The Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) just announced a new 12-month degree called the Master in Real Estate (MRE). Here’s a short excerpt about the program:
The MRE program is designed to train future practitioners to address new and urgent realities facing the built environment and cities today. Whether undertaken by for-profit businesses, not-for-profit organizations, or public entities, real estate occupies a pivotal role in determining how the places where we live, work, and play are equitable, environmentally sustainable, and appealing, in addition to being productive for the economy.
The key takeaways are that this is a graduate program being designed for aspiring real estate entrepreneurs and that it will live within Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. So there is an implicit recognition that the world of real estate doesn’t need to run counter to the pedagogical goals of a design school.
Anyone who went to architecture school will tell you that real estate is often viewed as the “dark side.” Either you commit yourself to the pure world of architecture and design, or you sell out and seek profits in the world of real estate. But I have always considered this to be a false dichotomy.
Real estate is a fundamental component of how we shape our built environment. And so if one’s ambitions are to improve the built environment — which is something that architecture schools do teach you — why should the delivery vehicle matter? Shouldn’t we be encouraging people to optimize for maximum benefit?
I completed my undergraduate degree in architecture. But very early on I had the feeling that I was only getting one piece of a larger picture. And so I went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school and completed a degree that combined both architecture and real estate. My goal was to figure out a way to combine both passions. Maybe I’d become the next Jonathan Segal.
Penn was very open to cross-disciplinary studies at the time (this was the mid-2000s), but there was still a gaping divide between the school of design and the business school. Walking across campus meant taking off one hat and putting on another. There wasn’t a lot of overlap.
After school, I returned to Toronto and started working in development. I then decided to pursue my MBA part-time, which really wasn’t necessary for my career, but was probably driven by some sort of insecurity I felt at Penn. I was the outsider design student (with funny glasses I might add) trying to keep up with Wharton MBAs.
I went back to the University of Toronto for my MBA and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I still couldn’t understand why there was such little overlap between the design school and the business school when it came to matters of the built environment. The real estate courses at Rotman were also extremely limited at the time.
So I started talking to faculty members: What would it took to create a joint real estate program that lived somewhere between the design school and the business school? I offered to help and I tried to press upon everyone that this was a gaping void and a huge opportunity. Canada was falling behind in terms of real estate education. It was time to step up.
The answer I got was generally always twofold: (1) Rotman’s real estate courses were already good enough and (2) it’s pretty hard to start a new program at the University. You have to do a bunch of things, one of which includes finding money. So, sorry.
Harvard’s new Master in Real Estate degree is the kind of program I had in mind. So I’m happy to see others taking action. And I ultimately think it will be a good thing for our cities.
If you’d like to apply, you can do that starting this fall.