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Class Day Lecture: Teju Cole - YouTube
[See also: https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/commencement-teju-cole ]

"The GSD has named Teju Cole as its 2019 Class Day speaker. Teju Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His books include Open City, Blind Spot and, most recently, Human Archipelago. He has been honored with the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, the Windham Campbell Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many other prizes. His photography has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, and he was the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine from 2015 until 2019. He is the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard."
tejucole  2019  commencementaddresses  design  refugees  tonimorrison  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  power  doors  sandiego  borderfieldstatepark  friendshippark  border  borders  migration  immigration  us  mexico  tijuana  borderpatrol  humanism  grace  chivalry  hospitality  humans  kindness  commencementspeeches 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
“Design Is Not an Intellectual Exercise” | Harvard Magazine
"STANDING BEFORE a graduating class of soon-to-be architects and designers and urban planners at the Graduate School of Design’s Class Day, Teju Cole—the Vidal professor of the practice of creative writing—wanted to talk about doors. Real doors, but also symbolic ones. He began with a story from his own childhood in Lagos, Nigeria, about a door his father had brought home from a trip to Brazil, a “honey-colored, luminous, gorgeous” object that was “fit for a cathedral” but had no practical place in the family’s two-bedroom rented flat. For years, said Cole, the unused and unusable door gathered dust in the corner of their home, but his father remained committed to the idea it represented: a house and property of their own. That commitment “stayed with me, not only as an act of faith, but as an instinct for understanding a kind of power of portals.”

Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His five books include Open City, Blind Spot, and most recently, Human Archipelago, a collaboration with photographer Fazal Sheikh that explores the plight of displaced persons and refugees around the world. Cole’s own photography has been the subject of solo exhibitions, and from 2015 until 2019, he was the photography critic of The New York Times.

In his speech, he wound through the etymology of the word “door”—one of the oldest in human civilization, as ancient as “hand,” or “bread,” or “home”—and its equally ancient architectural history (“a house without a door is either a dungeon or a tomb”). He spoke about doors as a rich, resonant subject for artwork, and explored the symbolic force of the word’s many meanings: passageways, openings, opportunities, the act of crossing over, of overcoming. Finally, his meditation landed on a very different kind of door. A few years ago, he traveled from Lagos across what was once called the Slave Coast of West Africa, to Ouidah, Benin, where a giant bronze and concrete arch, the Door of No Return, memorializes the enslaved who were taken from that place. Cole saw the tree to which people had been chained, the field that was once a holding pen for thousands, the pit where those who rebelled were thrown to their deaths. “This was a journey into traces of human cruelty,” he said.

He looked out at the graduating class. “Design is not an intellectual exercise,” he said. Taken altogether, their work will be influential. “But the question of what kind of influence you will have is up to you. We face challenges, and we need you to be a door for us. We’re living in a time of toxic patriarchy still. We are living in a time of white supremacy still. There are those who agree to build prisons. There are those who agree to build detention camps. Oppression has always had great use for architects and designers and urban planners. Redlining was a technical skill. And everything that betrays our collective humanity depends on people just like you, with skills just like yours.”

He wasn’t finished. “Fascism in guises large and small requires signage and advertising,” Cole said. “It requires vivid design and the architecture of enmity. History assures us that many, many people get swept up in the flood of its seduction.” He paused. “Will you be one of those who refuse to participate? Even when you know that there will be no medals for your refusal? Even when you’re assured that your refusal will only earn you mockery, poverty, or worse?”

A few minutes later, he returned to an idea he’d introduced in the beginning of the speech: how people become doorways for each other, to help others get where they are going. He quoted the author Toni Morrison, who, in a 2003 interview, said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”

“I think about that a lot,” Cole said. He told the graduates-to-be that it is important to take their professional endeavors seriously, to work toward mastery in all their skills. “But expertise is not the destination,” he cautioned. “The destination is freedom. What can we do to free others? Sure, we are experts, but under what ethical pressures does this function? In other words, how do we become a door for others to pass through?” Later, he added a wish for the graduates’ careers. “You will do work that allows you to live with yourself. That’s the bigger dream, putting feeling into form in a way that doesn’t do violence to what is human in you.”

And what about his father’s door? Eight years later, Cole said, his parents—both of whom were in the audience—finally were able to buy a piece of land, on the outskirts of Lagos. They built a house there, and placed the door in it, “like a jewel in a velvet cushion.” Three years after that, Cole left home at 17 to go to college in the United States. And “it was through this doorway, literally, that I stepped—this beautiful, long-nurtured Brazilian door.”"
tejucole  2019  design  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  tonimorrison  power  doors 
12 weeks ago by robertogreco
How Will You Redesign Your School Over The Next Six Months?
"I was talking with architects from the AIA’s Committee for Architecture for Education last week, discussing — along with my superintendent — our school system philosophy of the intersection of space design, technology, and pedagogy. And at the end Karina Ruiz — a West Coast school designer — asked,
“But what if educators don’t have a building project right now?”

And I paused. We had been talking about our journey from opening up a few walls to building truly flexible spaces, from offering kids seating and writing choices to a move toward eliminating single-teacher classrooms, but our presentation was, indeed, geared toward building.

“Everybody always has a building project,” I finally said.

Because every school should be changing all the time. And should be changing with a purpose — moving from adult centered teaching spaces to child centered learning spaces — moving from static environments to flexible environments — moving from controlling design to inspiring design.

Every school needs a building project every year, because you don’t need contractors and bulldozers to change a school environment — you just need commitment.

So if you can’t do the expensive stuff — you can still do the effective stuff. So here are four things you can do to change your school’s space.

One: Give your kids the gift of daylight.

Walk into many classrooms and you’ll see the windowsills piled high with stuff — often adult stuff. You also may see shades or blinds pulled down.

Well, in order to maintain healthy attention kids need three things that are often in short supply in schools — fresh air, large muscle movement, and daylight. One of the easiest to fix, in many schools, is daylight.

Open those blinds and shades. If it’s not a lockdown or the sun blazing in full bore, open them and keep them open. Limit anything on the windows that obstructs the view — kids benefit from being able to see where they are on the earth.

Now clear off those windowsills. That’s not a storage spot — it’s a prime place for children. Make it easy to sit there, make it comfortable.

If you just do this in every classroom you will have rebuilt your school. Attention will go up, discipline problems will go down. Guaranteed.

Two: Get rid of teacher desks.

Or at least dramatically shrink the space teachers claim for themselves.

Listen — when I observe a classroom I really don’t look at the teacher, I watch kids, listen to kids, look for the variety of what kids are doing and how they are doing it — but — an opening ‘fail’ is walking into any classroom and seeing a teacher sitting at their teacher desk. Why would any teacher separate themselves from their students like that?

The teacher’s desk is an ugly remnant of a time when uninvolved teachers led ineffective classes, they really need to vanish. But if they cannot vanish completely, they need to become small spots used for effective one-on-one or one-on-two conversations. Storage can be in one modest-size cabinet against a wall.

If you want to increase learning space, you get rid of space used for — well, something else.

Walking a middle school a year ago with the principal we came across one classroom where the teacher had built — essentially — a tiny house, and a tiny house blocking student access to half of the room’s windows. Looking at the ceiling grid I noted that this teacher had carved out an 8x16–128 square foot living room. There was a presidential-size desk, a pseudo oriental rug, book cases, a coffee maker, and all kinds of personal images: 16% of the classroom space was walled off from kids.


That’s extreme but it’s not that unusual, and it needs to stop. Classrooms belong to children.

So get rid of teacher desks. Or at least shrink them and push them completely away from the windows. In every classroom.

Your school will see it’s learning space increase by 10%.

Three: Keep all of your classroom doors open.

Easy, right? No cost, no moving anything. But transformational.

The most obvious way to build transparency and openness into your educational environment is to open classroom doors and create the notion of ‘the commons.’ Opening doors will make your school noisier and more active. It will convert corridors from waste space to instructional space. It will allow kids who need a different kind of space to have it and yet — remain supervised.

Obviously it will do something else. The talk we gave to the architects was titled “Space that forces change — Change that forces space.” Opening doors will make your teachers change what they do. Noisier environments mean that teacher voice must change. You can’t really yell over it, you have to talk under it, and thus move away from mass instruction.

It does one more key thing — it reveals great teaching and encourages teachers who struggle to collaborate with those great teachers.

So make this an absolute rule: classroom doors stay open.

Four: Let kids sit where they want, if they want.

We have this saying, “a kid can’t walk into any classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade, and choose where, how, or if to sit — we aren’t teaching them to make decisions, which means we aren’t teaching them very much at all.”

This is important. The act of controlling seating, like the act of controlling toilet use, or food and drink, is an act which shatters the possibility of real trust between teachers and children. It’s an act which prevents children from learning how to define their own work environment (If you’d like — it’s an act that leads directly to failure in the first year of college.) It’s also an act which makes the classroom a fight, for you have created rules that work against child learning and a rule that makes no sense to kids.

So stop doing it. Eliminate the rule across the school. Focus on comfort and good choices instead of compliance. Use phrases like, “wouldn’t you be more comfortable standing up? [lying down? by the window? sitting in the hall?]” Or even, “is that space working for you?”

Another guarantee — the entire mood of your school will change.

There. Four ‘quick fixes.’ Quick but not easy. Instead of sledge hammers you’ll need full admin support and peer pressure. You’ll want to document and talk about the changes. You’ll need to see where the design needs tweaking. And most of all, you’ll need patience.

Rebuilding a school creates mess at first. Your kids will need time to learn new patterns — and learn how to make good choices. That’s why these are six month construction projects. Three months to plan and get consensus. Three more to make it work."
irasocol  2017  schools  education  change  adaptability  flexibility  schooldesign  sfsh  furniture  doors  desks  light  seating 
may 2017 by robertogreco
my first commencement speech | Abler.
"Congratulations, class of 2016. It’s an honor to be with you. I want to start with a story from candidates’ weekend this past February. As you all know, Candidates’ Weekends are when the applicants for admission who’ve made the first cut come to campus for a full weekend of events—events we design to help us understand them as people. You all did this some four years ago now.

So one thing I did on Candidate’s Weekend was the solo interview session. The setup is three of us: myself, as the faculty member, plus one current student, and one recent alumnus sit together to ask a series of questions of these young people. And—they’re 17, right, so they’re nervous. It’s a profound and moving thing to see up close their quivering hands, their flushed cheeks. We try to set them at ease and to learn something in a short amount of time: about what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about.

And at the end of each interview, as instructed, we allow for questions from the candidates themselves: and they do have questions—about Olin life, or what we like about engineering, things you would expect.

And on that day, these questions from the candidates were indeed more or less the usual fare. With one exception. We asked this one affable young high school student if he had any questions, and without missing a beat, he said, right away, he said: “What’s up with the doors here?” Just like that, totally unself-conscious. What’s up with the doors here? And my interview partners—the student and the alumnus—just *erupted* in recognition and laughter. Because apparently the doors at Olin are notorious among students for their poor design: it has been, for all these years, weirdly unclear whether and where you push or pull. It’s not intuitive where your weight should fall to hold them open. It’s awkward entering and exiting all over campus.

Lots of Olin students have remarked on and complained about this phenomenon, and here was this young person: so immediately alert to the subtlety of this condition in his first weekend here, and brazen enough to call it out.

That guy got in. I checked.

This young hopeful candidate for engineering school had found himself among his people. And I’m happy to say that in the intervening weeks and months since then, somehow some door cues—saying “push here” or “pull” have mysteriously appeared on various handles around campus. Not sure who’s responsible for that, but someone got the message.

Now. That story might seem like just a funny anecdote, but it actually reveals something big, I think, about engineering and engineers. Asking What’s up with the doors is more than an idle observation. I think it indicates a way of being in the world.

A lot of times engineering is framed as a penchant for problem-solving, in various permutations and with various caveats. Problem-solving: that is, skills and knowledge to materially improve the operations of the world. You’ve heard this.

But What’s up with the doors, I think, signals something more profound. It’s the full knowledge that the inherited conditions of the natural and built environment need not be as they are. It’s the understanding that atoms and bits—the material and the digital—these conditions aren’t permanent. They don’t have to remain mysterious. Atoms and bits, bits and atoms: unlocked, un-black-boxed, malleable, contingent.

To understand the systems of the built world is to know, in your bones, something powerful: that things might be otherwise. The doors, the engines, the mechanisms, the software and systems: you all know that these are the results of design decisions that can be reversed, unwound, utterly reconceived. Because you understand how they work. What’s up with the doors underscores that power, and it’s a power that you all now have. We send you out to the world with it. So: it’s a good day.

However. However.

I won’t cheapen this day by offering you a simple victory narrative. If only, IF ONLY the doors of the world were entirely made of wood and steel. If only it were so simple—to make the world better, just using atoms and bits.

Think about the doors of the immaterial kind: the portals, the thresholds, the entry points to human flourishing that are only open to some, and sealed shut for others. These are doors whose pushing open and pulling closed are social, political, interpersonal mechanisms—mechanisms that no amount of physics alone can sway.

In other words: to find yourself equipped as an engineer in the physical, technical sense—to be able to intervene and even dismantle the doors of the tangible, built world—is still to find yourself an ordinary citizen with a much harder set of questions to engage. How do we share this planet? How do we talk to each other, people unlike ourselves? How do we grapple with the legacies of history? How do we build not only the future we can construct, but the just and sustainable future we want to live in, one that includes all of us? To pry open and build these kinds of entrances, you will use your engineering, yes, but you’ll need so much more than that. You’ll need wisdom, and you’ll have to look for it and recognize it far outside of technology.

Be brave with these questions. Keep asking them. See that all kinds of openings and closings are everywhere.

And as you go out from here, know that the doors of this campus remain open to you."
sarahendren  olincollege  commencementaddresses  accessibility  engineering  2016  access  criticalthinking  problemsolving  doors  power  howthingswork  portals  thresholds  intervention  wisdom  technology  politics  commencementspeeches 
may 2016 by robertogreco

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