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"And, when you create a film, you are choreographing that which moves through space and time, just like you do when you create space in architecture."

Conversation with

LINDA KEANE, FAIA

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Linda Keane Chair and C0-Chair of Design Initiative SAIC; Founding Chair of Architecture at SAIC. Concurrent Positions: Director and Co-Founder of NEXT.cc E-Learning Designopedia, used in fifty states and two hundred countries; STUDIO 1032 ARCHITECTURE: Green Initiatives along the MKE-CHI Corridor. Exhibitions: Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Architectural Club. Screenings: PBS Retrospective, National Building Museum, International Animation Festivals. Select Talks: TEdx STEAM by Design; Golden Apple Creativity Matters with Dr. Yong Zhao; NAEA Nature Play Super Session; India Design Council Designing Design Education. Select Publications: Architecture: An Interactive Introduction, McGraw Hill, Inc (+ Spanish translation, A+A ArchitecturaAnimacion, Barcelona); The Culture of Design Education, Interior Design Professional Handbook; STEAM by Design, International Journal of Technology. Education Collections: Getty/Metropolitan Museum, PBS Image Union. Awards: Union of International Architects, National Endowment for the Arts, National Environmental Education Foundation, United States Green Building Council, Association of Architectural Organizations National Award for Media Education, American Institute of Architects, American Architectural Foundation, Association of Colleges and Schools of Architecture Creative Achievement Award, American Planning Association, Graham Foundation.

KE Zhang: Our first question is, as we know that you taught in other schools, we wonder if there is any difference between teaching at SAIC and at other schools? All of the students in SAIC come from different art backgrounds with chances to expose themselves to other art forms, and SAIC undergraduate studies don’t mandate, or prescribe,  a major.

 

Linda Keane: I would say the second part of your question is really the rule of the answer, because all universities now have people from all over the world, coming and learning. That’s a very exciting thing for students and for countries. But, what is very different from a university that has colleges, that you attend to learn a degree in a certain subject matter, SAIC is compressed in a few buildings in the loop in downtown Chicago, and it actually brings all of those different aspects of learning into our realm. The ability for students to move through and try different things in different departments, in different fields, is student-led inquiry. So it’s not that they are choosing a course of study that perscribes to becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or a literary major, or a teacher, but they are actually choosing their own paths and their own passion. This really changes so many things, and it is really special. It (SAIC) is a school that I would have been drawn to attend, if it had architecture. And now that all these students here are learning architecture and design in a school where you can do ceramics, paintings and learn from scholars and scientists,  this is exceptional and amazing.


 

KE Zhang: Thanks. In your practice, is there any moment that you feel other art forms, including fashion, movie, art&tech, and sculptures even bring you inspiration in architecture?


Linda Keane: Absolutely. We started (Linda and her partner) as filmmakers, and we did hand-drawn animated films that on PPS, and they explored the many aspects of how we read and experience architecture. We consider those films to be our kindergarten films because we were learning about how to evolve the frame, how to do different techniques, and how to deliver a storyline. And in the course of that, I wrote a short article (that I will share with you), about the difference in architecture by engagement. We as humans move - we move through space and time! When we watch a film, we sit. So,  there are different ways to interact with architecture in simple ways. When you create a film, you choreograph the images and space and narrative  through space and time, just like you do when you create space in architecture. That overlap was so exciting to me, and because of that, I started the class in architecture and fashion, because we pattern the clothes we wear, and we pattern the lives we build in cities or urban areas. My other pre-Art & Design NEXUS interdisciplinary courses were with Viscom, Sculptural practices, and Performance (we used to teach intro with a graphic designer and performance faculty members when SAIC’s dean was a sculptor).

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KE Zhang: Do you feel an environment can have influence or impact on a person (including their art and/or design practice)?

 

Linda Keane: Very much so. Part of my research as an educator is to look at eco-literacy, which is really our connection to the place which we are in and which we associate with and which we learn from. And that is so important for, kind of your stable beginning. There is a wonderful book,  Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values which was first read maybe forty years ago, and it was an early text about the experience with the environment, which was rapidly changing, that we are now in. I have an environmental design background, and that opens your imagination and awareness to how to look at and learn from the environment, and that means nature, AND the built world. As soon as you open those two things together, it is the puzzle, in which we live.


 

KE Zhang: Speaking about education, because I know that the course, Eco-Design, is cross listed in AIADO and Art Education, and that Next.cc is also an e-learning platform with in-person AIA mentored workshops, so it is not hard for us to say that you spend a lot of time on education.  How do you feel when you encourage students from different backgrounds (different nations/majors/ages) to work together on one architectural related project?

Linda Keane: I love that! You see how different lights switches get turned on in different people’s imaginations, and they all take a little… you have to figure out how to get it to turn on, but you can see it in their faces and their enthusiasm. We work with children who never make, in middle school, or who never have design opportunities. And they start a little timid, and then they just start building things and it’s this amazing joy! And then when they work together to create something, like the last workshop (green infrastructure along the Chicago river), they share ideas. There is no competition, and it’s all collaboration, which is so exciting. In America, design is only taught in college, so that’s why we really work hard to get artAND design opportunities in K-12 because only ⅓  of the US population goes to college, so what about the other ⅔ if they are not introduced to this way of looking, thinking, and using their imagination. So,  it’s really important.


 

KE Zhang: Since we mentioned this topic, my next question is actually about your answer. Is there any funny story when you start Next.cc?  Like at the very very beginning, when/how do you start it?

 

Linda Keane: There are a lot of fun stories. I think one was that I like to take students on field trips because then we are in a new city and we are learning about this new laboratory. I like to introduce them to the people we could meet so early on we would do this via first a conference phone conversation, then skype into the classroom, and zoom with architects in China or in the UK. Early on I took a group to New York City,  and they said well, we should see Philip Johnson, because that’s his building there and we just spoke to him this week! Although he said he was too busy to meet, students just decided to go up floors in the Seagrams Tower, so we went up to the 56th or 57th floor where his office was. I was naive, and I didn’t realize the door would open into his office! It’s just his floor! And the receptionist remembered us calling last week, and she saw these thirty students, said: “I will run to get Philip!”. Soall of us followed her to get him, and I am thinking  he is going to be mad because he said “I’m too busy!”; But he saw all these students, and said “all right, I can do this.” Then he started showing us around the office. AS we walked around the corner, there appeared the New York Chicago skyscraper skyline, and the students hadn’t really been so high up in a skyline  before, so they all went to the windows to take pictures, which reminded me that we all, you know, have these experiences, even if you try to direct them. So I kept talking to him (Philip) to keep him interested till the students turned around and came back!

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KE Zhang: Since the pandemic, we have had a lot of classes through zoom, the NEXT.cc is also an online e-learning platform (although we have physical workshops as well). When we took Eco-Design, we have both classes in the classroom and in field trips. In your mind, what is the most ideological way of having a class?

 

Linda Keane: I actually believe in a hybrid class. I do think that zoom is really useful for so many things, connecting us to the rest of the world to people from wherever they are. But in the meantime, I personally like learning that is place-based, so it’s important to walk a site, like what designers should design a building for a site they never walked through, or for a culture they have never been in. So all of these things are so important that I don’t think you can actually replace a full-body experience with a visual film of it. You can try, but it’s not quite the same because all your senses aren't fully activated, because you are smelling, hearing, and everything. So, I like Hybrid, and I also like it not to be regular, because I think learning should be a surprise; it should move around. When you surprise students, they are like what’s going to happen today? and then something new happens, which I, and they, like a lot.

KE Zhang: When we do journals on NEXT.cc, we do journeys other than architecture; we also do exhibition design, fashion, sculpture, materials, processes, making, etc., I wonder what’s the initial motivation to include artforms more than architecture.

 

Linda Keane: Because it opens opportunity to a whole different story, whole different delivery, and approach. Once you open to that, you are always hungry to seek other ways of looking at things. And to have conversations, our school has multi disciplinary critique weeks with multi-disciplinary panels discussing student work.  You hear how a writer will discuss a topic, or how a sculptor discusses a topic, or a painter, or a filmmaker. It expands, the multiplicity of approaches, and that multiplicity of approaches is the critical time we are in now. Yes, you still might desire to be a specialist, but you also might want to be a generalist, and a generalist is a person who is learning simultaneously across many disciplines at one time, and there is great value in that as the now is transdisciplinary!


 

KE Zhang: In your mind, what is interdisciplinary and what does it mean to be an interdisciplinary artist.

 

Linda Keane: There is a difference between “trans'' and “inter”. “Trans” is across I think, in definition, and “Inter” is in-between. We often find that the evolution of thinking about ideas is at the boundary, or edges,  of subjects, and not in the corner or not necessarily from history. (We kind of look at the history in a new way), but it is also in response to the contemporary time as well and the time is always changing. History is always changing as we perceive it, so looking at both of those edges is the in-between, I think, and changes the topic and the responses. It makes a living medium, so it’s not like we are learning something that is set in stone; we are learning and exploring and discovering something to look at it in a new way, which is really good.

KE Zhang: To discover and explore?

 

Linda Keane: And innovate. Not necessarily replicate, but sometimes we move through replication, but it’s only a stage. Eventually, we will deliver a new response, as design is always in response.


 

KE Zhang:  Is there any advice you want to share with students from the architecture department, who want to be interdisciplinary and explore other art forms?

Linda Keane: I am so pleased by the diversity of careers of people who have come through the AIADO department. Some have gone into material productions, some have gone into new fields, and some have gone into buildings or interiors. We are in such a stage of life right now where ninety percent of things need to be redesigned, like our sense of health and well-being, sense of equity and inclusion, all of those things are being opened. It's like Pandora's box. I could never have imagined a more exciting time to be in education, and I would hope that students understand this moment in time. Often, we are born here and think this is the way the world has always been and will always be, but no, it is always changing. We are living in a time of huge change and it’s exciting to be part of it.

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INTERVIEWER: KE ZHANG

PHOTOGRAPHER: BLADY LIU, NING DING

EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, KE ZHANG