Professor Ananya Roy Ph.D. ’99, Professor Teresa Caldeira Ph.D. ’92, Oxford University Professor of Economics Paul Collier, and Dean Jennifer Wolch after Collier’s lecture about integrating poor countries into global society. (Photo: Adrianne Koteen)
The spring 50th Anniversary celebration shifted its focus to the problems that could not have been foreseen when the College of Environmental Design was founded fifty years ago. Over a four day series of lectures focusing on global dynamics and sustainability challenges, the CED community began planning for the next fifty years.
On Wednesday, February 3, Oxford University Professor of Economics Paul Collier was our first keynote speaker with a talk on his groundbreaking research on “the bottom billion.” A billion people live in countries that have fallen far behind the rest of humanity. He then addressed how, over the coming decades, these societies can develop.
In introducing Collier, City and Regional Planning Professor Ananya Roy said, “These issues of global poverty are of central concern to many of us here at UC Berkeley, and they also constitute an important challenge to the disciplines and professions that make up the College of Environmental Design.”
Left: Dana Cuff; Right: Janine Benyus, President and Founder of the Biomimicry Institute, discussed the use of natural and biological structures as a guide for design. (Photo: Adrianne Koteen)
So, all that Berkeley has spawned, all the College of Environmental Design continues to generate, is the springboard from which this next era will grow. And, I agree with all four speakers, who in some way or another point to some kind of tipping point, a bottleneck, that represents our moment historically, and why we can move forward. Each one of the speakers had solutions, that kind of optimism, for the next CED to consider. Whether it’s Collier’s notion of credible hope; or nature’s inspiration as ecological performance standards, not just formal standards; a re-centering of our attentive focus, an amazing concept that’s hard to linger on; and, of course, the urban restructuring of a physical nature that’s inherent and intrinsic to the urban restructuring of an economic nature.
Collier established his theme for the day as design for the poorest of the earth. “If not you, who?” Collier asked the audience about helping redesign Haiti. “It’s both vastly important in itself and it’s paradigmatic of this whole class of societies at the bottom.”
President and Founder of the Biomimicry Institute, Janine Benyus, spoke the following evening to an audience of more than five-hundred people. She grounded her speech on her understanding of biomimicry, the science and practice of asking, “How would nature solve this design challenge?”
Interim Chair of the Department of Architecture, Professor Gail Brager, introduced Benyus with the story of Benyus’s journey from nature writer to a leading theorist. “Over the course of ten years, between 1983 and 1993, Janine wrote five books about wildlife and animal behavior. As she learned more and more about how well animals create, manage, and adapt to their environments, a funny thing happened. She became more and more bothered by her observations about how poorly human beings do the same thing. And that angst that she felt turned out to be a very good thing for all of us, because she turned that combination of frustration and curiosity into a new direction of research.”
Benyus’s speech underscored the highly optimistic sense of the series of keynote addresses with her outlook on the possibilities of sustainable, naturally harmonious design. “Interestingly in the next thirty years, eighty percent of the buildings in this country are either going to be remodeled or built new,” she told the capacity crowd at the I House Chevron Auditorium, “So you guys are going to be building larger nests.”
The final keynote speech on Friday, February 5, was entitled, “Designed to Hesitate: Consciousness as Paying Attention” from University of Chicago Emerita Art Professor Barbara Maria Stafford. Stafford pulled from several fields in her fascinating lecture. The speech began a discussion between the mind-science of the humanities and the brain-science of neurobiology, which will hopefully lead to developments in both fields.
City & Regional Planning Professor Michael Dear introduced Stafford to the audience. He quoted his and Stafford’s mutual friend and colleague Hilary Schor, “Barbara Stafford is a visionary and a prophet. The others who follow write the laws. You can make what you will of that, but you can see what she meant when you see Barbara’s presentation.”
Left: Barbara Stafford, Professor Emerita of Art History at the University of Chicago, spoke about design and consciousness in her lecture at International House; Center: Professor Manuel Castells, Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communications & Society at USC, spoke about reinventing urbanism in a time of economic crisis. (Photos: Adrianne Koteen)
Stafford’s lecture focused on the difference between “voluntary and involuntary attention.” Building on breakthroughs in the neurosciences, Stafford argued that contemporary technological media—the use of cell phones, for example—erode the part of the brain designed to allow for conscious, voluntary attentiveness. She proposed a “pedagogy of attentiveness,” challenging the education system to stimulate the part of the brain which “hesitates,” and therefore, reasonably solves problems.
On Saturday morning, USC University Professor and Wallis Annenberg Chair in Communications & Society Manuel Castells reopened the discussion on the future of CED. His talk, “Reinventing Urbanism in a Time of Economic Crisis,” engaged the crowd with the legendary academic’s thoughts on what can be learned from the current economic meltdown.
CED Dean Jennifer Wolch introduced Castells. She said, “To say that Manuel is prolific and prodigious does not actually quite capture the situation.” She then listed several decades’ worth of accomplishments before adding, “Professor Castells is the world’s foremost theorist of the power of communication.”
Left to right: Professor Dana Cuff (Ph.D. ’82), Director of cityLAB at UCLA, with Professor Michael Dear and CED Dean Jennifer Wolch.
Castells aroused the morning crowd with his thoughts. “So there is a way of reinventing urbanism,” he said. “The ideas are there. The political will of literally millions of people are there. But, it’s also important to study these connections between ideas and practice. And in that sense the College [of Environmental Design] has been and, I hope, will be important. The College can continue to reinvent urbanism … This is the College that has been at the forefront of rethinking the ways we live in cities and beyond for generations.”
Castells’s speech was followed by a panel, “Futures of Environmental Design Education at CED.” The panel featured some of CED’s most engaged junior faculty, recent alumni, and graduate students. Among those who spoke were: Allegra Bukojemsky, Landscape Architect and Leader at Biohabitats, San Francisco; John Cary, Executive Director at Public Architecture, San Francisco; Susanne Cowan, Ph.D. Candidate, Architecture, and Graduate Student Instructor; Bill Eisenstein, Executive Director, Center for Resource Efficient Communities, UC Berkeley; Malo André Hutson, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning; Ron Rael, Assistant Professor of Architecture; and, Renee Roy, Ph.D. Student, City and Regional Planning.
Speakers at the CED 50th Anniversary Symposium: Visualizing the Future of Environmental Design. Left to right: Assistant Professor Malo Hutson (MCP ’99), Allegra Bukojemsky (MLA ’02), Bill Eisenstein (Ph.D. ’05), Susanne Cowan, John Cary (M.Arch ’03), Professor Dana Cuff (Ph.D. ’82), Professor Manuel Castells, Assistant Professor Ron Rael, Renee Roy, and CED Dean Jennifer Wolch. (Photo: Adrianne Koteen)
Alumna Allegra Bukojemsky (MLA ’02)
The panel showcased CED’s potential to stay at the forefront of research and practice during the next fifty years. “We think of ourselves as problem-solvers,” John Cary explained as his view of CED’s function. “One of the opportunities we have, that Prof. Castells and others have talked about, is to identify problems and propose solutions, and really, I think, that’s something, employed or not, we have the opportunity to do.”
Dana Cuff capped the spring program with a talk on the importance of the optimism established through the series of speeches and panels. She elegantly looked back over the past four days, with the conclusion that CED “may be the best site to build back into the world a role for design.”
Left to right: Interim Chair of the Department of Architecture Gail Brager, President and Founder of the Biomimicry Institute Janine Benyus, and CED Dean Jennifer Wolch.
Professors Michael Dear and Mike Tietz
“The city is really our mutual project,” Cuff observed, “and I want to emphasize the word ‘project’ here, where landscape architecture, planning, and architecture are necessary because none of us can do it alone. It’s the commitment here to social, historical, and technological research combined with the force of design that will turn that research and action into new solutions.”