Danish is interviewed by Kate Meersschaert of Columbia University’s New Learning Times on the topic of school design and learning spaces. He discusses the underpinnings to his current work and how architecture can transform American education.
K: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
D: As designers, we are driven by the belief that our surroundings – be it our homes, our places of work, or the public spaces in between – directly influence the quality of our lives. Pair this with my conviction that basic education can proactively mitigate many global challenges, then there seems no better place to focus than on our schools.
K: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
D: My first few years in the architecture profession, I worked at larger corporate firms. These firms excelled at delivering finely crafted buildings, but something was incomplete about their process. Teams of architects would rush into a lengthy design phase without a deep understanding of client needs and project context. The results were often one-size-fits-all solutions relying on “best practices”. My work seeks to address this gap. Taking clients through a period of research, observation, and self-discovery is critical. It allows us to base design on meaningful insights about the project’s users and their daily lives. I call this Design Anthropology.
K: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
D: Historically, US school development has suffered from three fundamental miscues: 1) we have allowed budgets, not education, to shape our school buildings, 2) we have clung too tightly to conventional notions of what constitutes a school, and 3) we have failed to include teachers, students, and community in the design of their own schools. By addressing these challenges, I think we can uncover rich possibilities that allow us to rethink how education is structured and accessed.
K: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
D: Extended “urban” campuses and learning networks that allow for more partnerships, resource sharing, and real world experiences.
K: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
D: I am currently working with New York City Public Schools to design campus and neighborhood environments geared at supporting chronically marginalized student groups. You can follow along at http://www.kurani.us.