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Dean's Statement on Studio-X

Dean Mark Wigley

In this time of unprecedented global transformation, which has generated so many urgent challenges but also whole new forms of creativity, architecture's unique ability to address both the most direct practical problems facing global society and the highest ambitions for that society becomes all the more important. As the field devoted to representing the greatest aspirations of society, architecture (including urban design, urban planning, historic preservation, and real estate development) is a key lens through which to see, understand, and participate in our evolving world. Architecture is a form of optimism. More than simply supporting the basic rhythms of everyday life, it tries to envision a better life, turning practical dilemmas into the most expressive opportunities, whether at the scale of a vast city, a building, a single interior, or a small piece of furniture.

The basic concept is extremely simple: an open space of collaborative work and exchange of ideas

Yet the world we serve is changing so rapidly that whole new forms of creativity, expertise and responsibility are needed. China, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa are acting as the key laboratories for the future of the built environment, generating whole new ways of thinking and urgent questions to address. The change is so fast, the scale so large, and the cultural and historical questions so deep that schools of architecture have to evolve. Almost all urban transformations today involve complex dynamic interplays between unique combinations of global forces. In such a world, it is critical that we learn to exchange ideas in new ways while at the same time immersing ourselves in the local conditions, knowledge, history, and expertise in each region to develop a new level of debate and global responsibility. While GSAPP has long been very active on the ground in all these regions -- the most active in the most places -- a new level of engagement is urgently necessarily and will lead to wide ranging transformations in the field. Schools need to become students.

In recent years, GSAPP has adopted the label "Studio-X" to refer to its most advanced leadership laboratories for the future of the built environment that have to evolve at the same rapid speed as the urban environment itself. The label tries to capture the sense that we have to be ready to face many unknown questions that will arise and need to be engaged urgently, creatively, and responsibly with a range of different partners. A Studio-X offers a protective space for private and collegial exchange of ideas still in formation and a public gallery/lecture space, website and publication program for the exhibition, communication and discussion of the thoughts and designs that result from this exchange. Such laboratories will be located around the world in a dynamic interactive network dedicated equally to practical problems in the city and to emergent thinking.

The vision of the Studio-X global network is to establish a unique exchange of ideas and people between key regional leadership cities around the rapidly evolving globe, including New York, Beijing, Amman, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo, and Tokyo. The aim of this exchange is a global partnership able to offer support to the highest possible level of reflection on the new realities and active, intelligent, and productive engagement with those realities. Typically located in the historic downtown of a global city, each Studio-X acts as an open platform for collaborative research and debate with a publication gallery, an exhibition gallery, a lecture space and an open studio workspace. During the day, the Studio-X is an active workshop, with combinations of ever-shifting teams of local experts and visitors from the region or globe working on designs, reports, exhibitions, books, competitions, films, magazines, etc. During the evening, the Studio-X acts a hub of social exchange and intense debate with a lively program of exhibitions and events. It is a hot spot in the city, buzzing with social energy, invention, and dedication to a better future.

Each Studio-X is electronically linked in real time to every other Studio-X around the world and ideas, people, and projects are continuously shared between them. The global Studio-X platforms are deeply integrated into the curriculum and research structure of all the programs at GSAPP, with students and teachers having multiple opportunities to spend time working in or with any Studio-X in the global network. Equally, students, teachers and experts from each platform around the world can work in or with any of the other platforms. The traditional hierarchical model of a leadership school concentrating expertise in a single place, synthesizing it and transmitting a singular approach to the major questions facing us gives way to the model of a distributed horizontal network that can incubate new evolving forms of intelligence for a new evolving world.

It is the ambition of the GSAPP to establish the most decisive global network of teaching, research and communication about the built environment. Such a global think tank must be based on the deep conviction that those parts of the world that are changing the most have the most to teach us. Older centers of power and wisdom must learn from the newer centers, which in turn learn from each other. No one city or region has any monopoly on the wisdom our shared world needs. Future thinking must be collaborative. Architecture can act as the key lens on our world rather than the usual global frameworks (economy, public policy, ecology, etc.) to leverage the inherent optimism of the field into new kinds of visionary and practical understanding. The ability of architecture to reflect, magnify, communicate, and celebrate our highest aspirations must be turned into a powerful global tool.

The Studio-X global network is a massive undertaking that will take some years to complete. After the opening of the pilot Studio-X in downtown Manhattan in 2008, Studio-X Beijing and the Amman Lab were launched in March 2009 and Studio-X Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai opened in 2011. The Studio-X spaces in Johannesburg, Istanbul and Moscow are currently being set up. With the addition of each hub in the network, this radical experiment in redefining the role, responsibility, and capacity of globally collaborative modes of education, research and action, increases its bandwidth exponentially. A new kind of collective brain is emerging.