Page 14 - Shared Vision

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Man, not the product, is the aim. There is no separation
of the direction of design from that of general education.
In terms of stated curriculum, the student takes a program
of lecture and laboratory/workshop sessions which range
through the basic visual, materials, and techniques courses
to development, in various areas, of full scale prototyping
work for mass production. Though orthodox in layout, the
practice, the approach and projects undertaken are keyed
to the overall character of the school’s direction. They are
paralleled with required courses in economics, geography,
history and sociology, the biological sciences, psychology
and/or anthropology and philosophy.
Sadly, Moholy-Nagy died of leukemia in 1946. Walter
Gropius, who had often visited the Institute of Design,
recommended Serge Chermayeff, who shared Moholy-
Nagy’s vision, as the new director.
In 1948, Chermayeff invited the virtually unknown
R. Buckminster Fuller to lecture. In the audience was
Harold L. Cohen, a protégé of Moholy-Nagy who had
been inspired to teach. Cohen understood immediately
that the world Fuller imagined required designers trained
under the system his mentor envisioned. It was not long
before Cohen, and his fiancée Mary Kohn, became good
friends with Bucky and Anne Fuller.
In 1951, disagreeing with the absorption of the ID into the
Illinois Institute of Technology and the direction that its
head, Mies van der Rohe, intended to pursue, Chermayeff
stepped down. Harold Cohen was one of the former
students who was immediately hired to teach full-time.
Cohen and the other teachers anticipated the loss of
their building downtown with its ample facilities and the
independence it represented. They feared that the choice
of a traditional industrial designer to head ID at IIT would
be the end of Moholy-Nagy’s vision.
In 1955, those fears were realized, and Harold Cohen
resigned. His friend John Walley, who had worked with
Burnett Shryock on projects for the Works Progress
Administration, suggested that Cohen contact Shryock,
who was looking for someone to teach design downstate
at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
The New Bauhaus Moves Downstate
The second choice to head this small teachers college,
Delyte Morris became SIU president in 1948. With a PhD
in speech and psychology and a flair for the dramatic,
Morris was a man of large ambition. He wanted his small
school to fulfill the educational needs of an underserved
region and prepare graduates to meet all of its challenges.
Having created a School of Fine Arts and installing
Burnett Shryock as its dean, Morris was open to Shryock’s
proposal to add design to the curriculum. He was eager
to meet the young man from Chicago whom Shryock had
invited to discuss the new position and, as always, to take
a role in setting a new direction.
Cohen, too, was looking to do great things, and the
chemistry with Shryock and Morris was good. Morris was
seeding the university with distinguished professors in the
humanities and social sciences. When the position was
offered, Cohen had one condition: that he create and lead
a design department in two years.
Over the next eight years, Cohen and Morris put together
a program that broadened and sharpened the thinking of
its students, preparing them to tackle the problems that
America, and the world, needed to solve.
Harold Cohen in his SIU office (Photo by Ben Gelman)