Mary Minor, MArch, Assoc. AIA

Mary Minor HS

Across each of the different classes I teach, the common objective is to provide students with a process for creative problem solving. Mary Minor , Full-Time Faculty , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston

What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

When I was young, Lincoln Logs and Legos were my favorite toys. I was drawing floor plans for my bedroom in grade school and designed my first building layout for a family retreat in high school. I studied mechanical engineering and philosophy in my undergraduate studies, and in graduate school, my focus centered on theory and concept. Together, the blend of thought process and design outcome has helped shape my professional creativity.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I believe it is important to incorporate real-life examples of the concepts we study, and I try to base these examples in the community of San Antonio as familiar references for my students. It is also important to experience these concepts in person, so field trips are an integral part of introducing students to the design community. I also encourage students to join industry organizations, sharing my own experience of the benefits of these groups and the invaluable resource that a strong network can be for individuals in design. 

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

The current climate of our industry emphasizes teamwork and cross-disciplinary collaboration. A design charette is an intense planning session used in many firms (often with competition entries) to bring together design team members in a brainstorming exercise. This practice encourages respect amongst the design team, breaks down hierarchy and promotes the verbalization of design ideas. A short design charette as a first day introduction to a studio class allows students to role-play different members of a design team and work in a collaborative environment to produce a design in the intense time limit of a class period. I have used the ubiquitous typology of the conference room as a design problem to immediately delve into a design thinking atmosphere and promote an early understanding of the stages of design. In this exercise, the students self regulate and value is as much about the process as it is about the end result.

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?

Collaboration is a tool that promotes communication and critical thinking skills. Interpreting and implementing Thinking Collaborative’s Seven Norms of Collaboration in the classroom can establish norms for groups and help set the stage for impactful group activities. I find collaboration tends to teach listening skills and respect for colleagues. It helps students to verbalize their thought process and learn to ask good questions. Design thinking, a designer’s methodology for problem solving,  is promoted in a collaborative environment, helping students to become more comfortable with exploring multiple solutions, understanding client needs, negotiation and building group consensus.

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?

Across each of the different classes I teach, the common objective is to provide students with a process for creative problem solving. 

My advice to students in the interior design program—carry a sketch book with you at all times, draw a little every day, think and express yourself visually, and share your ideas to promote feedback.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?

I am a designer, planner and preservationist with a passion for good design in the built environment. I earned a BA in Philosophy from Trinity University in 2000 and a Masters of Architecture from UTSA in 2016. I hold certificates in Historic Preservation and Regional & Urban Planning. In addition to working for The Art Institute, I have worked for the University of Texas at San Antonio, the City of San Antonio’s Operation Facelift program, the King William Association and I co-founded a non-profit design and research studio, Urbe-SA, that targets urban problems with design solutions.

My philosophy of design and education is influenced by Jared Banks, an architect/writer in Washington, who has defined three types of architects; the builder, the artist and the philosopher. The design profession is a community and we rely on each arm of the community to make up the discipline as a whole. I am a philosopher designer who is conceptually and idea driven and most fascinated by the implications of art and architecture and the role they play in the larger community of our earth. I believe, however, the important distinction is that as designers, we are all different combinations of these elements of maker, artist and philosopher, and the synthesis we each bring to the profession is the unique voice we have to contribute to our industry.

What was the inspiration for your artwork?

Sometimes a design solution is a community program. While working on a design challenge of urban street revitalization in an underserved community in San Antonio, the San Antonio Fruit Tree Project was born. Walking the streets, we noticed many of the homes had mature fruit trees growing in their yards. This opened our eyes to a cultural phenomenon in the older communities of San Antonio. Our urban neighborhoods are home to an abundance of established orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, fig and pomegranate trees, just to name a few. Many of these trees produce more fruit than one household can consume and this fruit goes to waste. In some of these homes, the residents are unable to pick their fruit due to age, disabilities or busy lives. Our solution was a harvesting program, The San Antonio Fruit Tree Project. We canvas neighborhoods, knock on doors of homeowners with visible fruit trees, and ask them if we can register their tree with our organization. We then schedule a harvest, round up volunteers, pick the fruit tree and deliver it to the San Antonio Food Bank, whom we have partnered with to distribute this fruit to a family in need. Rather than a singular piece of architecture or a planning document, the SA Fruit Tree Project is a design program developed to highlight need and create social networks within communities. This project exemplifies my approach to design and commitment to addressing social problems within our community.

How can people find out more about you and your artwork?