A promising prototype for architectural education

What can designers learn from successful entrepreneurs? What can entrepreneurs learn from successful designers? How does design spark creativity at Google?

These are key questions that my students, colleagues and I have been asking in recent years. Given today’s challenging economic conditions, these are questions that all students and faculty in schools of architecture should be asking. The answers provide promising opportunities for a brighter future.

Successful entrepreneurs in design have broken out of the box, carving out new areas of practice. Several have blurred the boundaries of the architectural profession, redefined traditional roles of architects and impacted the public in ways we could never have imagined.

My course, “Entrepreneurship in Design, Diversity, Environment and Behavior,” serves as a prototype for other schools to follow. It began with a fellowship from the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One of the goals of the Academy, founded in 2004 with a $4.5 million grant from the Kauffman Foundation, is to infuse disciplines across the university with the entrepreneurial spirit by transforming ideas, accelerating innovation and creating value.

According to the academy, “entrepreneurship is the process of opportunity recognition and resource acquisition that leads to the creation of something new.”[1] The academy provides multiple opportunities for educating the academic community in entrepreneurship, such as workshops, competitions, symposia, business plan competitions, discussions and lectures. Each fall faculty members from across campus are invited to submit proposals to develop new or revise existing courses in their own discipline while adding entrepreneurial principles and pedagogies. Up to 10 fellowships are awarded annually through a highly competitive process. I was fortunate to be awarded this fellowship.

My first round teaching this course put me well out of my comfort zone. I sought the assistance of colleagues in the academy to identify appropriate resources, spent several months reviewing the literature, developing student assignments and contacting numerous individuals to seek their participation as case studies, guest speakers or field trip hosts. Although I was excited by the prospect of teaching in unfamiliar territory, I sometimes feared that I was in over my head. In retrospect, it was an eye-opening experience, almost like going back to school and starting all over again. Yet that is the challenge of a faculty member striving to keep up to date with changing times.

Since 2009, I have taught three iterations of this course as an elective graduate seminar to a total of about 40 students.[2] Course objectives are to empower students to:

  •  Understand the value of entrepreneurship in architecture and the design professions to society.
  • Identify and critically analyze major issues in entrepreneurship.
  • Become familiar with some of the leading figures in entrepreneurship at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the University of Illinois; social entrepreneurs whose work has impacted the built environment world-wide; environment and behavior design consultants; and diverse designers in nearby metropolitan areas.
  • Understand how these individuals have benefited from entrepreneurial knowledge and skills.
  • See how their future career can be enhanced by acquiring some basic entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. 
  • Gain some hands-on experience proposing future ventures for creative entrepreneurship and for non-profit organizations.
  • Present prospective ventures in a way that communicates effectively for future prospective clients.

Materials and assignments

Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott’s Innovate Like Edison, a book first introduced to me by Tony Mendes, former Director of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, analyzes Thomas Edison’s five basic competencies: 1) solution-centered mindset, 2) kaleidoscopic thinking, 3) full-spectrum engagement, 4) mastermind collaboration, and 5) super-value creation. [3]

Learning about Edison’s way of working inspires our design students. Jack Kaplan and Anthony Warren’s Patterns of Entrepreneurship Management, a classic text used in entrepreneurship courses around the country, and Jim Horan’s The One Page Business Plan, stimulate students to consider developing innovative ventures of their own.[4] Architecture for Humanity’s Design Like You Give a Damn and Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs show students how one or two individuals can lead a design movement that can change the world.[5]

Course assignments include:

  1. Seminar presentation on a design entrepreneur: Students identify and interview a design entrepreneur and present information about him/her to class using innovative technology.
  2. Seminar presentation based on Horan’s One Page Business Plan for Non-Profit Organizations: Students produce an innovative venture for a nonprofit organization or produce an innovative for-profit entrepreneurial effort based on what they learned from the course.
  3. Google assignment: Based on what they learned from a class visit to Google, students design an office for their own entrepreneurial venture to spark the highest possible levels of creativity.

Students analyze the entrepreneurial qualities of award-wining high-tech firm, Google, which sparks unusually high degrees of creativity among its employees and meets the needs of an increasingly diverse, global work force. Google’s meteoric rise in large part has been due to the innovative design of its physical and social work environment.

Students are required participate in a private Facebook group that provides an avenue for constant course communication. This has proven to be an extremely popular component of the class, allowing us to share information, coordinate field trips and assignments and prepare for and reflect on guest speakers.[6]

They must participate in a rigorous review of their portfolio and resume, posted online for all to see. Many make dramatic revisions to both these documents based on the critiques they receive from their instructor, guest speakers and peers. How they package and present themselves to the outside world is critical.

Individuals who participate in the course as case studies, guest speakers and field trip hosts include a wide range of entrepreneurs:

  • Regional photographers with a background in architecture Larry Kanfer, Laurent Gasquet; and Alaina Kanfer.
  • New media artists Sean Gallero and Petra Bachmaier of Luftwerk, whose innovative lighting installation lit up Chicago’s Cloudgate sculpture during mid-winter 2012.
  • Architects who own their own design-build firms: Champaign-based Tom Loew and San Diego-based Jonathan Segal.
  • Architect-author-artist-educator Paul Laseau; artist-architects Deborah Fell and Andrew Fell.
  • Graphic designer Michele Plante of the UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts Career Services Office.
  • Nonprofit social entrepreneurs Jack Sim, president of World Toilet Organization, named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment; Bindheshwar Pathak of Sulabh International; Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, founders of Architecture for Humanity; Jon Pounds of Chicago Public Art Group.
  • Environment-behavior researchers who apply their findings to design: Bill Lucas of Luma Institute; Nicholas Watkins, director of research at HOK and past chair of the Environmental Design Research Association; Sally Augustin, editor at Research Design Connections; John Zeisel, president and co-founder of the Hearthstone Alzheimer’s Family Foundation and Hearthstone Alzheimer Care; Elaine Ostroff, director of Access to Design Professions.
  • Co-founder of Chicago Apartment Finders Andrew Ahitow.
  • Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership colleagues with expertise in market research and guerilla marketing, Cindy Kehoe, Tony Mendes and Kimberly Sugden.
  • Google’s Jim Laumann, director of real estate, design and construction in the Americas and Andrea Cattarin, facilities manager.
  • IDEO engineer Tasos Karahalios.

Case studies and field trips

Students learn the most from conducting case studies of award-winning individuals, firms and organizations, and from meeting with accomplished out-of-the-box entrepreneurs as field trip hosts or guest speakers. Students study their missions, objectives, strategies and business plans, bringing them into class via video-recorded or Skype interviews.

One student said about a case study of Sim: “Many people fail to recognize the basic human need for a toilet and don’t know how many people don’t have one. I think it brought awareness to us about our social responsibilities and was a nice segue into the social entrepreneurship portion of the course.”

Our annual visit to Google Chicago and meeting with their real estate and workplace services provide a dramatic contrast from the atmosphere seen in most architectural offices. While the design of far too many architectural offices pays short shrift to common areas for employees, the design of Google offices gives top priority to informal meeting spaces, wellness areas, cafeterias and “micro-kitchen” snack bars serving healthy meals every day. Tremendous attention to design details, a sense of playfulness and engagement with the local community and its history are hallmarks of Google’s workplace designs.

By the end of the course, what did students learn about entrepreneurship? One student said, “entrepreneurship, especially in the design profession, was very foreign to me. No one personally close to me was an entrepreneur, or at least I did not realize they were until I took this class. …Now, I can see the wide array of creative opportunities a person can do with an architectural master’s degree. My view on jobs has expanded greatly to the point I think I can become my own entrepreneur.”


[1] “Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.” College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Available at:
http://business.illinois.edu/ael/index.html (visited 10.1.12)

[2] Two such course offerings are documented at “Arch 576 Entrepreneurship in Design, Diversity, Environment and Behavior.” Available at: http://www2.arch.uiuc.edu/kanthony/arch576KASP09/entrepreneurship/default.html (visited 10.1.12)

[3] Gelb , Michael J. & Sarah Miller Caldicott, Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor, NY: Dutton, 2007

[4] Kaplan, Jack M. & Anthony C. Warren, Patterns of Entrepreneurship Management, Third Edition, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2010; Horan, Jim, The One Page Business Plan – For Non-Profit Organizations. Berkeley, CA: The One Page Business Plan Company, 2007; Horan, Jim, The One Page Business Plan – For the Creative Entrepreneur. Berkeley, CA: The One Page Business Plan Company, 2006.

[5] Architecture for Humanity (ed.), Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises. Metropolis Books, 2006; Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

[6] For more about my use of private Facebook groups in the classroom, see Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,“The Many Faces of Facebook: Enhancing the Academic Experience.” http://ensemble.atlas.uiuc.edu/app/sites/index.aspx?destinationID=lmQ4u4JRsUiPp8vy5X9jzg&contentID=TV5B-zAE502MHxds356YZw

[7] For more information about our School of Architecture African-American alumni, consult “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign African American Alumni Project.” Available at: http://www2.arch.uiuc.edu/africanamericanalumniresearch/ (visited 10.2.12). I developed this site with the assistance of then-graduate students Nicholas Watkins, Rodney Howlett, and Leeswann Bolden, and with financial support from a grant from the UIUC Brown Jubilee Commemoration Committee. See also Anthony, Kathryn H. and Nicholas Watkins, “A Legacy of Firsts: African Americans in Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” book chapter in Remembering Brown: The University of Illinois Commemorates Brown v. Board of Education, edited by Vernon Burton and David O’Brien, University of Illinois Press, 2009, pp. 281- 300.

[8] Kennedy, Randy. “Max Abramovitz, 96, Dies; Architect of Avery Fisher Hall.” New York Times (September 15, 2004). Available at: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE3D91130F936A2575AC0A9629C8B63 (visited 10.2.12)

Kathryn H. Anthony, Ph.D., is an ACSA Distinguished Professor in the  School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Teaching this course inspired some entrepreneurial ventures of her own:  two apps for iOS, the Design Student Survival Guide and the Student Survival Guide; and the 20th anniversary edition of her award-winning book, Design Juries on Trial:  The Renaissance of the Design Studio.