Student Q+A: Francisco Brown (MDes Critical Conservation ’20)

Headshot of Francisco BrownHometown
Managua, Nicaragua

Prior Degree
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY: Master’s in Architecture II

Master in Design Studies: Critical Conservation, 2020

What opportunities are there for students to connect their designs to real-world issues?

Most of the academic offer at the GSD responds to real-world issues. The multidisciplinary nature of the school allows students to research, speculate and proposed design solutions across scales, typologies and geographies. The breath of scholarship at the GSD is immense.

I would urge students to be highly proactive in building their professional path at the school by connecting with students and teachers from both Harvard and MIT. They’ll receive the finest academic and professional advice in the world. I advise students to keep their next steps in mind with a open and receptive attitude while still at school. You are here to learn, so ask!

Could you describe classes in more detail?

Classes can range from small groups of 12 to 15 students to large lectures. The option to take classes across all Harvard and MIT Schools makes the courses intellectually rich with a diverse and insightful collection of points of view about the same subject. You are not only exposed to the opportunity to defend your point of view, but in some cases to change it. The classes are also a great opportunity to meet students outside your cohort: It allows you to collaborate not only on assignments but also is great chance to form teams for the competitions and grants promoted by Harvard and its partner organizations. In other words, the school reinforces students’ connections not only by program affinity but also by intellectual curiosity and ideological bonding. The GSD is a great place to collaborate and cross pollinate with architects, urban planners, designers, lawyers, and everything in between.

What characterizes GSD students’ mentality?
Francisco Brown wearing face mask in front of modern building
Francisco at the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts in Spring 2020.

Passionate, candid, and respectful peers with a diversity of opinion, an innate sense of leadership, and focused ambitions. Most of the GSD students help each other all the time. Many of us dealt with insecurities, anxiety, and stress, so it is rather refreshing to remind ourselves that we’re in the same boat and we all share the same struggles. I believe that students who adhere to a strong sense of ethics and who are rigorous, collaborative, and fun-thinking are prone to succeed.

How would you suggest admitted students prepare themselves before they arrive?

Refresh presentation and graphic skills, including Illustrator, Photoshop, PowerPoint, or Google presentations, and get a text editing program like Grammarly—especially if you’re not used to English-speaking schools. I would suggest that if your plans include to get into an specific course to read about it and start looking into the instructors, their research and the available resources at the School such as labs and books. Look into strategies to manage your time. The more hacks and tricks that you can learn, the better. Relax and rest as much you can before starting the semester.

What are the best practices for success at the GSD?

Be flexible, kind, opinionated, and curious. Be purposeful and assertive when trying new things and learning new ways of thinking and new ways of asking questions. Most people find it difficult to speak in public about their work. Classes on storytelling, communication design, or presentations are fundamental to constructing the sequence of ideas that will become your future story. Finally, the GSD’s network of alumni understands the challenges of the job market and they are always open to seeing your material and giving you constructive feedback.

How have you grown since coming to the GSD?

I became more aware of time and the enormous efforts it takes me to produce good work, so I try to plan accordingly. I became even more passionate about collective working, and I felt truly in love for research-based design, core to MDes, and its impact in the built environment and culture. The GSD also gave me the confidence to use my voice. As dissonant as it can be sometimes, and to use it wisely and candidly. (I am still learning this). I now feel the enormous need to use my craft for a better impact and help redesigning a better future for our communities. The current situation has been a complete paradigm shift of the social contract and our way of living. It revealed the enormous injustices and failures of an economic and political systems designed to oppress and exploit minorities, women and the planet. We are obliged to do better and to contribute to a most needed change. I learnt that it takes a lot of work to move the needle, but the needle can and has been moved by people seating in the same classrooms as a I did.