Once upon a time design and architecture were quite discrete disciplines. But over the years as educational priorities have been re-defined, they have become more complex and collaborative. We’ve adopted an inter-disciplinary approach to skills and knowledge that requires creativity, innovation and the ability to solve problems. Teaching is steadily moving towards a more collaborative approach as well, with a learning process called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) which integrates across all of these disciplines in order to develop critical thinking skills.
John Folan recognizes and embraces this approach. As head of the architecture department in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas he is working to teach a new generation of architects who apply their knowledge to the world around us in a thoughtful and collaborative way.
While at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, his previous job, John founded the Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS), “a collaborative of students, professors, and allied professionals who work with community residents on implementation of appropriate, affordable, replicable design solutions.” UDBS has followed John to Arkansas where it continues to focus on public interest design issues. UDBS tests the hypothesis that a collaboration of ideas, intelligence and expertise from a broad range of individuals and entities will benefit the outcome of the work. There architects, tradesmen, community participants and students together are working towards tangible outcomes and tangible impact, with projects quite often growing organically from conversations with community stakeholders and community leaders.
John also founded PROJECT RE_, as a way to expand the efforts of UDBS even further. Its mission is to reuse materials, rebuild communities and restore Lives. Based in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, PROJECT RE_ is a 10,000 square foot facility which holds a community meeting space, gallery, design studio and state-of the art industrial fabrication shop with CNC technology, a wood shop and welding training. Building materials are supplied to PROJECT RE_ from deconstruction of buildings in blighted areas around Pittsburgh and then used for job skill training and in the creation of projects. The facility is used by UDBS for its projects, by the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh for training, by Construction Junction for product construction and for workshops for community members.
Collaborative problem-solving, the panacea for our post-pandemic future. Listen to my interview with John Folan.
Image of RE_FAB courtesy of John Folan.