Art Center’s Sustainability Summits Set the Course
The time for sustainable living is now, and Art Center is taking the lead in the sustainability movement. Through the creation of an annual Summit on Sustainable Mobility over a five-year period, the College is bringing together top-level designers, industry executives, government leaders and entrepreneurs from around the world to discuss sustainable mobility and ultimately create a set of guidelines that will pave the way toward a sustainable future.
The first Summit, held on Art Center’s campus in 2007, was called Designing Sustainable Mobility, and it looked at sustainable mobility from a design perspective. In 2008, Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility addressed sustainable mobility in relation to systems and the urban environment. The next Summit, Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility, will be held in February of 2009, and pushes the conversation even further to explore how industries outside of the transportation and mobility fields approach issues of sustainability.
When first planning for the Summits, alumnus Dave Muyres (TRAN ’88), Art Center’s vice president of Educational Initiatives and the director of the Summits, viewed them as an opportunity for Art Center to position itself at the forefront of this important movement. He decided to center the Summits around issues of mobility because, as he says, “we wanted to speak from a position of authority, in order to bring in people who could really move the research forward and make a difference. We have that authority in transportation and mobility.” The focus may be on mobility, but Muyres says that “the desire is to influence the complete sustainability movement.”
With a workshop format and participation limited to 100 people, the Summits have created a fertile environment for creative thinking about sustainability. Top-level transportation designers, many of whom graduated from Art Center, mingle with leaders in government, media and business, while Art Center students are given the opportunity to take part as volunteers.
Stan Kong TK ’TK, head of the product design department at Pasadena City College (PCC) and an Art Center adjunct faculty member since 1983, views the Summits as a great way to enrich the Art Center community. “I’m really interested in community building,” he says, adding that sustainable design has long been a focus of his teaching. “Sustainability is about quality of life,” he says. “It’s about what you do for the environment, and it’s about connecting different groups of people.” Combining these interests, Kong has recruited student volunteers from PCC to help with the Summits, many of whom, he says, are so happy with the experience that they end up applying to Art Center’s undergraduate programs. He’s also brought in many of the alumni who have been involved in the Summits. “Having taught for as long as I have, I have connections with many people in a lot of different companies,” he says.
Art Center’s curriculum has been directly affected by the Summits as well. Designing for Sustainability II is a new course to be taught by pre-Summit organizer Heidrun Mumper-Drumm and Fridolin Beisert, and it came out of work done at the Summits. Overall, Art Center receives many benefits from bringing this wealth of knowledge to Art Center, says Mumper-Drumm. “You can’t confine this knowledge to your work,” she says. “You can’t learn about sustainability and not bring it to campus, to your life.” Muyres adds that bringing in experts who might not have been familiar with Art Center is great for students and alumni. Participants in business and government, who attend the Summits in order to gain a better understanding of the profound role of design in sustainability, now look to Art Center for expertise—and for new hires.
Lloyd Walker is another Art Center alumnus and faculty member who has experienced the direct benefits of the Summits. Along with his students in the Graduate Industrial Design Department, he developed the Mobility Vision Integration Process (mVIP), a deck of cards that allows users to envision mobility problems and possible solutions. (The deck is available in Flash version online at mobilityvip.com/deck/index.html.) “Coming out of the first Summit, we asked ourselves how Art Center could best help in the discussion about sustainable mobility.” Between the 2007 and 2008 Summits, Walker and his team brainstormed on how to take advantage of Art Center’s greatest strengths. “We’re the best in the world at design and visualization—design thinking—which is useful for big, hairy, unstructured problems.” Through experimentation and research, Walker and his team came up with the mobility VIP card deck. “It’s a thinking tool,” he says, “and the Mobility Summits are all about big, important thinking and discussion.”
These are just a few examples of the work that has come out of the Sustainability Summits. Another product will come at the end of the five-part series, in the form of a document called the Pasadena Principles of Sustainable Mobility. According to Muyres, this working set of guidelines for the sustainable mobility movement will be “a philosophy of sustainability, where we bring together the ideas of the 500 intellectual thought leaders who came through Art Center over five years.” The guidelines will set the course for sustainability at Art Center, and Muyres says it will also serve as a valuable and information-rich asset for the College.
“I would like Art Center to be known as the number one place for creative people to influence sustainable solutions,” says Muyres, “so that when you want to increase sustainability you go to Art Center first.” The Sustainability Summits are contributing to Art Center’s emergence as such a leader in sustainability.
Past Summit Participants
Art Center Alumni
Christopher Bangle, TRAN ’77