Teaching creativity: Landscape, architecture, originality, and autobiography

Awardee: Michael Van Valkenburgh (GSD)

Summary: Awardee will develop a new interdisciplinary course, involving leaders in landscape architecture and other fields paired with faculty at Harvard to examine originality, authenticity, and invention, and develop a model for courses that spark students to develop their own creative voice.

Michael Van Valkenburgh (GSD) designed and implemented a unique course, Teaching Creativity: Landscape Architecture, Originality, and Autobiography, which met on seven Mondays over the course of AY15 for eight hours each session, establishing a “mini-conference” feel. Seven leading landscape architects from across the globe each led a session in collaboration with an academic co-host. The guest architects led discussions about their work, inspirations, and career. In addition to these “master class” sessions, the course sponsored students visits to each architect’s work.

Students wrote reflection essays on each of the sessions, capturing what they learned from the master architect, what they learned about themselves, and thinking about the relationship between the culture or environment of the discipline. Van Valkenburgh characterized these assignments as seven “moments throughout the year for reflection,” emphasizing the importance of slowing down during the learning experience, dedicating focus to one project at a time, and making personal connections to the material.

He observed that the experience was an invaluable one for students because they were able to learn firsthand about some of the more difficult sides of the creative process, through a number of lenses, and provided opportunities to reflect on their individual approach and pursuits. He would like to offer the course again, though acknowledges that it is a costly model—financially and cognitively—that may be challenging to undertake frequently or at scale.