Architecture: The discipline that studied abroad before there was study abroad

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To borrow a catchphrase frequently found in university mission statements and increasingly used with a sense of urgency across disciplines, now is clearly the time to “think global, act local.” In the case of design professions, both in study and in practice, I would argue that it has perhaps always been “this” time. In fact, the ideas behind “think global, act local” were first described by an urban planner, Sir Patrick Geddes, in his 1915 book, Cities in Evolution. Geddes understood the design of a city as a multi‐layered system – one whose form is intrinsically interdependent with social processes, environmental principles, and larger infrastructures beyond its immediate context. This systemic and holistic thinking may extend across oceans, but is just as relevant an approach when considering a very specific local problem at hand. A design education offers this unique methodology of problem-solving, rooted in parts‐to‐whole relationships.

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India Study Abroad
NYIT students and Prof. Gandhi visiting the architecture of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India

Studying architecture and design in a large city in the US far exceeds the usual benefits of studying abroad. Of course, the diverse opportunities, the caliber of professionals, and a calendar full of public events, lectures, and panel discussions are enough to lure any international student. More simply, however, and as I often tell my students, merely standing in the middle of a dense urban street different than one’s own is an education in itself.

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Puerto Rico Design-Build Project
NYIT and UPR students discussing strategies for a community beach pavilion in Puerto Rico

At the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), design students are routinely challenged to engage unfamiliar sites and projects both within their own city and abroad. This may range from a simple assignment that diagrams local environmental or construction principles for a specifically built project to summer travel studios in places like Italy, Germany, Spain, and India where students can sketch buildings and their sites firsthand. Students might also find themselves video conferencing and collaborating with students from other universities abroad in focused design workshops or they may participate in designing and building an actual project for a real client in locations as far as Puerto Rico and Africa. Such service engagement work often requires students to deeply understand the local environs through field work, participatory design practices, and community feedback workshops. As a professor of architecture leading many such initiatives at NYIT, I am most pleased when I see my students offering diverse points of view and engaging critically with local professionals. Discussions often center around pressing contemporary issues that have potential to inform solutions locally and also within larger global contexts.

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