Freelon is founder and president of The Freelon Group, an award-winning architectural firm in Research Triangle Park. He leads the Freelon Adjaye Bond design team for the new Smithsonian museum, scheduled to open in 2015 adjacent to the Washington Monument.
The Freelon Group has completed major museum projects in Baltimore, San Francisco, and Greensboro and Charlotte, N.C. Recent commissions include libraries in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Chicago. Triangle residents know Freelon for the spiral-ramped parking garage at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the Partners III research building on Centennial Campus. The firm is working on NC State’s Gregg Museum of Art & Design.
Freelon earned a Bachelor of Environmental Design (Architecture) from NC State and a Master of Architecture from MIT. He has served as an adjunct professor for NC State’s College of Design and as a member of the university’s Board of Trustees. He has been a visiting critic and lecturer at Harvard, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley, among others.
Read more about Freelon in this piece, first published in NC State magazine.
Transcript from the commencement address on December 15, 2012 at the Stewart Theatre by ACSA Distinguished Professor of Architecture Roger Clark, FAIA.
Dean, distinguished guests, faculty colleagues, staff of the College, parents/spouses/and relatives of graduates, and especially graduates.
As some of you may know what was originally the School of Design, and is now the College of Design, has a long history as a place of innovation and intellectual, technological, and artistic excellence, so as a member of the faculty I am honored to be here today to deliver this commencement address.
To some, addresses like this one are generally seen as the last lessons students receive before entering the real world. However, I think we can all agree that there are many more lessons to come and that most such speeches are forgotten as soon as they are delivered. So I do not aspire to change the world today, but perhaps a few of my words will be meaningful to some of you.
In about six months I will mark the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation with an undergraduate degree in architecture and about fifteen months after that a similar anniversary of the completion of my Masters degree and the beginning of my teaching career at the University of Virginia. In 1963, as I completed my undergraduate work, then President John Kennedy was delivering the commencement address at American University in which he made a marvelous argument for true and lasting world peace. He stated that, “We should be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” We know how that plea, powerful and hopeful as it was, turned out.
Turning to the occasion at hand, I wish to make a few observations based upon my experiences that to date have, at times, been successful and at many other times much less so.
First let me tell you that this College and its faculty expect more of you than vocational success. No job or career should define you as successful. Maya Angelou has said, “I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” You have received an excellent education, but an education is not about how much you know or remember – after all much of what you know will soon be obsolete or will at least change. Rather education is being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t, and as time passes you will discover more of the latter than you can imagine today. Where you end up in your career may very well not be where you now think you are headed, but whatever it is you do and wherever you do it, do it with the utmost integrity, being honest with yourself and everyone you touch.
If you haven’t already you will learn that it is impossible to live without failing at something, and you probably already realize that within the fields of design you must make choices and decisions that someone will inevitably criticize. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “ Do what you feel in your heart is right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.” These failings, mistakes, and criticized decisions that happen to you will often teach you the most. Pay attention to them, admit them, if appropriate apologize for them, learn from them, and move on. If you worry so much about making a mistake or of being criticized that you are paralyzed into indecision or inaction then that will be your biggest mistake.
One thing that my years have taught me is that my idea of success has changed several times and I believe so will yours. I would suggest that you look both forward and backward. Create, collect, and remember as many varied experiences as you can. Travel, listen, look with a keen eye, and read. Know history so you stand on the shoulders of those who preceded you. Some day these experiences and your knowledge of history might be useful to you as you connect them to make something special.
The research of former Stanford professor Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, indicates that disciplined people, pursuing disciplined thought, taking disciplined action determine the difference between greatness and good regardless of the field in which one is involved. The process of designing and bringing that piece of design into the world is without doubt one of great complexity. It is a process of layers and layers of considerations from the most mundane to the most noble, from the most pragmatic to the most fanciful, and from the most simple and straightforward to the most difficult and complex. Good design requires that basic human needs are met, but it also requires that that each human being’s spirit be lifted. Good design concerns itself with craft as well as art, the measurable and the not so easily measured. To be a designer is to understand that many issues come to bear simultaneously on things you design. The goal must be to resolve needs, as well to enlighten. That is your task. It is one of great excitement and of great responsibility. The faculty started you on that journey; it is your job to take the next several steps.
Einstein once told us that, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Indeed there have been many changes, inventions, and developments during my lifetime and there will be more during yours. I remember, for instance, the excitement when my family got our first television – a large piece of furniture by RCA with a tiny black and white television screen that received three channels if we adjusted the “rabbit ears” antennae just right. I recall air raid drills during World War II when lights over the entire city would go black. A time when only persons with the Civil Air Patrol were allowed outside, and houses had required blackout curtains on all of the windows so some lights could be left on in your house. I grew up, not with a smart phone, but using a telephone with an actual rotary dial. A phone we could use seldom and only for a short conversation because we were part of a four party line. I remember the joy when we finally got a private line and the length of our conversations was limited only by our parents. Further, when I grew up pot referred to something your mother cooked in and coke was only a cold drink. There were five and ten cents stores (the precursors to Wal-Mart and K-Mart) where you could actually buy things for five and ten cents. I can recall the first rock and roll song by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1953. And a year later, I remember the Supreme Court orders finally requiring school desegregation along with the race riots, demonstrations, and marches that followed. Credit cards came into existence about the time I began my undergraduate education. I also recall when I was in college we did all of our drawings by hand with pens and pencils, crayons, grease pencils, pastels, charcoal, watercolors, tempera, and all variety of mixed media. We drew on anything we could get our hands on and we were expected to use at least one fifty-yard roll of trash tracing paper for every project. We built models using X-acto knives, matte knives, and Elmer’s glue. We did not even dream of a computer. In fact, when I completed my undergraduate degree there were only about 10,000 computers in the whole world and they were primitive, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and took up large amounts of space even whole rooms. Personal computers, we should remember, did not arrive on the scene until the early 1980’s.
Perhaps, you might get the sense that the good old days were not always good, but then not all of the advances that have taken place since are necessarily improvements. In our fields we now have wonderful new tools and devices to aid us in simulating our designs in two and three dimensions, we even have ones to make actual designs or parts of those designs for us. However, they do not necessarily make better designs. The human brain must still be part of the creation process and the human designer must still be responsible for what is created. We make value judgments. You must maintain your critical eye.
There are some developments that impact our lives that I worry about. As human beings we should naturally crave contact with one another; but sadly, with technological inventions we have begun to lose our ability to connect as human beings. Actual human interaction is part of our human growth and no technological advance can beat that interaction. I wish more of you would put your iPhones away, or at least turn them off, and be more aware of what is immediate to you. Look someone in the eye and talk to him or her. Texting is without nuance, without facial expression, without immediate feedback. Holding a Kindle or an i-Pad is not like holding an actual book. Missing is the use of several of your senses. When I was in college if we didn’t know something we did not Google it. Rather we went to the library and looked at actual books. In so doing we often discovered much more than what we went for in the first place.
Often commencement speakers will appropriately tell graduates to find or follow their passion. That is excellent advice, but please note that your passion is in your heart. It will not be found on Google or Facebook, nor will it arrive as a tweet. What you are looking for is inside you.
I fear that we have lost touch with our simpler, more human, selves. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape from the constant barrage of electronic information and to be attuned to our immediate surroundings – its touch, its smell, its action, this place? Too much of the electronic information received is wasteful of your time and time is important, even precious. Not the fleeting moment or the instant message, but time to develop ideas, alternatives, and to understand in depth. I fear we all want everything instantly. I wish we would embrace some of the good from our analog past.
Leonardo da Vinci told us that, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Indeed I have found that simple is far more difficult than complex. You have to work hard to make your thinking clear in order to make it simple and the same holds true for design. That leads me to mention, in a similar vane, that quality is better than quantity. If quality is the goal you will need to constantly strive for excellence and that too requires hard work. In order to achieve these two goals – simplicity and quality – you have to learn to say ‘no’. So figure out what you want to do and do it extremely well.
I would like to leave you with a few random thoughts. Perhaps a list of helpful suggestions.
Show respect for others and learn to listen.
John Wooden reminds us that, “It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that counts.”
Love what you do then it will not be work. Follow you heart with courage, honor, and ethics.
Don’t just be concerned about the environment and the world we live in, do something about it.
You have been given gifts. Continue to develop and make use of them.
Life is about making choices. Choose carefully.
Every once in a while put something positive in the world. Do something kind.
Make someone laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Listen to Mark Twain when he said: “Always do right! This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” I would add always do good, that is what we expect of you and you should expect of yourself.
Do not strive to be different, strive to be better (and that is good advice for your design work as well).
And finally, to close on a slightly different note, I find these lyrics appropriate, so with acknowledgements to Louis Armstrong, “I see trees of green…red roses, too. I see them bloom…for me and for you. And I think to myself…what a wonderful world.” What a wonderful world.
It is yours; make it better, and congratulations!
Roger H. Clark, FAIA
ACSA Distinguished Professor of Architecture
Award-winning Creative Director, Executive Producer and Photographer David Evans (BEDV 1984) gave the commencement speech for the spring graduating class of 2012 in Stewart Theatre on May 12, 2012. With a graduating class of nearly two hundred students, it is the largest graduating class in the history of the college.
Below is a transcript of his speech which he explains the importance of saying “yes” when the universe speaks to you about something you love and believe in.
Thank you, thank you so much.
What a privilege to share the stage with you again Dean Malecha. Thank you so much for this wonderful honor. It means the world to me that I’m still involved with the College of Design after all these years. My education here truly shaped my career and indeed my life.
And congratulations to all of you. I was sitting where you were once, so I know how hard you worked to get here. It’s such a pleasure to be here today to celebrate this milestone with you. It’s a big deal and you should all be wildly proud of yourselves. For many of us, this path chose us, not the other way around. We were called to it because we know at our core that there is deep substance in design. Sure, we swoon over couture, and we can get giddy about a new typeface…museums, cathedrals and skyscrapers can make our knees buckle in awe of their mass and materials.
But we also believe that there is power in what we do. That we leave behind the clues that history will know us by, and that we play a powerful role in shaping the contours of the future.
People live, eat, work, love, raise families, worship, study, celebrate and grieve in our buildings. They are informed by our layouts, by our websites, by our graphics, and they are entertained by our animations, and our films. They declare their identities by wearing the clothing we fashion for them, and they listen to music, climb mountains, and perform surgery using the products we create and improve upon.
You wield profound influence. You honestly can change the world. And with all the goings on here in North Carolina that have put the state in the spotlight this week, I’d say there’s never been a better time to roll up our sleeves and fight harder for justice through the ideals we embody.
Now, you’ve just received your diplomas. I’m sure a lot of you already have jobs lined up, or you’ve figured out a plan to get one. Some of you already have 5-year plans, 10-year plans. Some of you probably even have retirement plans. And that’s great. In fact, I’m blown away by so many of you who I’ve met and the plans you’ve told me you have. The world needs creative people in stable positions. No doubt about it.
But I imagine—in fact I really hope—there are some of you sitting here today with absolutely no plans whatsoever. (Parents, please save your jeers and rotten tomatoes for the end of the presentation…it gets worse).
Because I don’t believe that everyone needs a plan, or that having one is even the surest route to success. I’ve never had plan. I don’t have one now.
Don’t get me wrong. Not having a plan is not the same thing as not being prepared. And all of you have just checked that box; you’re incredibly prepared. And not having a plan is not the same thing as having no ambition, or not wanting to accomplish great things.
But not having a plan is one way to make yourself available when the universe whispers that it has something special for you, and it frees you up to say yes when the universe plots random dots on the map of your life that you may only connect years or decades later.
I’d like to share just a couple of stories of how not making plans and leaving myself available to say yes, plotted insanely random dots for me that I’m only now seeing the connections between.
I just got back from Madagascar a couple of weeks ago where I was directing a documentary. It may be the best project I’ll ever work on. And it’s all because I said yes, and moved to Venezuela in 1992. Say what? …Venezuela? …Madagascar? What’s the connection? Try to pay attention because this is a little hard to follow. And that’s kind of my point.
In 1992, I had a good start on a successful career as an art director in a big ad agency in Washington, DC., when I happened to see an employment ad in a trade magazine. It said “Come work in Venezuela.” I really didn’t even know where Venezuela was exactly, but something in me recognized that this ad was speaking to me, and only to me. I had no doubt that I would get that job, and that I would soon be in Venezuela, wherever that was. But I had no idea that this would also be the first in a long series of random dots that have connected to draw a beautiful, if zig-zagging map of my life so far.
My first visit to Venezuela after being offered that job didn’t turn out so well. I flew down to make sure I would like the place enough to accept the job. After I met my new colleagues in Caracas, I flew to the interior of the country to see if there was anything cool to photograph.
See, I already loved photography. And I had even dropped off my photo portfolio once at National Geographic a few years before. They returned my images with a note from the editor who had reviewed my work. I’ll paraphrase: “Dear David. You suck.” So I had let that dream go a long time ago, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I loved. I still took photographs and the potential to take photographs guided many of my decisions.
Anyway, while I was in the interior of Venezuela, I managed to get trapped behind rebel lines for a week during an attempted coup de tat. Burning buses, bodies in the street, I never knew if it was the good guys or the bad guys pointing their guns at me. It was just an awful mess. But you know? After things calmed down, I ended up accepting the job anyway. Something told me to make myself available, that the risk could be worth the reward. So I said yes. Everyone I knew thought I was insane and I couldn’t really argue with them.
I went to Caracas on a one-year contract as creative director for a large agency. I ending up staying for three years. I met Max, a famous Venezuelan architect who became my friend, and he introduced me to the Andes and to the ancient farmhouse he was renovating high up in a cloud forest. His adobe house and primitive folk art collection turned everything I thought I knew about aesthetics on its head. Little did I know how much else it would change for me.
As I was about to leave Venezuela, Max said, “¿Sabes que, David? There is a small property for sale just down the mountain. It has a couple of mud shacks on it. If you bought it, I would design and manage the renovation for you as a favor.” Now it’s a much longer story than that how I came to own the property, and it was probably owing at least partly to the altitude and maybe a little bit to the moonshine we were sipping, but I was pretty sure I heard something whispering to me that I should keep myself available, that I should take this risk. So I said, “yes.”
So now it’s 1996, and I’m back in DC freelancing as a graphic designer to pay for the renovation of my mud shacks in the Venezuelan Andes, where I would disappear to for weeks, collecting folk art like a man possessed, and taking photographs.
Back in DC, I was designing a brochure for National Geographic Television and they offered me a position running their design department.
Now, for all I’ve just said to you about saying yes, I didn’t hear the universe whispering to me this time and I said no. And I said no twice. And I said no a third time. It’s not that I was such a hotshot that I could turn my nose up at a place like National Geographic. But like I told the executive offering me the job, “the truth is Kathie, I have a house in Venezuela, and right now I’m committed to collecting folk art and taking photographs while I finish the renovations.
“You’re a photographer?” she asked. You have a home in the Andes?” Well, the truth was I had exactly one published photograph…in the 1983 Windhover at NC State. And my “home in the Andes” was more of a construction site infested with scorpions, but “well, yeah,” I said, “more or less, I, um, I guess that’s mostly sort of correct…sure.” She took some of my photos with her and came back with an offer that included plenty of vacation time for me to travel, and also to put me in charge of their photography department. I didn’t hear any whispering this time, it was more like a scream. And I didn’t just say yes, but “WHOA! Yes!”
That job led to all kinds of experiences. I helped launch an international cable television network, and since I was the boss of the photo department, I gave myself photography assignments all over the world. My second published photograph? It was in National Geographic Magazine.
We’ll get to Madagascar soon, I promise. I told you it was complicated.
I left National Geographic after 6 years, but I continued my relationship with them. My work with National Geographic got my photographs a lot of attention. So I decided to give up graphic design and just pursue photography. I’d recaptured my first dream of being a photographer because I’d never given up my love of photography even though I’d been doing other things to make money.
If you hold onto the thing you love and find ways to make it important sometimes good things can happen.
Of course, that also means taking risks. And not just the kind that mean getting shot at in strange countries. Giving up graphic design, which had been my bread and butter involved a risk. But somehow I knew that now was the time to go all-in on photography. Doing that was scary because I had no idea what would happen, but it also seemed exactly the right thing.
So being available to say yes when the universe whispers also means being willing to take risks. But if all of you weren’t already risk takers, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. After all design isn’t the safest career choice you could have made.
Here’s something else. Being open when the universe whispers also means being open to making new friends. Friends are also part of the story because they will often help you in unexpected ways. But making friends is different from networking, which is purposeful and plan-driven. Making friends is random and meaningful on its own.
So here’s how a random dot led to a random friend of mine. Because I had a house in Venezuela, a colleague at National Geographic recommended me to his former boss Jimmy Carter, to be an election monitor for The Carter Center during elections in Venezuela. That led to another election mission with President Carter in Ethiopia. And because I’d been to Ethiopia, National Geographic sent me on a photo assignment to central Africa. It was there that I met Lindy, a videographer traveling with the expedition. During the month we worked together, camping in the Sahara, he mainly just yelled at me; “Hey photo guy, get the hell out of my shot!” He and I would eventually work together on lots of assignments all over the world and he’s become a good friend. Remember Lindy; he comes up again in a second.
Another random dot and another friend: I was photographing a cooking show being filmed in a private home in Washington, when I met and became friends with the home’s owner, Dan, who had just started his new position at The United Nations Foundation.
Because of my background with National Geographic Television, and my experience in Africa, the United Nations Foundation asked me to produce some video about fighting child marriage in Ethiopia. I had never really produced a video quite like this one, and I could end up looking pretty stupid if it didn’t go well. But sure…I heard that whispering again. And I said “Yes, I’ll take that risk.”
When I went to Ethiopia to produce that video, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria was holding their board meeting in the same hotel where I was staying in Addis Ababa. The elevator door opened and there stood Dan from United Nations Foundation and Todd, who I knew from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Turns out, both he and Dan sat on the board of The Global Fund. The next day, I learned they wanted to create and fund a new “Storytelling Committee,” and asked me to direct a video about their work. It would be a risky adventure visiting AIDS, TB and malaria clinics in prisons, slums, and houses of prostitution in some of the poorest places on earth, and it would consume the better part of a year to finish it. But I heard that whisper again and I said “Yes. I’ll do it.”
There’s so much more to that story too, but we’ve all got someplace to be, so I’m going to try and wrap this up.
The film focused on the empowerment of the underserved, especially empowering women, and the film was a tool that helped The Global Fund raise billions of dollars, which in turn helped them save millions of lives. It also won a bunch of awards, which is also pretty gratifying. So no, I’m not all about noble causes…I really like awards, too. I admit it.
But causes are important, of course. It goes back to that idea of using our designs and our art to make a difference. And in fact when the universe whispers to people like us, one reason I think we listen is because the whisper also connects us with our values, with the things we believe in.
One final random dot: A friend from my now-distant days at National Geographic introduced me to someone looking for a documentary film director. The subject was about how global markets for folk artists are empower women in the developing world.
Folk art. Empowering women. In the developing world.
Now, I may not be the only person with that very specific set of experiences, but I don’t think there can be many of us. The project had my name on it, and 18 months after that conversation, Lindy and I were off to Madagascar to make a film about folk art silk weavers. We hope to use this film as a pilot to raise funds for a 3-year project about folk artists all over the world.
So, let’s connect these random dots: Moving to Venezuela in 1992 led me to collect folk art, and it got me a job at National Geographic Television. Working at National Geographic Television allowed me to fulfill my dream of being a photographer and introduced me to filmmaking. It also connected me with Bill & Melinda Gates, the United Nations Foundation, The Carter Center, and The Global Fund. All of which combined to get me an amazing assignment in Madagascar doing a film about folk art, something I really love, and which may end up being the most important project I’ll ever do.
No plan in the world could have resulted in all of this.
But wait, the random dots are still connecting, and a pretty important connection was made just a couple of days ago.
Remember Lindy?, who I met in central Africa and who was with me a couple of weeks ago in Madagascar? While we were traveling together last year on a project—I can’t remember if we were in Germany, Brazil, or Japan–I told him about my husband Sam’s hearing impairment, and how we were having trouble getting insurance to pay for expensive cochlear implant surgery. Lindy says, “Dude, call my brother, he’s one of the nation’s foremost cochlear implant surgeons and he might be able to help.” Sam and I met with Lindy’s brother in New York two days ago, and Sam is now scheduled to receive his implant10 days from now, all paid for by his insurance. All because I listened when the universe whispered to me and I said yes, and moved to Venezuela in 1992.
So that’s it. Make a plan if that’s what makes you comfortable. But if you don’t have a plan, don’t worry, just make yourself available, and try to hear the universe when it speaks to you, especially about things you love and believe in. And then always…always, say “YES.”
Following is the full text of the commencement address made to Fall 2010 graduates on Dec. 18, 2010, by Gene Bressler, Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture, College of Design, NC State University:
Good Afternoon, Dean, College Colleagues, Parents, Friends and Guests, and Graduates:
Today marks a game changing moment in our lives!
Parents, and friends of the graduates: the College of Design says “thank YOU” for all you’ve done and sacrificed along the way to support and encourage your daughters, sons, and friends.
Members of the College of Design family– the tireless faculty, caring support staff, creative administration, and generous the extended alumni and extended design community: Thank you for your individual and collective dedicated hard work in behalf of our graduates and the reputation of NC State University’s “world class” College of Design.
Graduates: This day has finally come and this is YOUR day. You are the main reason we are here. Today’s commencement marks the right of passage into the society that values the design-educated person and expects great things from you. On behalf of everyone here, CONGRATULATIONS!
I’ve never given a commencement address before. So to prepare, I looked up commencement addresses. I found some terrific ones given by Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, John F. Kennedy, and my favorite, Professor Paul Tesar, who spoke at last year’s College of Design Commencement. Rest assured, that I am no Jack Kennedy, nor am I a Paul Tesar. But, I am in good company.
This afternoon I want to talk about the notion of Game Changers – what they are, why they’re important, and share some personal experiences from which I learned a few things along the way.
First, what are they?
Game changers are the events, people or things that alter the ways things get done — Something that changes the status quo.
Game changers motivate us to do things differently, and for we, who are designers — to do things better.
The other night, when I “Googled” game changers, it took a mere 10th of a second to generate over a half million results.
Here’s a few examples of game changers:
Famous People: President Obama, Bill Clinton, Hilary Rodham Clinton, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Emeril Lagasse, Sarah Palin, Lady Ga Ga, and our own new Chancellor Randy Woodson.
Then there’s the game changers of their day like the Pony Express, Western Union, the Telephone, and the FAX Machine.
What about the digital camera that changed the photography industry? Ask Kodak who stopped making its iconic Kodak carousel slide projector and this year, its game changing Kodachrome film.
Another game changer is Google. Want to know something about something? “Google it.” Not only is it a game changer, it’s both a noun and a verb!
To do that, you get on the Internet. A game changer!
To do that, you use a computer, an I-something or a smart phone. All Game Changers [by the way, I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was about 50. My 14-year old daughter, who is now up to 8000 text messages a month still can’t believe how I survived my first 50 years without cell phone. I don’t know either!]
Here’s some more: Playstation 360, Wii, The Colbert Report, and one of my personal favorites … YOU TUBE.
Not to be outdone, here are several College of Design student game changers:
Industrial Design Student Sean Coleman won the 2010 Shell Eco-Marathon Americas (SEMA) Urban Concept Car Competition and saw his prototype manufactured by Shell. At the awards show he was able to take the Mayor of Houston for a drive.
Our Industrial Design students claimed first, second, third, and fifth prizes in the 2010 New York International Auto Show’s safety design contest. They designed prototype safety features including a way to remove ice from bridges using solar panels.
Art + Design student Shelly Smith who graduates this May was among a handful of NC State Caldwell Fellows who launched the project, called New Sense Studios. They teamed up with Haven House, a community organization that helps struggling young people and their families develop positive and successful relationships at home, at school and in the community.
PhD student, Traci Rider, who is in the current graduating class and working under Professor Wayne Place is a nationally recognized figure in sustainable architecture practices. She was one of a handful of people whose work was cited in Vanity Fair’s issue on Green Design.
Graphic Design has over 25 of its graduates teaching in US Universities and Colleges. Most recent among them are Marty Lane, Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Alberto Rigau, Brooke Chornyak, and Tanya Allen. Tanya, by the way is currently teaching the College’s Design Thinking course with Dean Malecha.
Four College of Design students and one UNC-Chapel Hill student combined to form the winning team in the prestigious 2010 Urban Land Institute’s Annual Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition. NC State’s team beat out over 100 other graduate schools including ones from traditional favorites Harvard and UPenn to claim the $50,000 cash prize. Two members of this team, Rebecca Myers and Matt Tomasulo, graduated last May. Marie Papiez and Jeff Pleshek, both master’s students in architecture, graduate today.
And, I would be remiss if we failed to mention the landscape architecture students in Andy Fox’s Syme Hall Rain Garden Design-Build studio. Melissa Miklus, Michael Lynsky, Heather Vickery Bishop, Nathan Bass, and Jason Weathington who graduate today were among this awesome group of 18 students who proved the point that We do better when agile, creative, hard working design thinkers come together for a common propose. Their built landscape captures rain water coming off roof tops and condensate coming out of building air conditioners through innovative landscape technology and returned to the aquifer thereby reducing runoff, while creating an experientially rich campus landscape. We just learned this week that their achievements have resulted in a 5-year $175,000 grant to fund similar low impact design workshops.
Second, why talk about game changers today? Why is game changing important?
Game changers affect us and other things, at many levels. 9/11 was a game changer. Think about how the events of that day affected the world and the way we now do things.
Game changers motivate and fuel Design Thinking, the “main thing” that every one of our graduates today learned in the College of Design and share in common – the creative process for solving problems, for “imagining what does not yet exist.” [Dean Malecha]
Most important, everyone one of today’s graduates is a game changer in the making!
Suppose I confront you with the following unconventional commencement-like situation:
A guy walks into a bar. He asks the bartender for a glass of water.
Instead of giving the man a glass of water, the bartender pulls out a gun.
Then, the guy dies.
The first question is: How did the guy die?
The second question is: Why did he ask for a glass of water?
The third question is: why did the bartender pull out a gun?
To solve the riddle you start with what you know, and then ask questions. About the guy to which I reply either yes or no.
“Was it hot outside?”
“Was he choking on anything?”
“Was he bleeding?”
“Was he ill?”
And so on. Eventually you ask:
“Was he afraid of the gun?”
Eventually, you put all the clues together and shout out,
Did the guy die of a heart attack?
Did seeing the gun scare the guy to death?
“Aha!” you say!
So, then I ask,
“OK . . . why, did the guy come into the bar asking for a glass of water in the first place?” and why did the bartender pull the gun?”
You will ask me a bunch more questions to gather more clues.
Did the guy look menacing?
Was he going to rob the bartender?
Did the guy have a gun?
Did the bartender intend to scare this guy on purpose?
Did the bartender intend to kill the guy with the gun? “NO!” “NO?”
Did the guy intend to drink the water?
“HMMM” you say to yourself.
Was there something about the condition of the guy that motivated the bartender to want to scare to him. “YES!”
The guy came into the bar and specifically asked for water. What does wanting drinking water have to do with the bartender wanting to scare this guy?
And then, in a moment of brilliance and genius you figure it out and with all the excitement you can muster SHOUT:
“Did the guy have the hiccups?”
The guy came into the bar, asked for a glass of water to cure his hiccups. The bartender noting the condition of the guy thought he had a better solution for a case of the hiccups. Sure, he stopped the hiccups. But in the process of pulling out the gun, the bar tender scared the poor guy to death! Do you think that maybe, the bartender went a little too far? That maybe he over designed the solution?
So here we have a solution for solving the problem of hiccups. It was based on a good intention but resulting in bad ending! In that the cure killed him.
Morals of the story –
Never go into a bar and just ask for a glass of water.
Give the customer what he wants before taking matters into your own hands.
Think about the consequences of an act before you do it.
Designers are like this bartender, to a point. We see a problem needing a solution. We use our imaginations to create a number of solutions. The difference is that we apply the knowledge of our disciplines combined with the processes of design thinking to make sure we don’t kill our clients in the process. That’s another lecture.
Here’s a personal story about the influences of game changers in my life that redirected, challenged, and then reconnected me to my main thing.
In the 70’s and 80’s I was a dashing young professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I was teaching land planning and design computer applications. And at the time I thought we were doing some pretty neat advanced leading edge things using computer technologies to simulate and evaluate alternative urban development plans to accommodate Oregon’s growing population.
One brilliant Sunday morning in May 1980 Mt St. Helens erupted.
Within a year National Geographic came out with a multi-page spread showing computer-generated images of Mt. St. Helens before and after the blast. Now, this was state of the art computer modeling! To this landscape architect these images were game changers.
And then I painfully realized that the computer technology I was teaching in 1980 and thought was state of the art was essentially the same as when I started teaching in 1971. We were teaching our students decade-old technology.
I had become so isolated and content with our own “great stuff” that we failed to pay attention to the computer technology revolution going on all around us. Thank you Mt. St Helens for rocking my world. I needed to get current. I needed to learn this new technology. I needed a game changer!
I wasn’t alone, for living in Eugene, Oregon, in the 1970s was a lot like living in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone, where everyone is just a little bit above average. I started snooping around the University to find out what other faculty in the other academic units were up to. Sadly, I learned that I was not alone. That many of my colleagues from around the university had the same technology lag problem. 1980, UO was in dire economic straits. And, remember, there was no Internet, no You TUBE, and no Google in those days to “click on” to find out what’s going on elsewhere.
So we teamed up, put on seminars and created something called the Annual Pacific Northwest Computer Graphics Conference. We had no money, but we were able to put together a plan that brought in some world – class computer graphics doers to speak – they came from such places as Boeing, General Motors, Lucas Films.
Back to the Mt. St Helens story. As I said, I was impressed with the 3dwire mesh terrain images. Thought it was something that would revolutionize landscape architecture. So I called up National Geographic to invite who actually generated the Mt St Helens computer graphics spread to speak at the University. They didn’t generate the images and directed me to a small computer graphics software development company, Dynamic Graphics, located in Berkeley California. They were the ones inventing, creating, and doing world-class state of the art digital terrain modeling.
Long story short, within two years I took leave from the University of Oregon to go to work for that company to do world-class digital terrain modeling. What was supposed to be a one-year leave of absence from UO ended up being an 11-year career change! “So long landscape architecture. Hello, hi-tech!”
This was a huge game changer for me. I took a leap, and it paid off, for awhile…
As I worked there, the company’s direction moved into the lucrative oil and gas and big government markets. Our clients were Mobil, ARCO, and Amoco and governmental agencies like the Department of Interior, Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense. They procured the software to find oil or to model subterranean ground water pollution plumes typically resulting from the disposal of nuclear and other sorted wastes. I’m told that during Desert Storm, the Army used the software to simulate and model the concentrations of poisonous gas plumes drifting over the terrain [not landscape] as the result of an exploding scud rocket.
This was hardly the world of landscape architecture!
Nonetheless, during the 11 years that I worked in this arena, I learned a lot of technology. I learned about the hi-tech business. I met and worked with brilliant and very good people. I earned some very big money.
About 10 years into my computer graphics career I got married. My wife, Karen, and I went looking for a home in suburban Denver. We found the new developments and homes being sold were poorly designed, energy inefficient, and in general, the epitome of just plain Suburban Sprawl. I found this painful to see. In my former life, community design was one of the areas that I pursued way back when I was a landscape architect and professor at the University of Oregon.
The more we looked for a home, the more I realized that I missed landscape architecture and teaching and needed to come home to design. I also realized that I was not interested in oil and gas exploration, exploding scuds, and subterranean nuclear waste.
Most important I realized that I got distracted from doing the main thing in my life, while letting myself be lured away by the technology and the big money opportunities afforded by the hi-tech world.
Guess what? It was time for a game changer!
Within a year or so, I left Dynamic Graphics and started my own landscape architecture practice in Denver. The next year I was hired by the University of Colorado in Denver to head the landscape architecture department. Life was good for me and my family in Denver at the University of Colorado until the spring of 2005 when the phone rang.
On the other end was Art Rice, a former student of mine who was then (and still is) associate dean at NC State University College of Design. He called to tell me about the search going on at NC State for a new department Head for the Department of Landscape Architecture. I said I really wasn’t interested in leaving Denver. He said he knew that. A year and a half later, I moved here. And 4.5 years later I’m telling you this story.
Here’s what I learned:
to look before I bravely leap,
to be willing and agile to change course when the ground shifts beneath me, and
to find my way back home to do the things that really matter, to focus on the main thing.
Graduates: Whether you have a degree in industrial design, graphic design, art and design, architecture, or landscape architecture, you all share the gift and legacy of Design Thinking.
Our goal (and I want you to remember this) in the College of Design has been to prepare you for the profession and discipline of today and the one that you will help to change and eventually lead. And remember that you are armed with the values underlying the importance of being attentive to the social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental imperatives and contexts within which we work.
After this commencement ceremony you and your loved ones will likely go out to celebrate. Tomorrow when you wake up, you may discover that you landed in your own new Twilight Zone called, “The Day After I Graduated from the College of Design.” You will likely look in the mirror, freak out, and scream, “Now, what do I do?”
To help you deal with this awesome question I offer the following Three Things that I learned about game changers:
Welcome the game changers in your life. They provide the motivation to apply design thinking to help you figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life.
Build on what you know; you’re not starting at zero. Keep your sketchbooks, your notes, your drawings, and your papers, and most importantly, your friendships. Remind yourself about what you learned here. You have incredible resources to build upon.
Seek creative, bright, passionate, hardworking, and good people to work with. Game changers need partners who will work together to make a difference in the world.
In closing, Graduates: we need you to remain connected to your College of Design. This is your home!
You are needed to mentor our new and continuing students.
You are needed to continue engaging faculty in the ongoing questions about our future directions.
And, you are needed to join with the graduates who came before you, as, in the words of Dean Malecha, “we collectively face the challenges that ask us to consider what does not yet exist – to endeavor to anticipate what is to come.”
This is your mission. This is what you will do!
No commencement address would be complete with out a fitting quotation from a famous person, so I offer the following:
Forrest Gump: “What’s my destiny, Mama?”
Mrs. Gump: “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself. Life’s a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
My name is Gene Bressler, and I’m a game changer, too!