‘What we’re trying to do here is to get students and faculty to think differently about climate change, and look at it as an opportunity to design the future differently,’ says Joel Towers, Executive Dean of Parsons School of Design in New York. A few years ago the design school, part of the progressive arts university The New School, decided to reshape the entire curriculum to focus more on climate change and sustainability.
Towers, founding partner of architectural firm SR+T, has been crucial to Parsons’ leading position in environmental studies. He first came to Parsons in 2002 as the Director of Sustainable Design and Urban Ecology. He was the first Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center [TED] at The New School and the Associate Provost for Environmental Studies at the university. TED supports the university-wide Environmental Studies degrees and is unique in its approach to design-led research in tandem with historical and social inquiry, placing an emphasis on innovation within the context of cultural, economic, and ecological factors.
The cross-disciplinary approach is essential in this context, Towers says. ‘The challenge that climate change and sustainability and social justice represent is that they are cross-disciplinary problems. They are classic ‘wicked problems’. And you don’t solve them in disciplinary silos. You can’t solve climate change by being “the engineering school” or “the design school” or “the social science school.” You’ve got to bring all these things together and you’ve got to work in a collaborative fashion. You’ve got to be willing to hear other people’s opinions and be open to them, and that really defines the character of this university.’