Engaged Faculty Fellowship Program

Aleksandr Mergold

Aleksandr MergoldA 2015-16 Engaged Faculty Fellow, Aleksandr Mergold is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Read his faculty profile or website for more information.

About the Project

In the school of Architecture, where Mergold is an Assistant Professor, people have come to embrace engagement with a community of stakeholders as fundamental to architecture as a creative service profession. It is the user who ultimately occupies the architecture – and the longer an edifice is in use, and the more flexible it is to be re-used for different purposes, the more sustainable is.

Mergold recently began engaging the ideas of user-centered design, the participation of community in the design process, and learning to engage, to listen and interpret the input from the stakeholders. In the last six years, Mergold has tried several approaches to conduct an engaged design studio. The studio format remains the foundation of architecture education – and the studio, while it allows for peer-to-peer learning, experimentation and discovery, can be an insular experience. Continuity of a project from semester to semester is also challenging (if not virtually impossible). Travel (if necessary) is costly, complicated and ultimately too short to fully understand a specific community. There are time, budget and legal limits on how “engaged” students can become in construction of a project.

Yet, Mergold has noticed that engaged design studios open up the students to completely different ways of experiencing architecture and built environment, which makes them more passionate about their own work as it has a specific relationship to real places and people, and above all, introduces the students to the idea of ethical responsibility to the end-user – that they are not alone with their design work. Mergold realizes that now, as the profession is experiencing a major paradigm shift in how architecture is practiced, it is ever more important to teach the students of architecture how to ethically engage and learn from the stakeholders of the work they are creating.

Despite this acknowledgement, the range of disciplines and complexity of material required in a 5-year Professional Bachelors or a 3.5-year Masters degrees means that the systematic introduction of architecture students to the tools of engagement – direct, indirect, observatory, inquisitive, etc. ways of bringing the stakeholders and their input into the design process – has not been systematic.

The goal of this project is to study our own past: the recent Cornell Architecture studio outcomes to synthesize and learn from our mistakes and successes, and the experience of other design institutions, and it would be greatly aided by the input from other disciplines in this Fellowship – and their experience in education through engagement.

Why He Does It

In the future, Mergold hopes to see engaged design learning become an inextricable part of architects’ education at Cornell. The hope is Mergold and his fellow architects will be able to show to the organizations that steward the profession of architecture, such as the AIA, NAAB and the NCARB, the importance of engagement and introduction of it in the early design education as part of the (ever-expanding) tool kit of a young architect.

Engaged Faculty Fellowship Program

A yearlong cohort program in which faculty dive deep into the theory and practice of engaged learning; meet monthly to discuss readings, share projects and workshop challenges; and help transform what it means to teach at Cornell

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