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Op-Ed: Classicism, not classism for the College of Built Environment

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The College of Built Environments (CBE) at the University of Washington can not fully realize its strategic framework unless labor has a seat at the table.

In early 2020, I graduated from the Wood Technology Center with a certification in cabinetmaking and architectural woodworking. I am currently a lab assistant and facilities woodworker in the College of Built Environments educational woodshop at the University of Washington. The woodshop, named the Fab Lab, is a teaching resource for colleges of architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning, and more. 

The Wood Technology Center has historically taught three programs: residential carpentry, coat construction and repair, and cabinetmaking and architectural woodworking. The Wood Tech Center also has a pre-apprentice construction program called Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training (PACT)

This past winter quarter, the cabinetmaking and architectural woodworking program at Seattle Central College’s Wood Technology Center closed its doors. The program has closed after esteemed instructors Dave Borgatti, John Harvey, and Jeff Wasserman retired after their tenure at Seattle Central College. The cabinetry program was historically the most sought after course at the college and closed with a full wait-list. I was on the waitlist myself for a year and a half after high school, eager to begin working. 

The facade of Wood Technology Center
Cameron Musard The facade of Wood Technology Center

Although the college receives funding from Olympia as the Wood Technology Center programs are full-time, the cost of staff remains the highest expense. The college administration is unable or unwilling to hire new staff members to teach the cabinetry program. Additionally, the students do not have funding to develop Registered Student Organizations at the Wood Technology Center. Some past student clubs have included Woodworkers Advocating Gender Equality, a green building advocacy club, and in-house student merchandise and apparel. 

In 2018, not even two weeks into my first quarter at the Wood Tech Center, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the built environment. Studying architecture was the logical next-step after studying architectural woodworking. The cabinet program seemed to me to be a rigorous general studies for architecture, as well as its own professional certification. There is a lot you can do with a construction degree and the college attracts a diverse student body as a result. 

I met with advisors at Seattle Central and the University of Washington and began academic planning. Seattle Central offers an Associates of Applied Science for the wood technology programs that require additional coursework at main-campus Seattle Central, which I pursued. I applied to University of Washington and was accepted into the community, environment, and planning program in the College of Built Environments. I was accepted into my major but not University of Washington proper.

 The University of Washington considers the wood technology programs remedial or “non-academic.” I had to take an additional year of courses at Seattle Central. Even after that, I am still a sophomore in a junior cohort. If you do the Math, that is six years total for a four-year degree. The 93 credits I took from the Wood Technology Centerare invisible as far as the University of Washington is concerned. This policy makes it prohibitively difficult for students to transfer from the Wood Technology Center to the College of Built Environments and as a result prohibits builders from participating in architecture. 

In light of these facts, it is clear the College of Built Environments is failing its strategic framework in critical ways. Labor is a central community in the greater built environments society that has been historically underrepresented in the Pacific Northwest. 

The College seeks to“foster a culture of accessible, explorative, ubiquitous use of technology within and outside the college in service to the urgent issues facing humanity, including climate change…[Cultivate] bold thought leadership grounded in historical perspectives, evidence-based approaches…across the disciplines of the built environment.

In addition the college envisions “[emphasize] collaborative skills to bridge between disciplines and for translating academic research to relevant practice applications… Support multiple and diverse topics and voices in all CBE courses… Use sophisticated skills and nuanced concepts about systems and patterns to inspire bold thinking…[Co-create] processes for planning, designing, building, and investing in environments by welcoming expertise of citizens/community members and others with diverse backgrounds and a wide range of lived experiences.” 

The old Broadway-Edison Technical School
Cameron Musard The old Broadway-Edison Technical School

The task of building the twenty first century environment must include building buildings that are both beautiful and made from natural, locally-sourced materials.  The good news is that we have invented that technology already, hundreds of years ago. Classical architecture is the original green (OG). Classicism is more than civic buildings. Classical construction is forms that rest and give representation to spanning and bearing and reflect a human scale.  In this sense, all of the wood technology programs are classical construction. So-called “fossil-fuel” architecture has not existed for very long; since World War II. Our twentieth century buildings are on life-support. Glass towers are very resource intensive to heat and cool and they are uninhabitable if they are not plugged in.

The University of Washington can save the Wood Technology Center by fully realizing its strategic framework. What the Wood Technology Center needs is recognition and funding. In order to do this, the University of Washington needs to change the classification of the wood technology programs from “remedial” to academic to reflect reality. 

The University of Washington should also partially fund the Wood Technology Center. The College of Built Environment also seeks to expand capacity. Classical architecture studies are in high demand across the country. By integrating a dual architecture track, the University could raise funds for the Wood Technology Center. One degree with two options: contemporary architecture and classical architecture. 

There are many ways the University of Washington could raise funds for the Wood Technology Center. This is just one option. If the College supported the Wood Technology Center, they would receive payoffs indirectly in the Fab Lab that would be greater than if the funds were allocated directly to the Fab Lab . If connections are made between schools, it would create a four-year highly rigorous, highly well-rounded design-build program to directly tackle the equity and climate dysfunctions of the day.

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