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Hot Topics Conversations: Autumn 2020


This academic year, the College of Built Environments will host a series of “hot topic” conversations for faculty, staff and students to discuss some of the language and ideas central to our college work and the forthcoming strategic plan.

What is a “Hot Topic”?

Various topics were identified during the strategic planning process as ones where meaningful differences and productive conflict arose. This manifested in conflicting ideas of the meaning of the word, the impact of the topic on the college, or the value of the concept to the work of individuals, department or college. 

What is the list of topics/words?

  • Profit
  • Craft
  • Design
  • Professionalism
  • Diversity
  • Equity
  • Inclusion
  • Justice

Why are we having these Hot Topic conversations?

Practice! As a college, our EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) goals include more deeply understanding differences within our college, including differences in how we approach our work, how we describe our values, and what meaning we assign to these topics. Identifying and broaching these differences can lead to conflict. Working through these conflicts leads to more skill in appreciating differences and greater opportunity to let those differences contribute to innovation (see purple axis in diagram above).

What we are NOT doing 

We are not seeking consensus or looking for an acceptable euphemism that might mean different things to different people. We may end up agreeing to disagree, but along the way we will gain important insight to the points of view of others in our college (see red “x”s in diagram above).

Autumn 2020

Tuesdays 5–6pm 

  • Profit (October 13)
  • Craft (October 20)
  • Design (November 10)
  • Professionalism (November 17)

What does profit mean in the built environments? What does it mean to our College? Is profit distinct from flow of money, economic value, wealth or value? Is it a driver, an outcome or something else? Are there disciplinary differences in how we teach about or talk about money? Are these similar to other disciplinary differences or does money trigger more deeply held differences?

This conversation will be facilitated by Gregg Colburn (Assistant Professor of Real Estate) and Jen Davison (Assistant Dean for Research).

What does craft mean within our departments, curriculum and fields? Is there overlap in these definitions? Is it a modern term, historical or something else? In thinking about the role of craft in pedagogy, should we teach it? How do we teach it? How does craft relate to technology? To history?

This conversation will be facilitated by Catherine De Almeida (Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture) and Jack Hunter (Digital Fabrication Tech and Lecturer in Architecture).

Design and design thinking were central components of the 2012 draft strategic plan, yet in this planning process, were rarely mentioned by the task groups. Was the omission due to an assumption that design is ubiquitous in our College? Is the omission a sign of success, that the college has changed, an indication that we agree on what it means, a way to avoid past unresolved conflicts raised by the term, or something else? Do we have a clear agreement on what design and design thinking are and the role they play in our college? We want to explore what has changed, if anything, and discuss the import of this word in 2012 that may not be useful to our planning process now.

This conversation will be facilitated by Susan Jones (Affiliate Associate Professor of Architecture and Founder of AtelierJones, LLC) and Laura Osburn (Research Scientist at the Center for Education and Research in Construction, CERC).

What does it mean to be a professional? What education prepares graduates to enter or lead professions in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) industries?

When our classes take on community projects where the community has a clear need, do we take on a commitment of a profession-quality deliverable? What if the open-ended explorations of the course take the work in a different direction? What if circumstances change, such as in the ways we accommodate students in Spring 2020 to opt-in to final projects? Are we modeling behavior that is unprofessional?

This conversation will be facilitated by Branden Born (Associate Professor of Urban Design and Planning) and Rachel Faber Machacha (Academic Advisor & Graduate Program Assistant in Construction Management).

Winter 2021

  • Diversity 
  • Equity
  • Inclusion
  • Justice