World of Possibilities

Bruce Lindsey embraces possibilities for architecture education

Posted by Terri McClain, WUSTL Magazine September 23, 2009

Bruce Lindsey's office is dominated by wall-encompassing, industrial-strength metal bookshelves. Rows of books are, of course, a hallmark of academic offices, but rarely do they create a unique design statement. The style of these shelves gives additional weight to the books themselves—academic tools, important in their own right—and also indicates the aesthetic that informs Lindsey's work as an architect and a teacher.

"Bruce is a wonderful, creative thinker," says Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. "He's very well-informed, with stimulating ideas. And he has a passion for books."

Lindsey's other passions include technology integration and sustainability, both of which are fundamental to the goals of the School and the University. As an artist, academic, and practicing architect, Lindsey took on the role of dean in 2006 because he was attracted by the possibilities of the new Sam Fox School.

"I was excited by Carmon's passion and vision for what really is a unique circumstance, bringing art and architecture together with the museum in a national context, where more often than not professional programs are becoming more autonomous and not more connected with other disciplines," Lindsey says. "So the idea of promoting a new interdisciplinary school was very interesting, very attractive."

"Sometimes it is not easy to implement changes quickly," says Adrian Luchini, the Raymond E. Maritz Professor of Architecture and a member of the search committee that brought Lindsey to Washington U. "So in that sense, I think Bruce came at a very critical moment. The organization of the Sam Fox School provided a great opportunity to expand our programs. He was very enthusiastic about implementing them quickly and working to meet the demands academia is anticipating in the 21st century."

One of those demands is the integration of rapidly changing technology both as a function of the School and as a tool for student architects. Kathryn Dean, professor and director of the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, has been tasked with "getting the School up to speed in the digital realm," she says.

"Bruce has given me an enormous amount of freedom and has enlisted academic support to engage in change," Dean continues. "He believes the School should transform professional aspects to include concerns in technology advancement and sustainability. The things that I found to be really strong in Bruce are, first, his optimism for potentials of the program and his willingness to take risks on those fronts and, simultaneously, his ability to show empathy for people and traditions within the institution. Those are two opposite types of qualities."

"We try to understand technology not as replacing something," Lindsey says, "but as contributing to a new set of opportunities, reinvigorating traditional methods of design and process. And the students, as part of a generation that has grown up with computers, are really going to show us new ways to manage that kind of integration. Computers have changed the way that architecture is practiced. They're changing how buildings are designed and more recently how they're built. And they will change the way that architects are able to collaborate with other disciplines and with each other."

Perhaps Lindsey's most visible contribution to the School is the addition of a new graduate program in landscape architecture. The first class will enter in fall 2010. Lindsey developed a passion for the discipline of landscape architecture while at Auburn University, when he served as chair of the program and worked with faculty to develop joint degrees between architecture and landscape architecture and also between landscape architecture and urban planning.

"I came to understand the role that landscape architects are playing and have played for a long time in sustainability, large-scale planning, and bringing to the dialog of physical space the ecology and natural systems of the environment, even in urban areas," he says.

"It was really Bruce who noticed right away in his tenure that there wasn't a landscape architecture program in Missouri," says Colangelo. "Bruce is a key fit in the Sam Fox School. He has a keen intellect and a profound passion for design. He is building a program that relates to the University's goals of sustainability, and he has a real interest in collaborative possibilities as well as a sense of purpose that deals with community and community outreach in architecture."

Named one of the 16 Most Admired Educators of 2009 by DesignIntelligence, Lindsey is enthusiastic about interdisciplinary curriculum initiatives in the Sam Fox School. The shared foundation program will have undergraduate art and architecture students sharing classes in their first year, and an interdisciplinary bachelor of design degree is in development. In architecture, an undergraduate minor in urban design has been added, with plans to develop a landscape architecture minor, as well.

Similarly, Lindsey hopes to integrate the graduate disciplines of architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture through shared study followed by specialization in each discipline. Students will come back together again at the end to tackle complex environmental design problems.

While the graduate architecture program is already highly ranked, building the programs in architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture to be among the very best in the country is a primary goal.

"One of the hallmarks of our undergraduate program is that it is based on a very strong liberal arts foundation," Lindsey says. "We see that as being incredibly important. We also will continue to build upon the strong international studio abroad experiences we offer our students. It's already one of the best in the world, really."

Lindsey also wants to train students to become more adept in tackling issues of sustainability and the environment. Their ability to be innovative in the context of increasing social inequity is crucial, he says. They will need intellectual curiosity and innovation, built upon fundamental skills and techniques, with equal measures of passion and compassion.

"By the very nature of the activity that our students will be involved in, they will change the world," he adds. "That's what design does. We hope that our graduates will implement that change with forethought, innovation, clarity, and the understanding that what they bring about will continue to change in ways that are difficult for them to predict. That's a rewarding challenge."

Terri McClain is a freelance writer based in St. Charles, Missouri.