“What next?”

This year, as we haltingly climbed out of the cocoon of two years of isolation, we rubbed out eyes, stretched and wondered “What next?”

But just as the masks came off, other global conflicts impacted out digitally wired consciousness and to varying extents, our daily lives. The symptoms of social tumult are reflected in the content of capstone projects and thesis.

Global warming has made us consider the complicity of the design community in the demand of over-extended resources. Students worked to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings by investigating material science and assembly, or projected solutions to protect and preserve vulnerable communities in the southern US and Puerto Rico.

Or they studied ways of reviving old infrastructure like our moribund rail systems. Others looked at the physical impact of war in the middle east, the impact of those areas of conflict on mental health, or the quiet erosion of local memory in rural communities in Kentucky. The question of identity is often attached to place, and the cultivation and preservation of those places is a task worthy of design. Others asked more specific questions about the meaning of buildings – what today constitutes the real, what is the nature of collective meaning in a fragmented culture where older “truths’ are justifiably challenged or manipulated toward political advantage? Other students tried to get back to basics. Let’s start over, let’s pitch a tent, gather around the fire and work this out.

Just as our world shrunk during the pandemic, perhaps there are lessons to be learned concerning our own overstimulated desires for excess. We consume too much, we violate the land and each other with a kind of blind arrogance that is casually irresponsible and inadvertently thoughtless. We need to do better. Solutions may come from a shared conversation. This is the process of design. But one student felt, a protest is in order, but one that celebrates possibilities just as it proposes to erase older systems of power and corruption.

At SAID we ask our students to challenge us and themselves to reimagine the world that they will design. Graduation does not mark the end of something, but rather the beginning of a world of difficult but rewarding new challenges.

—Ed Mitchell, School Director, School of Architecture and Interior Design