It is not news to observe that the education of architects in the United States for the last generation has often been defined by a struggle between the theoretical and the practical, not to say also between the conceptual and the tectonic, and even between the beautiful and the useful. And it will come as no surprise to point out that generally in schools with high academic ambitions, the theoretical, the conceptual and the beautiful tend to win out over the practical, the tectonic, and the useful. But not, I am happy to say, at Parsons. Here, thanks to the extraordinary program called The Design Workshop, the center of gravity in architectural education is shifted, not away from intellectual pursuits but toward a balanced and knowing integration of the academic side of architecture with the other realities that inevitably come into play in real architectural practice.
The Design Workshop is commitment to the belief that the designed and built environment acts as the ground of and for social practice. This idea is, and has always been, a foundational tenet of architecture. Indeed, without meaning to diminish its plenitude, the history of architecture can be thought of as simply a way of talking about the various forms this idea has taken in time and material space. However, the production of this complex social choreography performed by the interaction of brute materiality and human subjects in space has both intentional and inadvertent aspects. It is intentional to the extent that we design with a social purpose in mind but is inadvertent to the extent that built form more often than not produces unforeseen social configurations that humble architecture (and the architect) and remind us of the limits of even salutary social engineering by design. What, then, is this relationship of the designed to the built that is so necessary but which seems so unstable? And, further, what might serve as a useful mode of research for probing the linkage between the intentions of an immaterial idea to the inadvertent consequences of its material form? Lodged within the curriculum of the graduate architecture program at Parsons, The Design Workshop shares with other kinds of design-build programs an intention to provide a glimpse of post-academic architectural and building practice along with a more sophisticated sense of construction, materiality and craft. However, a more fundamental motive was to initiate an academic opportunity to more closely scrutinize the transformation of the thing-designed to the thing-built and, in so doing, to perhaps gain a better understanding of the perception and practice of social life.
Excerpt from “Design Workshop: 1998–2005″, Parsons The New School for Design