“Architecture students are very good at applied problem solving and custom fabrication. There’s a certain degree of empathy that architecture students have.”
Elysse Newman and Michael Repovich exemplify the range of pursuits that can be launched from architectural training. The couple met in Washington DC, when they both worked for the large design firm, HOK. Elysse turned toward an academic and research path, focusing on the relationship between neurosciences and architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She taught at Florida International University, and recently became Head of the Department of Architecture at University of Arkansas. Michael kept his hand in direct practice, but recently switched to become the owners representative for the new children’s hospital under construction in Rogers.
The U of A School of Architecture is renowned for its namesake, E. Fay Jones, whose finely conceived and crafted buildings gave Ozark regionalism international acclaim. Selecting Elysee, a research-driven architect, to head the department demonstrates a broader view of the school’s purpose. “U of A is changing as a whole. It’s promoting the public presence of higher education. What does an architect need to know in 2030? Look at the 99%: how can our students lead that conversation?
Elysse teaches a course in medical devices, an unusual offering in architecture. “We identify a user, observe, develop, and make prototypes.” As an example, Elysse described a group of students who recently developed an infill cushion that fit between the back and headrest of a standard wheelchair for a woman whose C5 injury was unsupported by that gap. “This is not the 1% design we see in magazines. It is not what the studio system promotes, but it makes a difference in people’s lives.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I think, despite appearances, we’re moving toward a more unified experience. Nationality is dying. We will continue to have regional differences; we will come to see the differences as good. We will come to understand ourselves as stewards of the earth. This is fifty to one hundred years out.
“We are not in a very good space right now. In the 1700’s you would see this dichotomy, ‘the best of times, the worst of times.’ We started to standardize time and measure. That was the beginning of physical globalization. Now we need to make the spiritual leap.
“This will have many ramifications. It will affect our view of women and men, race, money. The computer doesn’t care who you are. We have not caught up with how that changes us. This will affect every institution we have. Look at our politics. What we‘ve seen is because of social media, which is based on a computer.” – Elysse
“Depends on what tomorrow you’re talking about. Monday will be much like Sunday. We are coaxed into change, we don’t volunteer for it.
“In terms of the future I’m a doomsdayist. I think it’s going to be really challenging. We are damaging our capacity for human habitation. Our only saving grace is the balance between culture, technology, and resources. How we balance them will shape our tomorrow.” – Michael