A multi-faculty department linking design and technology

Recognizing the integral role of design in the development of technologies that reshape the built environment and the way we live and work, Cornell University established the interfaculty and interdisciplinary Department of Design Technology.

The new department aims to connect and strengthen design and technology disciplines and departments across the University, complementing and strengthening the strengths of the Design Arts, Design Sciences, Design Engineering and Design professions.

The College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) will partner with New York’s College of Human Ecology (CHE), the Cornell Ann Bowles College of Computing and Information Sciences, Cornell Engineering and Cornell Tech to manage the Department of Design Technology City.

The department is the product of more than two years of discussions between the deans of the schools and a faculty working group that also included representatives from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and the Cornell Johnson School of Business. Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff’s radical partnership initiative, which identified design + technology as one of 10 strategic areas, asked them to evaluate how best to enhance and expand design education and research in emerging technologies at Cornell.

“The relationship between design and technology has never been more important to society than it is now,” Kotlikoff said. “The Department of Design Technology will foster collaborations across disciplines and campuses that have the potential to advance design education and research at Cornell and beyond.”

J. Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, AAP’s Gale and Ira Drukier Dean and Chief Dean of Design Technology, said the Collaborative Faculty recognizes that each faculty can benefit from an integrated vision of design and technology that transcends disciplinary barriers, and contribute to it.

Collaborating with Yoon were Rachel Dunifon, Rebecca Q., and James C. Morgan Dean of CHE; Kavita Bala, founding dean of CIS at Cornell Bowers; Lynden Archer, dean of the Joseph Silbert School of Engineering; and Jack and Rilla Neafsey of Cornell Tech Dean and Vice Provost Greg Morrisett.

“The synergistic advancement of design and technology is not only essential to a design education at Cornell, but is also critical to preparing the next generation of designers, engineers, scientists, technologists and creatives to tackle the most complex challenges of our time,” Yoon said. “Design Technology will ask, develop, and answer questions that can define new models of design and thought across disciplines through applied design and technology.”

Design Tech’s inaugural chair is Jenny Sabin, Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Professor of Architecture. Sabin co-chaired the 12-member Design + Technology Faculty Working Group with Wendy Ju, an associate professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.

From additive manufacturing to artificial intelligence, we are seeing contemporary paradigm shifts and convergences across digital, physical and biological scales, Sabin said. In this context, she says, design and technology increasingly rely on each other to innovate.

Examples of Cornell research at the intersection of design and technology include engineering human behavior in the context of self-driving cars; origami-inspired robots; additive manufacturing in space; and programmable, sometimes living buildings, Sabin said. 3D printing of materials; and the development of wearable interfaces that respond to changes in biological data.

“Design Tech will not only connect our field and faculty, but also fill gaps in emerging high-demand fields such as product design, interaction design, material design, and digital media design,” Sabin said. “At Cornell, we are uniquely positioned to be pioneers in this emerging field because of our expertise in design, robotics, nanotechnology and materials science, computer science, and more.”

The department’s first degree program, pending New York State approval, will be an interdisciplinary master’s degree in design technology, expected to begin in the 2024-25 academic year. The two-year program, which spans the Ithaca campus and Cornell Tech, will build on AAP’s existing MS in Computational Design for Matter and incorporate lessons learned from “Interdisciplinary Design and Fabrication,” This is a teaching model that intersects with Cornell Tech’s four-year interdisciplinary, studio-based pilot collaboration and design technology research. Additional degree and undergraduate courses may be proposed.

In the planning years ahead, a faculty steering committee composed of the Design + Technology Working Group will work to launch the department and formalize the new master’s program.

The Radical Collaboration program will facilitate partner institutions to hire core faculty in design, science and engineering who will co-teach courses and engage in collaborative research.

In addition to Sabin and Ju, Design Tech’s inaugural faculty includes Heeju Park, Associate Professor of Human-Centered Design (CHE); Timur Dogan, Associate Professor of Architecture (AAP); François Guimbretière, Professor of Information Science (Cornell Bowers CIS); and Materials Uli Wiesner, Spencer T. Olin Professor of Engineering, Department of Science and Engineering (Cornell Engineering).

“With the support of the University leadership and five aligned schools, it is very exciting to realize this new model that is truly interdisciplinary and collaborative,” Sabin said. “We are excited to be a part of it.”

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