The University of Arkansas and the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design will offer a new Master of Design Studies degree program beginning in fall 2019. It is the first graduate-level program offered by the Fay Jones School in its 70-plus-year history.

The graduate program, which was approved last week by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s Coordinating Board, features initial areas of concentration in Resiliency Design and in Hospitality and Retail Design.

“These programs, developed over the last three years with input from multiple stakeholders, are the first steps in advanced architecture and design studies, and they capitalize on the strengths of the school, the university, the Northwest Arkansas region and, indeed, the state,” Dean Peter MacKeith said. “Equally, graduate-level education in these specialized areas prepares students to address opportunities and challenges nationwide and throughout the world.” The concentrations have been developed with global leaders in the respective fields and are unique in their focus, expertise and resources.

Resiliency Design will engage students at the scale of the community and the region, investigating contemporary issues such as water, mobility, food, housing, aging and public health, while preparing communities for the challenges of the future.

A recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every federal grant dollar spent on disaster mitigation and resiliency can save the U.S. government an average of $6.

The U of A Resiliency Center, newly formed in the Fay Jones School, and the U of A Community Design Center directly support this area of study. The Resiliency Center, whose creation also was approved last week by the state Department of Higher Education, provides leadership in sustainable strategies and cross-disciplinary knowledge necessary for complex problem solving. The Resiliency Center’s director, Marty Matlock, is also a professor of biological and agricultural engineering and executive director of the Office for Sustainability.

“The challenges in community, food and water systems resilience we face this century require integrated thinking across discipline boundaries,” Matlock said. “The design process, with its focus on driving outcomes, provides a framework for creating new ways of understanding from multiple knowledge domains. We must be able to use every tool in our toolbox, and create new tools, if the promise of community prosperity is to be realized in Northwest Arkansas, the state and the region. The Master of Design Studies provides the framework for integrating knowledge and technology with arts and the humanities to create new ways of understanding these complex challenges.”

The Community Design Center offers a professional staff with practice and teaching experience and design work that has received more than 130 awards and brought $70 million in grant funding. The center is a Regional Resilience Design Studio, designated by the AIA Foundation. The center’s director, Steve Luoni, is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

“Resiliency is driven by the public sector’s ever greater need to withstand disruptive events, entailing the reimagining of governance and management,” Luoni said. “To achieve this, leading cities and regions are becoming significant consumers of design thinking since this is the level where many of the social, economic, and environmental challenges are addressed. The Resiliency Design concentration triangulates design thinking with policy and placemaking to solve for challenges across multiple sectors in the built environment. A new type of design problem solving in the public interest will become available to Northwest Arkansas and the state as each evolves toward greater prosperity.”

Collaborations and Partnerships

Hospitality and Retail Design engages experts in the Fay Jones School with campus collaborators within the Sam M. Walton College of Business and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. Carl Matthews, professor and department head of interior design, noted that there is no other graduate design program in the United States with specializations in these market sectors. With online shopping challenging the value of bricks-and-mortar environments, retailers are investing in innovative environments that transform customer experience and engage the senses. Similarly, hoteliers must respond to guests seeking high-tech amenities and local, authentic experiences in personalized settings. With design fees in the hospitality and retail sectors exceeding $895 million in 2017, professional opportunities in these areas of specialization are robust.

“The Master of Design Studies program is a unique and innovative program coming out of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design,” said Matthew Waller, dean of the Walton College of Business. “Dean Peter MacKeith and his colleagues are visionary leaders and creative colleagues with which to collaborate. As a consequence, this master's program will advance the Fay Jones School, the University of Arkansas, and our land-grant mission. … This retail design-centered program builds on the strengths of the Walton College of Business. A recent journal ranked us second in the world for retail research productivity.”

Carl A. Kernodle (B.Arch. ’91), vice president of planning and design worldwide for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, noted that, like so many architecture practice sectors, there exists the need to know specifics about that market. Traditionally, it takes years of experience to gain this exposure and proficiency. The hospitality design world requires individuals to possess this expertise in order to be a productive participant in daily problem-solving activities. This new Hospitality Design concentration gives U of A students the opportunity to obtain that specialized design knowledge base in a focused educational environment.

“This is an uncommon opportunity,” Kernodle said. “Graduate students exposed to the specific industry vocabulary, organizational operations, planning nuances, customer drivers will be extremely attractive to hospitality businesses and design firms. The hospitality industry will gain from the injection of these skilled graduates who will enter into the hospitality workplace with a unique familiarity that will allow them to immediately share their beneficial skills, creativity and energy.”

The concentrations within the Master of Design Studies will feature residencies in professional practices, business settings, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations.

“Our partnerships with national and global enterprises will allow students to hone their skills in these professional environments.” MacKeith said. “These valuable opportunities will also prepare students more deeply for the management practices that are now essential to the success of design enterprises beyond the academy. As well, these design-centered graduate programs, when combined with design thinking and design leadership coursework, are intended to lead to innovation in all these concentrations.”

The master degree structure provides for further concentrations, and the Fay Jones School is exploring the viability of programs in integrated wood design, preservation design, and health and wellness design.

The promotion and recruitment efforts for the initial groups of students in these two concentrations will begin in August 2018, with anticipated enrollment starting in August 2019.

AuthorLinda Komlos