Why Interdisciplinary Studies?

Generally, national and international colleges and schools of architecture, planning, construction or building, landscape, and urban design are increasing the requirements for advanced, research-oriented degrees, specifically the Ph.D. Whereas not long ago, the majority of such programs’ faculty were practicing professionals who also taught part-time, over the past thirty years there has been a substantial shift to more full-time, academically oriented faculty. Increasingly, schools are hiring candidates who are able to both teach studio (the traditional format of education in these areas) and have a Ph.D. While requirements for professional practice or practical experience will not disappear, the trend clearly is to expect both that and a Ph.D.

Almost all established Ph.D. programs focus on traditional disciplinary specializations (that are exclusionary of one another). In contrast, the current intellectual and social trend toward integrated, synthetic approaches is provided only by a handful of recently emerged programs, which neither supply an adequate number of graduates nor are geographically distributed across all regions of the country. As many sources, including The Chronicle of Higher Education report, “Professional Schools Seek Degrees of Cooperation: Demand for cross-disciplinary training leads … programs to combine forces” (September 14, 2001, p. A14).

The College and Interdisciplinary Studies

The College of Built Environments consists of four departments that together provide one of the country’s few comprehensive built environment programs within one academic unit: Architecture, Construction Management, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning. Together, this combination of departments enable faculty and students to engage almost the entire development process, from economic and environmental planning, real estate, regulatory processes, siting and design, through actual financing and construction, to facility management and adaptive reuse in subsequent stages. Thus, the college is inherently multi-disciplinary, not only in terms of the dimensions of reality that it treats, but also in regard to the specialized disciplines, methods, and practices that it employs: history, theory, cultural criticism, engineering, design, planning, urban design, energy sciences, acoustics, lighting, environmental psychology, ecology, real estate analysis, statistics, management, horticulture, soil science, law, public policy, and ethics. In addition, because of the College’s focus on comprehensive analysis and practice concerning the built environment and its interrelation with society, it is substantially engaged in interdisciplinary work with other units on campus and outside of the campus, including mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering; with public policy and the health sciences; with art and art history; with textual interpretation in the humanities; with many of the computing and digitization activities that range from digital arts to the information school and technical communications; with education and social studies and services; with sustainability and ecological programs, including urban ecology, geography, the College of Forest Resources (especially urban horticulture and urban forestry), and Ocean Science and Fisheries; with environmental and land use law.

The College’s interdisciplinary character is a good fit with the emerging trends in today’s complex world, where only a pluralistic and collaborative approach will generate the necessary learning and teaching, research, and service. If we are to provide, in the end, both disciplinary and professional means to promote environmental well-being, the diverse environmental specializations must be fully integrated. Thus, working outside traditional disciplinary and departmental categories, the College’s faculty will advance solutions to problems that demand interdisciplinary perspectives and expertise. Other UW units bring much to bear on the built environment and students are wholeheartedly encouraged to explore possible cross-campus connections both in obvious and seemingly unlikely places. The Technology and Project Design/Delivery specialization especially connects with Psychology, the Information School, Technical Communication, Computer Science and Engineering, and Industrial Engineering; the Sustainable Systems and Prototypes field with Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, the Information School, Technical Communication, the College of Forest Resources (especially Eco-System Science and Conservation, Urban Horticulture and Urban Forestry), the Evans School of Public Affairs, Geography, Public Health, Ocean Science and Fisheries, and Social Work, Urban Ecology, and perhaps Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes and Nanotechnology; the area of History, Theory, and Representation with Textual Studies, Art History, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at Tacoma, and Comparative History of Ideas.