Bruce Mau jokes that when he was growing up in Markstay, Ont., it seemed there were only two possible job opportunities: “for women, bus driver, and for men, miner.”
Now a world-renowned designer, he said he'd never met anyone during his childhood who had a creative job.
He ponders how different things might have been for him if the Laurentian University School of Architecture, which opened last month in downtown Sudbury, had been around back then.
“At least I would have had a perspective on possibility,” he said.
Mau, the founder of the Massive Change Network in Chicago, spoke to an audience of about 100 on Oct. 7 as part of a lecture series being presented by the architecture school.
While not an architect himself, Mau explains his field – design – is closely related to architecture. Architects engage in a specific type of design, while designers can focus on engineering any aspect of the world.
Mau's speech focused on the topic of designing architecture education.
Education is still largely the same today as it was 100 years ago, with a teacher writing on the chalkboard and students sitting at desks — a model that doesn't engage students, he said.
Students, in fact, learn by doing things and actually getting the chance to fail, as it makes them more determined to get things right, Mau said.
Also, because we don't know what the world is going to be like by the time today's students are at the peak of their careers, the best schools can do is equip them with the tools to become adaptive, Mau said.
It's what he has to do every day in his own career.
“I'm constantly doing things I don't know how to do, and no one else does either,” he said. “That's what I do for a living. It's developing a methodology to say I can solve problems that no one knows how to do. That's design power.”
Mau said he's not concerned about the Laurentian University School of Architecture's pedagogical methods, though, as they're already putting a lot of these ideas into practise.
During his lecture, he talked about some of the design projects that he's worked on over the past few years.
This includes redesigning Mecca so less people are crushed to death during the Haj, a yearly pilgrimage for Muslims. He encouraged the people involved with the project to look at a 1,000-year plan for the site, since it's likely to be around that long.
Mau was also engaged by the government of Guatamala to increase the morale of the country's citizens, who have been beaten down by decades of war, and as one government official said, “have lost the ability to dream.”
He helped the government design a communications strategy to help mobilize citizens to make change.
Another client is Coca-Cola, who wanted to figure out how the company could be around “in perpetuity,” without destroying the environment. It's currently working on a project to make chairs out of 111 plastic pop bottles.
Mau said some question his decision to work with a large corporation like Coca-Cola. But he said that if Coca-Cola is able to achieve this kind of goal, “thousands will follow.”
Laurentian architecture student Tony Mai said he thinks it's “amazing” how Mau is working to transform society on a massive scale.
He said he'd like to change the world through his work as well – but in smaller ways, such as innovative designs of residential buildings.
Mai said Mau's statements about the power of failure in education spoke to him.
“When we draw and it doesn't look good, we fail, but we learn from those failures,” he said.
Matthew Ferczak, also a Laurentian architecture student, said Mau got him thinking about how his generation needs to help the environment.
“We have to think about what we can make that will sustain us into the future,” he said.
The architecture school's director, Terrance Galvin, said he thinks his students have gotten a lot out of the lecture series.
Mau imparted upon them “the tradition of the designer that touches on many scales of things,” he said.