Meet NYSID's new Director of Sustainability

David Bergman is a LEED Accredited Professional, a practicing architect for 30 years, author of "Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide," and the blog EcoOptimism.com. He is principal of David Bergman Architect, and founder of Fire and Water, a lighting design firm. Bergman's interiors and lighting designs have been featured in publications including Architectural Lighting, Architectural Record, Metropolis, and Dwell.

What’s your vision for the future of NYSID’s MPS-S program?

Sustainable Design is at an evolutionary point in its development, a point at which it has gone from a siloed and appended afterthought aspect of design to an almost fully integrated part of it. And with that evolution has come an evolution in the way it is taught. Where it once was an isolated, perhaps elective, course or two, it, too, has become integrated, though more so in some programs than others. That raises some intriguing questions for a program such as ours that is specifically about sustainable design.

The way I’m looking at this is in terms of addressing three sometimes overlapping objectives. Who are our students and what do they need? The answer to that is in part industry driven: what does the profession need? What do employers need; what are they looking for?

But I want us to go beyond that. I’m also keenly aware of and passionate about the importance of looking at our program’s actual and potential roles in the world of sustainable design: how can we help steer, not just follow, the field? Now that sustainable design is emerging from its adolescence, where does it move next? And how can higher education affect that?

One of those ways is to extend further into two expanded aspects of sustainability: resilience and well-being. Resilience accompanies sustainability as the way to anticipate and rebound from extreme events such as those resulting from climate disruption. Well-being delves further into the human side of sustainable design: how people fare in the environments we create. But we can still go further to say “mere” sustainability is not a sufficient human goal, that eco-design has the potential to help us not merely sustain ourselves in the world, but to enable us to flourish. With that view, sustainability becomes more than something we have to do. It becomes something we desire.

That’s a lot for a program to undertake. But we need lofty goals and I’m excited to be at the helm of NYSID’s MPS-S program, which will aim to meet those goals.

 

Share a bit of your leadership style.

I draw on my professional experience which ranges from working solo to working both in teams and heading teams, as well as being a faculty member here and elsewhere working under other directors. Though I will certainly bring my own ideas to the table, I know that everyone has something to offer and that top-down leadership on its own is not always effective.  There are far better ways to build a sense of shared mission, and that always leads to greater innovation and success.

 

How do you bring your professional life into the classroom (or to the directorship)?

To me, the ability to distill and communicate information in design is vital and an often overlooked skill. In my writing, teaching and practice, a central theme is avoiding professional jargon because it tends to be exclusionary and because it often obscures intent and meaning. In my book on sustainable design, I enjoyed that the audience was not composed of only professionals, but lay readers as well, and purposely wrote it in an accessible style.

At its core, design is about communication, whether it be communicating a concept or communicating with others. Using jargon with clients can make you appear superficially knowledgeable but puts people off and can undermine the relationship. And with students, it can undermine the learning process.

 

What’s unique about the NYSID MPS-S program?

We have several things going for us that are each fairly unique and, taken together, make the NYSID MPS-S different from sustainable design programs elsewhere. First, we approach sustainable design specifically through the lens of interior environments, which just happen to be where we spend the vast majority of our lives.

Next, the MPS-S curriculum is designed for post-professional degree people who may or may not be coming from interior design but want to gain knowledge for professional reasons and/or practical application.

Adding to that is the personal scale of our program; we maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio. That allows our faculty, who are all well-established and grounded in both the ideals and the practice of sustainable design, to work closely with each student.

And then there’s our location. NYC is one of - maybe the – world’s great design centers. That means we have access to some of the leading sustainability thinkers and practitioners as well as resources like product design businesses and showrooms. We’re deeply embedded in the center of “the action.”

To learn more about NYSID’s MPS- S program, please click here.

Phyllis Greer