Futures in the Present
In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.
– Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940)
The investigative, speculative aspect of the work of the Graduate School of Design is akin to Walter Benjamin’s wresting of tradition from its tendency to conform. Rethinking the conventions of design practice is, for us, an optimistic and essential project, undertaken with the knowledge that our efforts make a difference in the physical environment. The GSD offers an exciting setting for interaction and the exchange of ideas through the combination of disciplines—architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design—together with the research of our studio-based as well as MDes and Doctoral programs. Working in collaboration with colleagues in other schools at Harvard and beyond the University, we see it as our responsibility to define the necessary framework for an intense yet engaging advancement of transdisciplinary research—providing multiplicity and consistency, singularity and diversity.
Our program has a social dimension aimed at the construction of alternative and sustainable futures, which places it in the ethical and political realm. The complexities of contemporary global and environmental issues—the impact of rapid urbanization; the scarcity of resources; the after-effects of disasters, both natural and manmade; and the continuing inequities between the rich and poor nations of the world—require solutions that are both imaginative and emancipatory. If we are to plan better futures, we need to create new organizational structures, new patterns and forms of collaboration. If we are to rethink the present, we need to constantly recalibrate the relationship between tradition and innovation, knowledge and imagination. With its superb faculty and students, the Harvard Graduate School of Design is poised to lead design’s global cause. The imaginary is the infrastructure of our project. The future begins here.
—Dean Mohsen Mostafavi