2020 Graduates: This Is Your Moonshot
A message from Gensler’s global director of design: “We need your imagination, skills, and intellect to transform our cities.”
To the 2020 graduates of architecture and design programs, you are the first class to enter this new reality. This year has shown us a confluence of challenges, from a global pandemic, to economic distress, to social injustice and civic unrest. You’re emerging into a world that is desperately seeking signs of hope, optimism, and brilliant minds that can help decipher a brighter future that embraces diversity, encourages equality through design, and celebrates life. You’re entering the profession at a time when design can have a profound impact on a rapidly changing world.
What will a post-pandemic, inclusive world look like? Design will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of our cities and the built environment to be the diverse, accepting places that we need them to be. It has never been more important to rethink how we design our new buildings and reimagine our current ones.
As graduates of architecture and design programs, you’ve gained a versatile set of skills. Beyond the amazing digital tools that you’ve worked with to stretch your creativity, you’ve learned to problem solve with design thinking. Whether it was overtly stated or not, you’ve also learned to approach difficult challenges with optimism.
Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
Design is inherently an optimistic act. Optimism is defined as being hopeful and confident about the future. The challenges presented to us by this pandemic are immense. The social injustice and inequality that we continue to see shows us that there are still great obstacles to overcome in society. The future of our cities and communities will depend on design to thrive. There are opportunities for design intervention everywhere you look.
From our desk chairs to the world’s tallest towers, design influences every person, every day. What was true in the past and will remain true going forward is that the best design creates accessible environments in which people can feel safer.
Post-pandemic, public spaces will be the first things we will need to rethink and potentially redesign, but there are many places that we’ve taken for granted that will need a fresh look—public squares, parks, schools, retail outlets, hotels, transportation hubs, entertainment venues, and arenas to name a few. There are not many spaces designed for only one use by only one person for an extended period of time. We’ve learned from this pandemic how much people desparately want to be together. This period of time being apart means that the time together will be worth more than ever before, and design can solve for this. The design community is challenged with rethinking these spaces into inviting, more equitable places where people feel comfortable re-engaging with their communities.
Design is about problem solving, and we’re at a point in human history where we need optimism combined with moonshot thinking to envision a better world.
During this crisis, the news media talks a lot about moonshot-type goals to help us get mass testing, to develop a vaccine in record time, and to make us better prepared to mitigate or prevent future health crisis. Now we need a moonshot goal to remake our cities, and you are the ones who can bring the fresh thinking that gets us there.
For inspiration, it helps to look back at significant moments in history when groups of ordinary people came together to do extraordinary things. One particular moment occurred nearly 60 years ago on a hot, humid day in Texas on September 12, 1962. That’s when President John F. Kennedy made a bold speech that changed the course of history.
During his speech at Rice University, President Kennedy famously proclaimed that “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”
Up until that point, the United States had only managed four short orbit flights, totaling 11 hours in space. And that was combined with numerous failures: rockets blowing up on the launchpad and some barely making it off of the ground. The Soviets, meanwhile, had numerous successful orbital missions. How could we possible be going to the moon if we could barely get rockets off of the ground?
Why bring this up in the middle of a pandemic and against the backdrop of social injustice and civic unrest? Because this was the original moonshot. It was a goal that President Kennedy optimistically stated to a public weary from the Cold War and struggling with civil rights issues. And it was a statement that became a noble calling that drove a massive design and engineering effort to do the impossible.
After that bold proclamation, over 400,000 men and women from various walks of life throughout the United States and Canada worked together to answer that call. In doing so, they accomplished something that was considered insurmountable at the time. Their collective effort, creativity, and innovative thinking landed human beings on the moon and brought them safely back to earth in July of 1969. Design thinking was an undercurrent of the entire effort.
Moonshot thinking often seems crazy when it’s brought up. Optimism and design thinking made this goal achievable.
Maya Angelou said it well: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
As you enter the profession, know that we are ready to embrace your talent and the world sorely needs your creativity. And if the jobs aren’t there right away, you have the imagination, skills, and intellect to create the new businesses and fresh thinking that will transform our cities, our places, and our world.
Congratulations on this major milestone. You are our bright future. You are the ones that will create the places and spaces that will help keep us safer, respect our environment, and ensure a positive human experience for us all.
For all of you, this may be the end of the college experience, but it’s the beginning of one of the most important moments in history for design.
Based in Washington, D.C., Jordan Goldstein oversees global design innovation and project delivery for the world-renowned design and architecture firm Gensler. Throughout his career, he has led the design of more than 8 million square feet of commercial projects in the U.S. and abroad. Gensler is a global architecture, design, and planning firm with 50 locations and more than 5,000 professionals networked across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Founded in 1965, the firm serves more than 3,500 active clients in virtually every industry.
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