Last year, Parsons the New School for Design put the finishing touches on a restructuring of its academic programs, aiming to provide unity within its diverse curricula. But with the departure and promotion of some deans within the newly created schools, the process has not been fully completed until this summer, with the announcement of new directors at two of Parsons’ design schools.
In June, Parsons lured William Morrish away from the University of Virginia, where he was a distinguished professor, to become dean of the School of Constructed Environments, which covers architecture, interior design, lighting design, and product design. And tomorrow the school will officially announce the appointment of Miodrag Mitrasinovic as dean of the School of Design Strategies, which places an emphasis on design thinking through programs in urban design, environmental studies, and Parson’s unique BFA in integrated design.
These two schools, along with the School of Fashion; the School of Art, Media, and Technology; and the School of Art and Design History and Theory are part of Parsons’s effort to get away from the strict disciplines that used to dominate the 12 separate departments within Parsons—as well as at most design schools—and create something more collaborative and interdiciplinary within the five schools and the roughly 20 programs therein.
Mitrasinovic, tongue in cheek, put it thusly: “It was about creating a real serious design education out of what used to basically be a trade school.” But at the same time, his joke underscores the sea change Parsons is attempting within its curricula.
It was due to his experience with the reorganization efforts, which began around the time he began teaching at Parsons four years ago, that Mitrasinovic was selected to head the School of Design Strategies. He replaces Joel Towers, who was named dean of Parsons in April. Mitrasinovic has spent 15 years teaching and practicing architecture, and two of his recent books received prestigious grants from the Graham Foundation. Before assuming his current job, he was chair of the program in urban and transcdisciplinary design at Parsons, which will award the nation’s first bachelors degree in urban design beginning in 2010.
“I see this as a continuation,” Mitrasinovic said of his appointment. “But it is also an opportunity to continue pushing those ideas of what design education is and how it is administered, and taking that agenda as far as it can go.”
Morrish will take on a slightly more conventional role as dean of the School of Constructed Environments, but he said this new approach to design education was one of his main reasons for coming to Parsons. “It’s just a different way of doing things,” he said. He also cited the energy of the school and the city that surrounds it as driving factors. “There’s nowhere like New York,” he said.
Morrish takes over from Kent Kleinman, who became dean of the School of Art, Architecture, and Planning at Cornell in January. He is relatively new to the city, having received his architecture degrees from Berkeley and Harvard, though he was involved with the THINK team’s World Trade Center proposal, which was a finalist along with Daniel Libeskind, and he even did a stint at Parsons, collaborating on a graduate seminar in International Affairs looking at development strategies within the United Nations.
But Parsons is not only expanding its design agenda academically. Last Thursday, the school named Radhika Subramaniam as director and chief curator of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. The Lyn Rice–designed center opened up last year, a reorganization and new public face of Parsons facilities commensurate with its academic changes. Hoping to further that new public profile and put the work going on inside Parsons on display and in context, Subramaniam—an independent curator and editor from New York—will now oversee a number of annual events and exhibitions at the new design center.
"In the past five years, we have been taking a very close look at the incredible changes that are happening in the fields of art and design and questioning what skills and experiences our students need to prepare them for the future," Towers said in a statement. "The creation of this new five school structure is a bold attempt to rethink design education for the new century, one that is collaborative, complex, cross-disciplinary and socially minded."
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the School of Design strategies taught urban and sustainable design classes across the four other schools. This is incorrect. The school instead focuses on these disciplinces and also creates a number of new programs for their exploration, such as the new environmental studies and urban design degrees. AN regrets the error.