In the 1960s, Parsons’ renowned Interior Design program underwent a dramatic overhaul. Renamed Environmental Design, the program broke through traditional disciplinary barriers, embarking on an ambitious pedagogical experiment and expanding the role of design as an agent of social transformation. Reflecting the social and cultural upheaval occurring across the country, the school participated in—and at times led—the critical conversations taking place in the design community. Although Parsons ultimately reverted to the model of discipline-specific programs, the school never returned to its earlier focus on training students to produce a “Parsons look” for a wealthy clientele.
Forty years on, the broadened scope and progressive agenda introduced during the 1960s and 1970s is evident everywhere at Parsons, as the school once again reaches across disciplines and adopts holistic approaches to design problems. Drawing on the rich collections in the Kellen Design Archives, Radical Shifts tracks Parsons’ reinvention, looking back at a pivotal moment in the school’s history.
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