design futures should be in your future

Hosted by a collaborative of university based architecture programs, the second annual Design Futures Student Leadership Forum conference was hosted at Tulane University last week. Over sixty students from ten universities were given a unique view of the field, meeting public interest design leaders and hearing about their projects, but further, participating in workshops that asked questions that welcomed the next generation of public interest designers to be a part the discourse that leads, defines and sometimes plagues this field.

Sessions included topics such as funding sources, ethics, power structures and skills utilized in social impact design. By inviting thought leaders and asking them to create sessions that were workshops more than lectures, what resulted was powerful stuff. Students got a look at one of Katie Swenson’s Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship draft budgets, a power mapping exercise Christine Gaspar and the CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy) staff had used to understand the agendas of involved parties related to unregistered hotels in New York City (pictured below), and insights from Theresa Hwang on ethical decision making related to the work of Skid Row Housing Trust, among others.

John Peterson, of Public Architecture, led a session that was designed for students, but was equally interesting to early career attendees. The workshop guided participants through a series of exercises that worked backward, from long range career goals, to options that can be pursued today to develop the skills that will make achieving those goals possible. As a panelist, along with Tulane City Center’s Emilie Taylor and UT Austin’s Nicole Joslin, I shared that though my time in architecture firms was important to my professional development, my time as a waitress taught me to talk with unhappy customers and to “know when a fire is a fire”, a skill that helps me keep projects moving forward even as challenges arise.

Though Design Futures was created as a conference for students, the format positioned presenters to discuss their work in a critical and reflective way that engaged attendees of all ages. Next year’s Design Futures at the University of Kansas is on my list of conferences not to be missed in 2015.

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