tags: college of environmental design, graduation 2009, Graduation Speech, lauren valdez, william wurster
When I wasn’t chosen to give the graduation speech (they picked a 47 yr. old mom who came back to school), one of my professor’s suggested I print out a ton of copies and have my siblings hand them out at graduation. Well more than a year later, going through old documents, I thought I should finally do something with this.
During our time at Berkeley, all CED students develop a strong relationship with Wurster. Whether it is with pride, joy or remorse that we call this place our home, we still find the need to defend it like our child when people refer to it as ‘the ugliest building on campus’. That is exactly what William Wurster would want us to do. He said that he, “wanted it to look like a ruin that no regent would like…It’s absolutely unfinished, uncouth, and brilliantly strong…it has been lived in; it’s been used, it’s been beaten up and everything else.” Wurster never wanted the building to look complete; he wanted it to represent a process. The building had to be as radical as the idea of forming the College of Environmental Design. Previously to the formation of CED, students in design schools were mainly concerned with designing for the sake of aesthetics. Our founders, Jack Kent, Catherine Bauer and William Wurster, had a vision that design schools had to go beyond this by implementing a new school of thought that emphasized interdisciplinary collaboration and scientific research dedicated to improving social conditions. Graduating in 2009 into a time of great crises and much uncertainty, we need to look back at our roots and learn from our founders and re-conceptualize what the role of the architect/planner should be.
It was during my third year that I discovered my true passion for architecture. After joining the Global Poverty and Practice minor, I became awakened to my global consciousness. As I learned of the theories, the case studies, and the disheartening complexities of global development, it seemed obvious that designers could apply the design process to coming up with solutions. Problem solving is what the students of the College of Environmental Design are trained to do. We look at complex relationships between what is needed and what we have, and by researching, diagramming, observing, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating, we come up with a solution. These skills seemed directly applicable to development work.
I spent the following summer testing out these skills while participating in a design/build project in Brazil. Being able to see the outcome of a small design project that had such an impact on the day-to-day lives of a disadvantaged community was extremely powerful. When I came back to Berkeley, I was bursting with ideas for my next project. With two other students, we started the Design Bolivia DeCal. While our classes didn’t focus on development work, we designed a course to apply what we had been taught in our technical classes, and apply the way we had been trained to think in our studio courses to a design/build project. When we were interviewing prospective students, we were so encouraged by the amount of students who were craving for an experience like this to add to their architectural education. We knew we were not alone. Twenty of us went down to Bolivia over winter break and made our designs come to life. Through these experiences, I found my path towards the kind of architect I want to be, one whose professional life is in line with my moral conscience. CED gives us a freedom that we celebrate, an ability to take the tools we learn and apply them to outside fields in which we are most fascinated with.
The greatest thing about this college and university is that we are given so much opportunity to find out what we care about and pursue it. If you think something is missing in your education, CED allows you to look around and find it, to start it, to change it. The idea behind the College of Environmental Design is that as designers we can collaborate between multiple fields and understand how to solve physical and societal problems. The vision of the college was a brainchild of the Great Depression, and graduating into what is nearly shaping up to be a Second Great Depression it is our chance to look back to these values the college was founded on and apply them to our professions. The Ego is dying and being a ‘Star’ architect is going out of style. We need to remember those who make up the society we are serving, whether it is in the Bay Area or in a developing country. We have so much technology and knowledge, but we need to learn how to apply it. We NEED wisdom. This is our time, our opportunity, to change what it means to be designers. Great change only comes from great crisis. So don’t be afraid, embrace this window of opportunity.
If we want to change our reality, we have to change the way we see ourselves. Not as designers or builders, but as activists. This is not a new idea, but the timing has never been more imperative. Our power in society is beyond policy, it is about how we view the world—how we live. Anthropologists, social scientists, and other humanitarians can study the way people live, but we get to have a physical, quantifiable impact. This is a powerful opportunity to reach our greatest potential as architects, designers, planners—as innovators. Time is accelerating. There has never been such urgency for us to step up and redefine our professions; it is our opportunity to get it right this time. As builders, we need to let go of the needs of the ego and devote ourselves to finding solutions to the situations at hand. We are never going to solve our environmental, economic, or global problems if we are not apart of this movement at a local and global scale. Our responsibility is so great that we can’t ignore the social and political implications our work has. Graduating from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, we have a habit of creating social change and redefining history. Berkeley students don’t jump on the wagon—we start the band. We can’t be afraid of this crisis because we hold the power to fix it.