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Designing Fast & Slow

SAIC hosts first annual Chicago Design Education Symposium.


SAIC Hosts First Annual Chicago Design Education Symposium

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago will be hosting the first annual Chicago Design Education Symposium November 2 at several venues on SAIC’s campus. Presented by the SAIC Chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students, the event will gather students, educators, and design professionals from all over the Midwest for an in-depth conversation on the current state and near future of design education.



Illustration by Frederick Eschrich.

The landscape of the design industry is rapidly changing in response to new technologies and modes of communication. Every day, new programs, tools, and techniques are developed and tested in the open arena of design in a consumer society. Driven by a necessity to remain competitive, design firms large and small are broadening their scope of services and blurring the lines between design fields. In their search for the innovators that will keep their practices on the cutting edge, they seek out well-rounded design graduates with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, capable of tapping them into a generation acutely attuned to constantly shifting paradigms.  The academy, however, does not have the same bottom-line impetus to remain flexible and agile in responding to ever-changing conditions.  Far too often bound to specific criteria of accreditation, enrollment numbers, and retention rates, the administrative structures of large design institutions sometimes struggle with the rapid and calculated adjustments that are the hallmark of today’s most influential and forward-looking design entities and collaboratives. An open dialogue between students, educators, and professionals might help to provide new insights into the essential strategies of design education. By fostering this kind of open exchange and assessment, we stand a better chance of ensuring that higher education in design remains relevant and effective in preparing students for the industry they will soon inherit.

This event presents students with a unique opportunity to take an active role in shaping the nature and course of their educational careers, and those students who follow them, with the ear of those in the academy and the profession that have the power to effect real change. In turn, industry leaders have an opportunity to hear the perspectives of those born into a world where continual change is the only constant, and whose design philosophies are inexorably tied to their understanding of the dynamic flux in which modern design resides.

The Chicago Design Education Symposium will take on the task of unraveling these topics, from design philosophies to studio culture, to produce a set of recommendations for a future course.  With students, educators, and professionals all participating with an equal voice, the conversation initiated here is certain to incite further discourse around the country.

The symposium includes a series of breakout discussions on specific topics related to the overall discourse, tours of some of Chicago’s most influential design firms, and a screening of the new documentary, ArchiCulture. The documentary follows a group of students at Pratt Institute through the preparation and defense of their undergraduate theses, and concisely addresses many of the most pressing issues facing design education. The screening will be immediately followed by a panel discussion and Q&A, bringing together all of the related content generated throughout the day.

The night will conclude with a reception in the MacLean Ballroom, including a silent auction to benefit Freedom by Design Chicago, a new collaborative community service initiative being undertaken by the four Chicago schools of architecture. While Freedom by Design, a program of the AIAS, is typically operated at the level of individual chapters, IIT, SAIC, UIC, and Judson University have opted to collaborate and share resources to have a greater impact on the Chicago community. The types of projects this program supports vary, but they all relate back to the goal of improving conditions of accessibility for the disadvantaged. SAIC’s most recent project renovated the home of a Chicago Public School teacher who was gunned down in his own home by a student. He was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, and his home was poorly suited to his new state of mobility. Thanks to Freedom by Design and the AIAS, his ability to move throughout his home has been significantly improved. This is precisely the type of informal, hands-on education that many students may be missing as a part of their academic career, and often their first taste of the real power of design to change lives.

Registration for CDES is open to the general public and is available for the full day, including breakout discussions and firm tours, or for the screening, panel discussion, and reception only.

More information, including a full schedule, list of event locations, and notable presenters, is available at 

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