Published: Sept. 12, 2018

Environmental Design sat down with Senior Instructor Georgia Lindsay for a Q&A before her Research Colloquium presentation Friday, September 14. 

A painting Lindsay created as an undergraduate art major at CU Boulder. Tell me about yourself.

I did my undergraduate here at the University of Colorado Boulder. I was an art and psychology double major, and people used to always ask me if I was going into art therapy with these two majors, but it was really the effects of the arts that interested me the most. For example, what does the “stuff” we make mean to the world and not necessarily just to the artist?

Later on, I worked for a non-profit arts organization and decided to get my master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Liberal Arts. It was sort of a choose-your-own-adventure program, so I focused on a photographic essay. Again,  I chose not to study the effect of making a photographic essay, but instead studied other photographic memoirs and how people used them; and what was the effect this had on the world.

I was also teaching high school at the time and decided that I liked teaching, but that I also enjoyed research, especially the reading of theory and thinking about ideas. So, I started looking around for graduate schools, because while there are lots of professions that tie those two things together, the main one that appealed to me is “college professor.”

I got into graduate school at Berkeley, and I decided to study architecture while keeping in mind that it is an art. I was most curious about iconic buildings, because they are kind of like sculptures out in the world, and I just assumed that architects would care about the effects of their sculptures. I

Georgia's Master Thesis.What brought you to ENVD?

The really pragmatic reason is that I needed a site for my field research, and had asked a few art museums with iconic architecture…and the Denver Art Museum said yes. It was a great move for me because I had always liked Colorado and was happy to get back here.

While I was here doing fieldwork, I met a few people from CU Boulder and it just so happened that ENVD needed a lecturer for 1052. They haven’t been able to get rid of me since!

The reason I love ENVD is that my work sits in between fields. What I do is look at the city-wide effect of architecture–some aspects of my research include understanding how architectural objects fit in a city, what they do for cities, both at the visual city-scape level, while also thinking about branding, iconography and marketing for cities externally, but also how we as citizens see ourselves in cities. So, I tend to draw on the fields of geography, planning, architecture and a little bit of landscape architecture. An interdisciplinary program like environmental design just fits better, because I constantly move across different disciplines.

Tell me about your research interests and why you’re passionate about the topic.

My research interests are in iconic architecture, also known as “starchitecture:” the pretty, shiny objects that go in our landscapes and cityscapes. That’s where I began thinking about what does iconic architecture do for us, what do they communicate and what values are they communicating? I think about architecture as a form of communication, especially when it’s an iconic architecture pushing the norm, and trying to be cutting edge. It makes you wonder, “what are they trying to say?”

So, I started with art museums and I’ve been expanding that to include other cultural buildings. It began with looking at the communication in terms of aesthetic values and it’s expanded into what are they communicating in terms of social value, and specifically looking at sustainability in green building and infrastructure.

I’m passionate about my topic for a couple of reasons. First of all, I think it’s really important. Fundamentally, my work is about humanizing architecture, and taking built objects–which tend to be (at least in architecture history) object-oriented—but thinking about what they mean to people, and really understanding the human perspective, which is often called the user perspective.

Asking questions like, what do buildings do for us as humans, as a group, smaller sub-groups or individuals? I think that is really important because so often the majority of the people don’t have a voice in what goes into building iconic architecture because the buildings are expensive. It’s more about what does the client want and how much money can they throw at this?

I feel that sometimes the voice and the perspective of people, who didn’t give five million dollars to get their name on the building, is lost. I think it’s important to speak up for them and ask what are the effects of these buildings beyond just having another “cool” thing dotting our skyline?

What kind of findings has intrigued you so far?

While studying a building in Berkeley, there was one finding that really opened up a new aspect in my research. It was a LEED Platinum building and we found that passersby would rate it more highly visually, that is, they would say they like the way it looked if they were told ahead of time that it was LEED Platinum.

This little tiny finding has intrigued me so much that I’ve pursued a whole line of research on it. People care about sustainability, but they don’t necessarily know about it, so how can buildings communicate values of sustainability better. What I’m finding is that architects are not very good at communicating the goals of the building, and right now sustainability is very confusing for the general public. I feel it’s a missed opportunity for changing the conversation about values. We’re letting LEED do it instead of design do it.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I really like that moment where something suddenly clicks and things that didn’t seem to fit together suddenly fit together, whether it’s for myself during research and I have the moment, or when I can help a student get to that moment through teaching; The light bulb flashes. I love that moment and I get to have it both in my research and as a teacher.  

What do you find challenging about researching or teaching?

I would say the most challenging thing is all the administrative “stuff.”

Georgia, her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law rode their bikes from Pittsburgh to DC.
How do you like to spend your free time?

I like mountain biking and yoga. I played roller derby for a long time but had to stop since it took too much time, but I still roller skate on the paths. I really like cooking, baking and spending time with friends. Also, I love brunch!

What’s the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received when you were figuring what you wanted to do?

There is no right answer. There’s just lots of answers and you just get to pick one. So, it’s okay to chill out a little bit. Know that you can always change later.

Who has influenced you the most as a student and as a researcher?

As an undergraduate student at CU Boulder, I was in a program called the INVST Community Leadership Program. At the time, I had a graduate TA whose name was Beth Krensky, and she was encouraging, supportive and thoughtful. She also did really interesting research. But, she was just so open and transparent about her life, and always very professional.

As a researcher, my entire dissertation committee was hugely influential. I still refer to the work they gave me.

What do you want to be when you grow up?Georgia with her husband while visiting the Falling Water by FLW

When I grow up, I would really like to sail around the world, be a contestant on the Great British Baking Show, win and be a star baker for one week. Also, I think I could actually be really good at being a sofa Netflix tester.

What’s your favorite thing to bake?

I really like chocolate chip cookies, because my husband also likes chocolate chip cookies so I know I have an appreciative audience, and I won’t have to eat them alone. For I while I got into a sourdough bread kick. Bread and desserts are just really fun to make. Pies and cakes are next in line after chocolate chip cookies.

What was it like to have a book published?

The day they gave me the cover, I printed it out and posted it on my whiteboard because I was like “wow, I did this thing! Look at that cover, it has my name on it!” And, I keep a copy of it in my office, mostly just to remind myself that it’s real. It was very exciting to see the culmination of multiple years of work exist in reality, not just in my head.

Georgia Lindsay's published book, The User Perspective on Twenty-First-Century Art MuseumsWhat authors and books have influenced you the most?

I love reading novels! But, if we’re talking professionally, I really like Carol Duncan’s Civilizing Rituals. She’s an art historian and the book is really thin with pictures all throughout it. She discusses how art is displayed, so it’s not about the architecture necessarily, but it’s readable, understandable and she’s very clear in her writing. She doesn’t try to make ideas complicated, even when they are complex. I appreciate the combination of pictures with purposeful writing, which gets to the point and moves on. That has influenced both my teaching and my writing.

Victoria Newhouse also does similar things. She brings together both visual and textual information in a nicely designed book. She breaks things into categories, which really helps us think through what things mean and do.

What does Environmental Design mean to you?

The way it has been used is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of design fields usually spanning from architecture through landscape architecture and urban design and then also includes planning but doesn’t necessarily. That’s basically the right definition, but I also think there’s potentially a more interesting way to think about it. For example, if you’re embracing the term environmental design, instead of one specific discipline, it’s really about the interstitial spaces between the disciplines and how what is going on that isn’t strictly one thing or the other. Rather, it’s how do these things bleed together and inform each other to fill the gaps between the official disciplines.