President Drew Faust’s vision of One Harvard has led to unprecedented cross-disciplinary activity and engagement throughout the university at large this past year. This fall, we sat down with Michael Hays, Professor of Architectural Theory and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, to ask him about the GSD’s participation in the One Harvard mission.

Having joined the GSD faculty in 1988, Hays has a unique historical perspective and is intimately aware of the School’s efforts to cross boundaries in pursuit of solutions to some of the day’s most pressing social and urban questions. The GSD collaborates on a daily basis through its pedagogy, studio work and research labs, but the One Harvard vision has brought increasing impact and enduring systemic change.

According to Hays, the GSD recently joined forces with several Harvard schools and entities to actively engage the issues of our age. The collaborations include:

  • The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), to develop an Undergraduate Concentration in Architecture
  • The School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), to develop a two year post professional, joint-degree program at the masters level in Engineering and Design
  • The EdX program, to develop an online architectural survey course
  • The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), via the HILT initiative, to collaborate on projects related to teaching and learning

“The GSD is uniquely positioned to collaborate. Architects are trained to see relationships, consequences and connections. Architecture is a very good liberal education, touching on the humanities, technology and the social sciences.” Hays believes that the GSD’s primary pedagogical format, the design studio, “provides a unique venue for both collaborative teaching and the one-on-one exchange of ideas. It’s ideal for non-linear project based thinking.”

Started in spring of last year, the Undergraduate Concentration’s first cohort includes 23 students in two concentrations: “Design Studies,” a natural for GSD leadership, and “History and Theory,” a strength of the History of Art & Architecture Department. Four or five years in the making, this collaboration reflects the GSD’s commitment to assist in formalizing a Harvard-based concentration that supports the One Harvard mission.

Collaboration is underway on another academic program–the GSD and SEAS faculty are actively discussing the curricular viability of a joint degree in Design and Engineering. Hays believes that the schools are in agreement at the highest levels, and he anticipates that the program will be offered in the fall of 2014. “There is a natural synergy between our current offerings and objectives. GSD students want to take courses in design markets at SEAS, and SEAS students want to take course in technology and representation at the GSD.” As currently envisioned, the program will establish a collaborative, project based studio that calls upon experts to advise on various aspects of a project. The 16-hour studio course will be a main component of the program and will address large-scale global problems that require a response that draws upon multiple disciplines within the GSD and SEAS, such as disaster relief and development in third-world nations.

Reaching well beyond the walls of our venerable institution, the EdX initiative enables the GSD to access a much larger audience. “Drawing on our natural strength in visual representation and our inherent capacity for online media, the GSD has embraced the opportunity to participate in the university’s EdX campaign.” According to Hays, the School has started by developing a survey course on the history of architecture, “Architectural Imagination,” to provide an online alternative to the Masters of Architecture prerequisite required for all candidates. “Students love it – surprisingly, they especially love the ability to rewind and revisit an idea. The medium allows the material to be highly finished and intense.” Hays explained that other innovative, online offerings are in the works–the objective is to reach students, alumni, and anyone else with an interest in bolstering their knowledge base.

Finally, the GSD has engaged in the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT), a presidential initiative intended to catalyze innovation and excellence in learning and teaching at Harvard. Over the past few years, the GSD has played an active role in a wide variety of HILT projects, collaborating across schools and disciplines. One project, Innovative Studio Space, is using new technology to augment and enhance the studio environment. The classroom space currently in a beta-stage is outfitted with interactive, projection software that allows for multi-user, multi-screen, and multi-device collaboration so students can instantly share information amongst themselves and with their professor. The classroom is also outfitted with multiple cameras allowing for the physical work occurring in the classroom to be instantly captured and shared electronically. The classroom will be available to other schools at Harvard – a cell biologist could use this technology to track cell behavior using three-dimensional representation, while an economist could graph financial systems in multiple dimensions. Ultimately this space has the potential to be a GSD-based hub for university collaborations similar to the Harvard i-lab.

All these exciting projects have elevated the awareness of the value the GSD brings to the Harvard community. Through One Harvard, the university is recognizing that the problems facing society today are so complex that no single academic discipline can solve them–collaboration is essential. Hays is ecstatic that our time has come, “Other schools from around the university seem keenly interested in the way we, as designers, solve problems, in how we do things. They see that we are experts in the interaction of systems, in system analysis.”