University Architect – Builder / Steward / Shaper

The roles and responsibilities of a university architect ebb and flow with changes in administration and each particular project. When fast and cheap are valued, the role is to build short-term solutions. If investment in the future is intended a balance of stewardship and creativity is required.

Fluid Environments – Expectations vary for each campus and project. They swing through a wide range, project to project and campus to campus. This dynamic can make a university architect feel the need to be a like a chameleon, shifting from one context to another. In one setting the responsibilities are direct implementation according to established rules. In another, extensive consultation and consideration of long-term consequences are expected.

University architects serving in these fluid environments, run the risk of cognitive whiplash. It takes a wide range of skills and the ability to establish an effective balance. Success requires professional experience, practical knowledge, political savvy and personal principles. Dan Okoli and Chris Ramey have these attributes.

Dan is at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Chris has recently retired from the University of Oregon. In recent interviews each talked about their experience being a university architect, how they thought about their work and their hopes for the future of the physical campus.  [Okoli]  [Ramey]

University Architect

Dan Okoli

Dan Okoli’s work is guided by design principles that include function and beauty. He embraces the university architect’s responsibilities to preserve and shape the campus as an environment to be seen as beautiful by those who work and study there. Dan has extended this thinking with a doctoral dissertation that connects student engagement with a sense of place – the physical campus. He discusses this work in another video. [Okoli –Student Engagement and Sense of Place]


University Architect

Chris Ramey

The history and unique culture of the University of Oregon has been central to Chris Ramey’s work. The Oregon tradition of user participation in planning and design projects is deep. In the 40 years since the publications of Christopher Alexander’s The Oregon Experiment a participatory process of planning and design has become part of the culture of the campus. Ongoing, evolutionary conversations about the future of the campus are the norm, not an afterthought prompted by the latest project. In another video, Chris discusses the influence of The Oregon Experiment.

In my view, Dan and Chris have found the right balance. The balance needed to shape their campuses through both stewardship and building – preserving and creating – and preparing for an unknowable future.

Note: These conversations are additions to a video series with university architects. Here are links to others: [Pam Delphenich] [Steven Gift] [Duke Oakley]


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