Arkansas will have its first graduate program for architects, landscape architects and interior designers next fall, pending approval of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees in Little Rock gave the OK in its regular meeting on Jan. 25 for a proposed Master of Design Studies (M.Des.) within the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Initially, it will offer two concentrations: resiliency design and retail/hospitality design. ADHE’s Coordinating Board will consider the addition of the degree tract at its regular April 20 meeting in Little Rock. The decision by the Fay Jones School to put the process in motion came after years of talks about moving in the direction of graduate programs, said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture.
In 2013, all three departments — architecture, landscape architecture and interior design — moved under the same roof for the first time, after the renovation of Vol Walker Hall and the addition of the Steven L. Anderson Design Center, and that helped the process along.
In 2014, MacKeith was appointed as dean, and by then the master’s program discussion had made its way to the university administration level. As part of the UA “solidifying identity as a Research I university, all graduate programs regarded as a good thing,” he said. He was encouraged at the onset of his appointment to move the initiative forward.
The school spent time exploring and carefully considering plans for the M.Des. program, because a priority is to create a program that has a “high probability of becoming self-sustainable,” MacKeith said.
The M.Des. program will cost about $1.2 million in the first three years, according to the proposal that went before the board. Projected costs include $660,000 for new faculty and staff. Visiting faculty will likely fill any instruction gaps the first year, but there is a plan to add two faculty positions.
About $250,000 from the Fay Jones budget have been reallocated to offset the initial cost of the program. “There are always going to be startup costs in any venture, such as this, but at some point, if you’ve done your research, you’ve done your marketing, you’ll reach an enrollment point where the programs become self-sustaining,” MacKeith said.
The school plans to enroll 10 students in its first cohort. The 12-month, 36-credit program will runs from Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2019, concluding with a summer residency. By years two and three, the school has planned for 20 students, building to 30 students by year five, and possibly more if additional concentrations are added.
The master’s degree provides a deepened study or specialization for architects, landscape architects and interior designers, “another level or range of employment opportunities, and another level of salary compensation,” MacKeith said.
The M.Des. structure serves as an umbrella under which a student can add any number of concentrations. The school might work its way up to five or six. Beyond that, there will be a need for physical expansion of the school’s facilities.
MacKeith said in choosing the first two concentrations the team looked at the resources and strengths of the school, the university and the state, in addition to industry trends, with input from alumni and donors. Beefing up the resiliency program was a natural progression, as the Office of Sustainability — proposed to be renamed the Resiliency Center — and the Community Design Center, which tackles resiliency projects throughout the state, are integral parts of the Fay Jones School.
MacKeith also pointed to an article in Architect magazine showing every $1 spent on resiliency design has a return of $6, according to National Institute of Building Sciences data.
The program development team saw retail as an important area in terms of the strengths of the regional economy, and MacKeith noted many alumni of the Fay Jones School have gone on to work within the hospitality industry.
On a national level, interior design fees for the top 100 firms in the U.S. topped $600 million last year for the hospitality sector. Spending was second only to the corporate office design sector, which brought in $1.5 billion. Retail design fees for those top firms brought in $283 million.
MacKeith said, as more focus is placed on online shopping, the way forward is through “experiential outreach, where you remove the point of purchase from the consumer environment and it becomes the building up of experience.”
Hospitality management and retail management programs in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and the Sam M. Walton College of Business, respectively, will be assets to draw from within the M.Des. program, MacKeith said.
“You don’t create anything truly good out of nothing,” he said. “You need to base things on what you’re already doing well.”
COLLABORATION IS KEY
The M.Des. degree is not discipline specific, although there is opportunity to develop those types of programs in the future.
“One of the perspectives I arrived with is that the challenges or the issues that architects, landscape architects and interior designers are confronted with today in design are rarely discipline specific,” he said. “A building project is never just a building. It’s also the positioning of that structure into the environment in its context. Whether that’s the landscape or a city, it’s going to have a relationship to the networks and the systems and the ecologies of that particular site.
“It is almost axiomatic that architecture and landscape architecture, if you think of the envelope of the building outward, is necessarily an interdisciplinary and even collaborative work,” MacKeith said. “At the same time, the building is never simply the enclosure. It is actually the inhabited experience and, whether that’s for work, for play, for living, dying, loving — you can name the, sort of, the human ways of inhabiting place — it is ultimately about the design of the interior.”
An interdisciplinary approach better prepares students for the professional environment by preparing them to work across disciplines and recognize the complexity of any design commission, he said.
MacKeith said the plans for the graduate program also align with the university’s stated priorities, as outlined by Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz shortly after he joined the UA in early 2017, including student success, graduate programs, research and discovery and the university’s land grant mission. “We really think we’re in good harmony altogether.”
Jim Coleman, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in a statement: “This move strengthens the university’s focus on building graduate education, which is critical for the research mission of our land-grant institution, while expanding the cultural, environmental and economic development of the state … For those graduating from the Fay Jones School, it also becomes an option for them to remain in the state to pursue an advanced degree.”