A Call to the Next Generation of Architects and Designers

May 7, 2024 • Sam Cejda

Future Architects' Roles In Building A Better Future

At this years commencement of The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture, WSA President Tim Hawk, FAIA, had the opportunity to deliver an address to the graduating class. As the next generation of architects and designers will tackle some of society’s greatest challenges head-on, from climate change to inequities laid bare by the pandemic, Tim issued a clarion call for graduates to use their skills and determination as a force for sustainable and equitable change, and to embrace their vital roles in building a better future.

Read Tim’s address to the 2024 graduating class of the Knowlton School of Architecture:

To the 2024 KSA Graduates,

I am impressed by you. I’m inspired by your idealism. I’m cognizant of your many gifts. And my interactions with you give me hope. For years, I have dedicated my career to shaping the future of practice through design, education, mentorship, and advocacy, and I can say without reservation, that your cohort is likely the most socially conscious group that I have witnessed in several generations.

You care deeply and your passion shines through. It’s awe inspiring. As I have been thinking of you over the past few months, I’ve recognized that your awareness is no doubt shaped by the complexities of our time.  In the wake of a global pandemic which adversely affected your educational journey, you have persisted and reached this milestone through determination. Now, as you transition into the next chapter of life, you are faced with massive systemic challenges that threaten our wellbeing individually and as a society. Buildings and the spaces around them, the manufacturing processes used to create building materials, and the process of “making” contributes more than 40% of the carbon that is changing our weather patterns, raising sea levels, and increasing the likelihood of floods.

This year, in four months’ time, Columbus has experienced more destructive weather than we typically receive in the entire year. Thirty-eight tornadoes to be precise. And statistically, these forces impact marginalized communities at the highest rate, establishing a perfect economic storm that is widening the gulf between socio economic groups. It’s certainly an audacious set of problems to solve and we could easily throw our hands up and go on with going on.

But, as problem solvers, I know that most of us are determined to change the course of this downward spiral. Can we, as architects, landscape architects, and planners make a difference? Can our work make an impact in a system that is controlled by patronage – where we do not necessarily establish all the criteria? Are we able to get a seat at the table when important decisions are being made? Well, the short answer is Yes. As you enter these design professions, Society is issuing a clarion call to apply our unique perspective and design skill to the resolution of these challenges. On the other side of that door, the opportunities are diverse and plentiful. Your knowledge and gifts are needed in private practice, research, government, institutional leadership, the non-profit sector, manufacturing, and education. And the need is confounded by the rapid pace of baby boom retirements. So, there is both urgency and a huge need. That is clear. But less clear is how you will rise to the moment.

I believe, strongly, that your KSA education places you at the front of the line to contribute, and I have found, personally, time and again that my Knowlton education gives me the perfect blend of knowledge, humility, and determination. There are many important lessons that you will carry from this place, but the recognition that we are part of a design continuum is paramount. The design of the built environment is really all about the long game. You have to have the mindset of a marathon runner, yes, every once in a while you may need to sprint, but mostly you will perform best if you preserve energy for the hill that is ahead. There will be days when you feel overwhelmed. There will be missteps and failures. And there may even be some days when you wonder why you selected these professions. Believe me, I’m describing the entire period for me between 2009-2011. But, more days than not, you will recognize the amazing opportunity that you have been provided to make a difference. Our cities, neighborhoods, and buildings give shape to lives. We create the places where people learn, work, play, heal, worship, and live. And we are the only professions with the unique perspective that can move the needle.

Throughout my career, I have been drawn towards adapting what already exists. My favorite and best work typically results from working with clients to help them transform their existing buildings; finding delight in even the least remarkable existing buildings you can imagine. And, in the run up to this presentation, I realized that in my nearly forty years of career, I have been involved in the adaptation of over 14 million square feet. From the renovation of Daniel Burnham’s Union Station in Chicago, which is one of my first projects, to the adaptation of a small manufacturing facility in Lancaster, Ohio this past year, I have slowly, step-by-step helped to offset tons and tons of carbon. And in the process, I didn’t begin with the intention to become a specialist in this area. I just took on these challenges and folks realized that I and my colleagues at WSA could bring success to these ventures.

But my main point is that I just acted. I stepped forward and figured it out and did my level best and have crafted a rewarding career that has contributed to a more sustainable future. So, actions accumulate, and before you know it, you become you.

For each of you, I believe that now is the time to act. Do what you are drawn to and realize that you may just end up doing something that can build a rich career with impact. I’m sure of it.

As the great activist Greta Thurnberg stated “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”

Later today, as you move that tassel from one side of your cap to the other in the Shoe, know that your journey is just beginning. With each step, we will move society towards a more sustainably designed community with equitable access to prosperity for all. And I, for one, think it’s worth the effort.

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