We are happy to report that, after a year of Zooming and socially distant designing, the School of Architecture + Design is thriving. Our students are doing amazing work, guided by both in-person and virtual critiques and mentoring from our faculty and informed by lectures and critiques from a wide array of different designers and experts from around the world. Cowgill, Burchard, Burruss, and Surge are full of designs, drawings, models, and the other detritus of a healthy design school, even if the population is a bit sparser. With the return of weather that is more amenable, the geodesic dome is filling up with models, while still hosting the odd sketcher, musician, or dancer finding ways to explore its spaces.

We are grateful to all of our faculty, students, and staff for working so hard in these difficult circumstances to get us to this point, and are also thankful to all those from outside the School who have supported our efforts in so many different ways.

We are, of course, eager to get out. We have not been able to avail ourselves of the fantastic facilities at Riva San Vitale and the beauties of Ticino, we have not been able to explore the wider world, and we have not even been able to make many site visits. At least our Chicago Studio is proceeding and producing excellent designs. But, someday soon, we need to take what we are learning here at Virginia Tech out to a wider world and bring the larger world to us.

That last point is especially important to us. The COVID-19 health crisis and the social upheaval of the last year have both made us realize how isolated we are here—not just geographically, but also socially and culturally. We have started to wonder how design can allow us to build healthier and more open communities in sustainable ways. We have also come to realize more and more that our traditions, however much we cherish them, have not been shared with enough people who do not look like us and who have not had some of the same advantages we do. We have come to reflect on our campus’ and our School’s exclusionary past and our students, faculty, and staff are all demanding a greater reckoning, as well as an end to the continued discrimination and exclusion they still experience. We need to make our ways of teaching and our community available to everyone, and to allow their voices and experiences to further develop and even change our ways of thinking about and doing design.

We look forward to a spring and summer in which we will be able to enjoy the fruits of design and research this School has produced in a more open setting, and to seeing each other—and all of you—on our campuses in Blacksburg, Arlington, or Riva in person. In the meantime, we share with you some images and stories that reflect the diversity and excellence of our School, and invite your thoughts and comments.

Aaron Betsky