New Architecture Concentration Planned

Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Graduate School of Design are developing a new undergraduate concentration in architectural studies planned to be offered for the first time in the fall of 2012.

The proposal, which was presented to HAA faculty Wednesday morning, covers areas such as the theory of architecture, studio work, and architectural history across a variety of cultures and time periods.

The program’s developers said its strength lies in the interaction between a graduate school and an undergraduate department, as much of the concentration will be built around current HAA and GSD offerings. The planners of the concentration said the collaboration would be a unique and innovative offering for undergraduates at Harvard.

“There’s genuine excitement both in the GSD and in HAA to do this. This is really a pilot program in terms of this kind of collaboration as far as I know,” said HAA Department Chair Thomas B.F. Cummins, who has been developing the program with a small committee of faculty from HAA and the GSD since last year. “I think it will be good for Harvard College [in the sense of] the cross-fertilization. It will offer something that hasn’t been accessible to undergraduates before.”

Cummins added that he believes that the success of the architectural studies concentration could open the door for more collaboration between graduate schools and the College.

While architecture programs at many peer institutions are pre-professional in nature, Harvard’s proposed concentration would remain in step with the College’s other concentration offerings.

“It will be embedded in a liberal arts education,” Cummins said. “It’s to understand ... the role of architecture in a larger contextualized sense.”

K. Michael Hays, professor of architectural theory at the GSD, noted that the courses within the new concentration would enhance students’ intellectual abilities in the same way as other liberal arts concentrations do.

“We believe that while writing will always be [essential], thinking through making can supplement thinking through writing,” Hays said.

For example, one potential studio course would allow students to explore “the relationship of image and text” by having students design the setting of something found in literature based on their reading and interpretation, he said.

“It’s not just about learning the techniques. It’s learning how to actually use those technical and design techniques to think through problems,” Cummins said.

The concentration would also involve a diverse range of architecture, both geographically and historically.

“Between the two departments, we cover Africa, Islam, and Southeast Asia,” Hays said. “It’s important that [the program] has a global reach and that it goes from ancient to contemporary.”

While both Cummins and Hays adamantly stated that the prospective program will not be pre-professional in nature, Cummins said the opportunities that would be available to those who pursue the new concentration would nonetheless enhance their abilities to pursue architecture as a professional pursuit.

“It will allow students who want to go into professional schools [to] have a leg up with this,” he said. “The difference is that it’s not structured to have architects in training. You can certainly get a portfolio ready to present to go into graduate school.”

Cummins said he did not anticipate the concentration would be a large one, estimating that approximately 12 students per year would choose to concentrate in it.

University President Drew G. Faust expressed her enthusiasm at the possibility of such a program in a question and answer period for admitted students on Saturday.

“I hope it won’t be long before we’ve established an undergraduate architecture program,” she said in reference to the potential concentration.

The program has not yet garnered administrative approval from the HAA faculty and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

Tags