Hammons School of Architecture: Director's Message

The Drury Model

"… architects need to focus on thinking, rather than just constructing." 
Rem Koolhaas

At Drury Architecture we are committed to offering the best possible educational experience on the path to becoming a professional architect. By viewing architecture more as a field of operation than as a pure discipline of speculation for its own sake, we re-interpret the real origin of the term "architect" (from the Ancient Greek, "builder-in-chief"). Choosing a professional perspective, rather than a disciplinary one, is not of lesser importance. Louis I. Kahn, one of the most influential American architects, theorists and educators of the XX century, used to say that, "architecture does not exist, only works of architecture exist." He was thereby shifting the emphasis from the supposed "discipline" of architecture to the (thoughtful) practice of architecture: to architecture as an intellectual profession. But what does it take to educate the contemporary "builder-in-chief" for the XXI century?

At Drury Architecture we strive for our students to be exposed, familiarized and encouraged to experiment and learn with the latest technology in the field, but at the same time we are also committed to, and take pride in, equipping them with the intelligence to make the best and smartest use of that same technology and knowledge. We encourage our students to go beyond problem-solving and develop that "design thinking" mentality that is required for true innovation. As Michael Speaks, theorist and dean at Kentucky, has put it: "Problem-solving shapes the known, while innovation coaxes into existence the unknown." Thus, we educate our students to pursue the big picture and to see architecture instrumentally, without losing sight of the fact that the goals of architecture reach far beyond itself: to help make people's lives more comfortable, meaningful and pleasant, to contribute towards a more just society, and help transform the world in a more sustainable and beautiful way.

Consistently with our model (architecture infused with a liberal arts culture), we welcome, pursue and support the broadening of cultural horizons, the growing of critical thinking, the cross-disciplinarity that a liberal arts based education can offer our students. Our program is fortunate to be part of a diverse and highly articulated liberal arts university and we strive to take full advantage of this condition. A liberal arts education can furnish the professional of the future (in our case the architect as a "technical intellectual", in the apt definition by Italian architect and educator Vittorio Gregotti) to have that cultural maturity, mental flexibility, intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence necessary to navigate and thrive in the challenging times ahead.

To be an intellectual means being able to engage in critical discourse as a free thinker, assuming the responsibility to challenge conventional wisdom, and constantly pushing for innovation. A liberal arts education prepares a student for just this.

The Drury Model of architectural education is thus one that prepares the future architect to engage with the world, locally and globally, with competence, intelligence, maturity and empathy. Teddy Cruz, a socially engaged Californian architect, rightly champions the envisioning of "a new kind of architect". This is our mission here at Drury.

Our model goes beyond the typical balance between theory and practice (or "theory through practice" as recently proposed by some programs). It grows the plant of architectural education out of the bundle of the various disciplinary roots (including the visual arts, history, philosophy, ethics, sociology, anthropology), to converge into, and nurture, one vigorous organism – the plant being further fertilized by required study abroad (a somewhat unique requirement for architecture programs) and real world experiences, such as required community studies and a summer internship with a professional firm. The architecture "tree" also has its branches in the various fields of design (urban, landscape, interior, product), which our students are encouraged to explore. Nonetheless, these branches remain part of one single organism.

At a time of mounting ecological concerns, when a holistic approach is being advocated and more frequently practiced, to understand and intervene in the world in a variety of human endeavors, the model of architect we pursue here at Drury is one that will be well suited to tune in with the world of tomorrow. Our model, through an ongoing process of refinement and improvement, allows our graduates to effectively steer design and construction processes with increasing complexity in project requirements, available resources, teams of experts and stakeholders, as well as regulatory environments and economic and political conditions. This is why we still believe in the value of a generalist approach to architectural education, while, at the same time, allowing our students to pursue their interests in areas of more focused research. When Aristotle compared the architect to the general medical doctor, he expressed his perfect understanding of the nature of the architectural profession.

More and more, CEOs, managers, firms, organizations, and communities are seeking professionals (including architects) with "big picture thinking." Our model (a generalist architect with a liberal arts based education) also offers the mental flexibility to better and more creatively adapt to changing socio-economic conditions, especially in difficult times such as the ones we have been experiencing since the 2008 global financial crisis.

The effectiveness of our model is also well proven. Not only is our program ranked by architectural professionals (according to the latest Design Intelligence report, published in 2011) among the top 10 in the Mid-West region; but our graduates (and I dare say "because of" a curriculum infused with liberal arts courses) perform at par with the graduates from the very top US schools of architecture in the professional licensing exam.

The relatively small size of our program, supported nonetheless by an appropriate number of award-winning and internationally recognized full-time faculty members (with PhD degrees and professional registrations far above the national norms), and the offering of an accredited professional program (Master of Architecture, with the option of a dual MArch+MBA degree program), add focus and intensity to Drury Architecture. Like only a few other programs in the US (and the world), we turn our small size into an opportunity: to offer our students more in-depth learning, faculty time, and support services for their best possible intellectual and emotional growth. In such a workshop atmosphere, where the making of a prototype, the testing of a formal idea (either through skillful sketches or the latest digital app), the crunching of data and their critical assessment, and ceaseless intellectual debates are interspersed and interwoven throughout the day and our building, augmented by year-long "themed" lecture series and other cultural initiatives, our students can grow in a most welcoming, stimulating and challenging educational environment.

Inquiry and reflection, imagination and analysis, experimental making and narrative construing, cross-disciplinarity and collaboration, innovation and social engagement make up the spirit of Drury Architecture. To learn, test and continually perfect what Manfredo Tafuri, one of the greatest contemporary architectural theorists, used to call "the noble and liberal art of architecture."

Maurizio Sabini