Diana Budds interviewed Nelly Ben Hayoun for her article ‘Free Architecture School? It’s not as crazy as it sounds’. Nelly discusses the launch of the University of the Underground.
The article explores the University of the Underground amongst other schools such as Harvard’s Virtual Yard.
Nelly Ben Hayoun—a multidisciplinary designer who has worked with organizations like SETI, WeTransfer, and the UN—agrees that teaching needs a shakeup. University of the Underground, a new postgrad design school she directs, is an example of the change she wants to see. “We want to grow a network of creative soldiers that infiltrate society,” she says. “This is about the revolution and the resistance.”
“This is about the revolution and the resistance.”
She believes that traditional schools have become too expensive and inaccessible to the non-rich. Free for students, the school will be funded by 80% grants and donations and 20% from government sources—a model Hayoun borrowed from the financial structure of museums and cultural institutions. Hayoun also believes schools aren’t moving fast enough to keep up with what students need to receive from an education. Modern systems don’t exist in silos, she argues, but schools still teach this way. In order for designers to understand their full capacity to impact society, Hayoun believes they need systems thinking and knowledge of politics, theater, and film, in addition to design. Students will stage performances, conduct ethnographic research, develop podcasts and broadcasts, and do plenty of field visits in the course.
Her approach to upending design education is to diversify the content of that education. Inspired by Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty—an avant-garde approach to theater that created an immersive experience through sound and light to agitate the audience’s senses—Hayoun is designing her program to provoke arguments by bringing together advisors from different disciplines, such as independent publisher Dave Eggers, curator Beatrice Galilee, graphic designer Paula Scher, and recording industry creative director Phil Lee.
“It’s about creating a university the same way you’d create a theatrical troupe,” Hayoun says. “You cast different people, each with a different skill set and outlet to keep people engaged.”
While the the GSD, Free School of Architecture, and University of the Underground are all approaching education innovation differently, they all aim to make a difference by shaking up how—and in some cases, what—design and architecture students learn. “Students have more freedom to pick their way through pedagogy and tailor their education to their need,” Zellner points out. “You could patch together an education from more than one institution.”
Hayoun believes that true diversity in design isn’t just about race or demographics; it’s about having representation from different economic, cultural, and social backgrounds. She believes that without these different inputs, the output will be an echo chamber—a compelling reason as to why an equitable design education that brings many different people into the fold is important.
“The only way you can reach true innovation is through conflict,” she says. “If everyone is polite with each other and talking about their own discipline—whether its doctors or engineers or designers—no one is challenging anyone. Ideas have to be brutally discussed and challenged. You can’t have innovation if everybody has the same background, the same beliefs, and the same stories—you’ll just be creating a blog.”
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