironically, the more advanced you become, the more cars you would have, the more pollution you would have. So, in one sense, advancement and progress also have costs. And we feel that traditional modes of dealing with urban design, for example, just the master plan for expansion doesn’t sufficiently address these many other issues that one has to deal with, once you consider, for example, urban development. So, urban development needs to be now thought about much more holistically in terms of infrastructure, mobility, quality of housing, but also the quality of air, which before people didn’t really think in this way.
I think at Harvard, we have a unique position to have very strong, the best professional schools and the collaboration between, in a way, the best design school and other best professional schools makes it very exciting for the school to develop new ideas, and new ways in which we can contribute to society, to the built environment, but at the same time, in a way, enhance the position of designers and to gain to garner greater respect in some ways in society for design more broadly.
“This is one of the great talent of designers that are to be able to understand issues, to process them, and to also make projections, to make proposals in a way.”
How do you see this kind of hybridization between design and other fields happening right now and in the future?
I am very very excited about our design engineering program, the master together with Paulson School of Engineering and the collaboration between creativity and knowhow, or design and engineering. I think this is a very interesting intersection.
哈佛GSD MDe工程设计研究生项目课程结构 | © www.gsd.harvard.edu
You probably know that many people in the field of engineering, and in the field of entrepreneurship, have been talking for quite some time about the concept of design thinking. And you hear this word, design thinking. In design schools, maybe there is not so much discussion about design thinking because people design. They are designers and they work on design so they don’t necessarily discuss so much design thinking. But it is very true that many other disciplines are looking to design, trying to see how designers are thinking and what are the ways that for example, imagination and organization come together, how we think, how we imagine, and how we can deal through design with the ways which we organize, we plan, we make propositions.
This is one of the great talent of designers that are to be able to understand issues, to process them, and to also make projections, to make proposals in a way. I think this capacity together with engineering has been a fantastic collaboration to address some very big picture problems. For example, how do we deal with the question of food systems from supply side, from the gourmet and the quality of the food, the culture of food, distribution, waste. If you think about that, suddenly, when you talk about food, it’s not just what we eat, like the whole way in which we deal with production to the way we recycle of food. And you can think about the same thing about water, about light, about energy, like many things in a big picture. So, I think one of the exciting things about the Master of Design Engineering is that the people who go through that program like people who go through many of our programs, they are trained to really address significant issues. We want to take the same kind of experience and now start looking at ways in which we collaborate with other entities.
哈佛Innovation Lab的设计思维沙龙 | © Zhangkan Zhou
So, I mentioned the importance of urbanization and design in relation to health systems. And we have just established, in the last a few months, a collaboration and new master’s degree together with the School of Public Health on urbanization and health. And I see that this kind of program would be very important because both the relationship with engineering and with the School of Public Health redefine the way in which we look at ourselves as well, and how we respond to big societal issues and imagine the same thing could happen in a way in relation to entrepreneurship. For example, the Master of Design Engineering is not just the collaboration between design and engineering, but it’s really design engineering and entrepreneurship. Partly because we need to also train architects who really know more about how they operate in society. We want designers who have the capacity to be really both leaders in terms of imagination but also leaders in terms of implementation, and in order for that to happen, we would need closer relationships with for example, the business school to learn from them about how you realize things, how you work. I think we want architects, designers, landscape architects, and planners who are very successful at what they do, and therefore, this is not only about finances, it’s not about money, it’s not about the personal, the wealth of individuals, but really about the training that provides a kind of strength to people to be able to make things happen. And I think this is a very important thing. We want to have people who are creative but also people who are able to implement to make things happen. I think this is where the whole question of the thesis of the school as producing great thinkers who are also great leaders in the field is something that is very important to us.
“ I think one of the exciting things about the school is that we have certain set of ideas that we believe that the future will be more and more about collaboration and in a way that sort of transdisciplinary practices.“
If we have more and closer cross-disciplinary collaboration in the future, what do you think the role of traditional design discipline, landscape architecture for example, will be under the more communicative and complex world?
I think that’s a very important question. This is why at the school I have been talking about the idea of disciplinary knowledge and transdisciplinary practices. What I mean by that is that your role as a landscape architect is absolutely important and significant because you are developing a certain body of knowledge, certain skills enhancing your creativity in relation to the discipline of landscape architecture. And by that, we mean there’s traditional modes of practice from gardens, parks, and now more and more understanding a larger scale of development also with landscape architecture, so more landscape architects are also thinking about urbanization, are thinking about sort of large scale of development and so on. So, your expertise and your knowledge in that field is going to be important.
哈佛GSD2017春季迈阿密景观设计课程致力于在区域和城市尺度应对海平面上升 | © Zhangkan Zhou
At the same time, your collaboration with others is going to take you outside of, if you want to, you don’t have to, but if you want to, outside of sometimes those traditional contexts of designing the park by being able to understand more the relation between a certain landscape project and its connection to a broader set of discussions of urbanization, a broader set of discussions of architecture and so on.
So, I don’t think that we should think about the role of collaboration or the importance of transdisciplinary practices as something that undermines traditional disciplines. If anything, we need to make sure that people who are in our school, they are the best in terms of the knowledge of the specific disciplines, and at the same time, they understand how their discipline can evolve can be enhanced through new forms of collaboration.
This is why I also believe that the option studios, as they work, which give you, after you have gone through a core program of focusing only on landscape architecture. If you want, you can for example, take option studios that are made up of teams of architects and landscape architects, so that may be of your interest, but you may also choose to focus only on doing things that are emphasizing landscape. So, this is also necessary to present the school as a place that gives choice: it doesn’t mean that everyone has to do the same things. I think one of the exciting things about the school is that we have certain set of ideas that we believe that the future will be more and more about collaboration and in a way that sort of transdisciplinary practices.
At the same time, there are people who in the school want to focus very much on architecture and they don’t want to study so much the relationship of architecture to other things. They want to really only focus on that, as the same thing on landscape, and the same thing on planning. So, I think the school has the responsibility in a way to open up the future of the disciplines and to speak and to provide the kind of framework for connections between different disciplines between the GSD, between our school and other schools. And it also doesn’t mean that everyone has to do that. I think the question of options, choices, and being able to construct in a sense of your own research and your own pedagogy is a very fun part of being involved with the school and thinking about the future of the academy as a place that is in a way more open. I think that’s also good thing in a way supposed to think to be.
We looked at the website of GSD, the front page has some keywords which are computation, simulation, food, housing, energy, water, and China. What is your opinion in contemporary urbanism in a city in China? Why GSD has a keyword about China?
There are two issues. One is really about the importance of the keywords and keywords as words that charge a certain set of ideas. So, we do not just say the departments. If you go to the website of every other schools of design, you see the department of architecture, or you see the department of landscape or something like this. Of course, we have that and we want people, and we love these departments, and we want to celebrate them and the faculty who are doing that. But on our website for our school, it’s also important to emphasize the value of ideas, of concepts, of thoughts and also geographies, locations. Locations also represent the certain set of ideas, the certain set of opportunities, culture conditions, and places that we operate, and we work, and we can learn from them. This is why we put sometimes these keywords. These keywords they change. They are not the same always on our website. We can have, you know, at one point it can be the name of one place, it can be the name of another place because it also relates to the activities that we have but also the issues that we are dealing with. So, think about it in terms of topics and topos, in a way of topography, of ideas, and of locations and geographies.
Now China as you said is absolutely important for us. Of course, we welcome so many students from China who also love to be here. And we are very appreciated the fact that they come to the GSD. But I think It’s also that we have very good relationship with many schools and many talented individuals, architects, and developers in China. Because I think what has been happening in China over the last 20 years is phenomenal, in terms of the development, in terms of the growth, in terms of the experimentation, in terms of the knowledge, in terms of the enthusiasm of the younger generation. And I have seen in the last 10 years that there has been a phenomenally increase in terms of the quality of the candidates who are applying from China, because the schools in China are also getting better and better: there is more investment in the university system. Obviously, you know China thinks it’s important for its institutions, for its universities to be among the very best. And We have seen that universities like whether it’s Beida or Tsinghua or Tongji, all of these, they’ve been improving in the rankings and getting better at what they do. So, we feel this kind of collaboration with China is very important, because there are interesting opportunities and there is a level of openness and things can happen very quickly, in a way that in many other places if you’re working in Europe, may be things are very slow. In China, things can happen very quickly and that constructs its own set of ideas. It’s not just that it’s about acceleration. Acceleration produces new relationships, new arrangements, new possibilities in a way. So, I think that has been a very important part of our interest, is because we have, you know people that we appreciate and admire, and then there are opportunities for collaboration.
哈佛GSD2016秋季中国新兴建筑师主题展览 | © www.gsd.harvard.edu
I also think that it’s very important for us to support creativity and experimentation in China. So, you know that recently we’ve had really the first major exhibition of the emerging Chinese architects, designers at Harvard. And this is partly we want to know who these architects and designers are. And we also want to celebrate them, and we also want to engage them in a discussion and discourse. So, if you feel we can also make a contribution, this is something that is important.
You mentioned the role of media. I mean one thing that I can make as a friend of my collaborators in China to say is that for example in China at the moment, the level of design criticism is not so developed. And this still kind of needs to increase whereas the capacity of the designers and the quality of the architects is improving, but you do not have the same quality for appraising, for discussing, for the critical understanding of design. This is why we also need to support, for example, the architects, by bringing them, by engaging them in discussion, by being productively critical about the work that is happening in China. I very much hope that like you’re doing and some of our graduates are also become more engaged in questions of discussion, the manner of evaluation, how do you make judgements about work. You need that in order to improve the quality of the work. Without a social context, without a context where work is debated, discussed critically, then the work it also will be much harder for it to evolve, to develop. So, I think that we see this not only as promotion but also as engagement as discussion. And I think that’s why China is in a way so important on so many different levels of urbanization, architecture, collaboration, criticism, discourse, and of course the relationship with the academy which is so key how we are building collaborations and friendships with different institutions in China.