EMAIL Bag – Plan Magazine managed to catch up with a very busy and on the move Monica Von Schmalensee, CEO of swedish firm White Arkitekter.
Plan: What’s the background to this position of Mayor of London Design Advocate?
MvS: In September 2017, ”I will join a group of individuals that represent the highest quality of talent and expertise in the fields of architecture and the built environment, in forming the Mayor’s Design Advocate Forum. The expert panel will be called upon to support the Mayor and his staff in the delivery of the Good Growth by Design agenda, through advocacy, critique and research.
“In a political climate where public responsibility is declining, we need, more than ever, to provide public space that strengthens democracy and that is characterised by accessibility and community-building activities. Public space is a foundation for democracy, as well as health and wellbeing, and I would like to further expand the ambition to not just make sure that all Londoners have access to these qualities, but that they should be an integral part of everyday life.”
Plan: 1. What architects do you admire most and why?
MvS: “Someone whose work I find particularly inspiring is Jean Nouvel, I have followed his work right from the beginning. In his early years he really challenged all kinds of materials, I admire his skill at using glass, it becomes integral to the design, such as at Foundation Cartier and Institut du Monde Arabe. His designs also work well with the street and contribute to their surroundings. He sets a good example of how we can be innovative with materials and really stretch the design. Another favourite building of mine is Farnsworth House, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe. It is wonderfully situated with a very close relationship to nature, the whole design is about the context.
Plan: What buildings/projects in Europe inspire you?
MvS: “French architecture has always resonated with me; Paris is one of my favourite cities. La Grande-Motte, a seaside town near Montpellier in southern France, is somewhere I really enjoy spending time. It was an artificial town designed by Jean Balladur in the 1960s. The architecture is of a uniform modernist style which, naturally, has seen varying popularity, but as a project it absolutely delivers on Charles de Gaulle’s vision to revive the coastal area and create a holiday destination for the people of France. Balladur designed everything – the town hall, houses and apartments, even the lifeguard towers. It was a radical approach; you wouldn’t plan like this now. I think that’s what makes it fascinating.”
Plan: What inspired you to get involved in architecture in the first place?
MvS: “I have always had a general interest in buildings and the relationship between people and the built environment. It was not clear that I would become an architect when I was younger, only that I had a general interest in places and cultures. When I was 18, I had a job as a city guide in my hometown, which naturally fed my curiosity. I later worked as a tour guide on bus trips in Europe, I think that’s when my interest in architecture and the urban realm really emerged.
From the July/August issue 2017.
Aleksandar Kostić is Acting Head of the Department of Architecture at Waterford Institute of Technology – March/April 2017
Plan: Please provide a brief outline of your path to your current role in WIT.
AK: For the last nearly 20 years now, I have worked as an architect and educator, half of that time in Serbia and the last 10 years in Ireland. Before I arrived in Ireland I practiced as an architect alongside teaching at the School of Architecture, University of Belgrade in Serbia. I won a few design prizes and awards, amongst which was a national nomination for Mies van Der Rohe – EU award for Architecture. I also worked as a Project Manager and Design Supervisor on a large scale EU funded projects on behalf of the EU Delegation in Serbia. My design experience in Ireland is chiefly linked with Scott Tallon Walker Architects where I spent many enjoyable years working on many interesting large-scale projects.
In parallel and for several years, I have lead a team of tutors in the final year Architectural Design Studio at WIT Architecture. Now, largely dedicated to academia, I am acting as the Head of the Department of Architecture and fully engaged as the Lead Researcher of the Architecture Research Group (aRCH) at the Department of Architecture, Waterford Institute of Technology. I am also a PhD candidate at University College Dublin. My research explores links between philosophy and architecture, especially within Platonic scholarship and with focus on design as a form of knowledge.
I am a member of Serbian Chamber of Engineers, UIA – International Association of Architects, Centre for Platonic Studies at the Department of Philosophy in Trinity College Dublin and a member of ISPA – International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture.
Plan: Explain the role and objectives of the All-Ireland Architecture Research Group (AIARG).
AK: The AIARG conferences in the past have been a great opportunity for both researchers and practitioners of architecture to identify new areas of architectural research and enhance collaboration in Ireland. The diversity of the thematic sessions at AIARG conferences is one of its primary strengths. The characteristic exploratory nature of these events significantly contributes not only to the current debates on the relationship between the practice and research within the field of architecture but also in positioning architecture itself into a wider research context. Amongst other benefits, this also enables the group of researchers in architecture to maintain a lively relationship with other fields of study. Apart from a convivial nature of these events, another significant feature which is becoming more and more characteristic at AIARG conferences is a significant international interest in the Irish Architectural Research context.
Architecture Department at WIT has a permanent presence in the AIARG steering committee. Following on from a successful run of the previous five conferences the Architecture Research Group (aRCH) at the Department of Architecture at Waterford Institute of Technology was delighted to host the 6th Annual AIARG conference in Waterford at the end of January this year.
Plan: What contribution does quality research make in terms of advancing new thinking and innovation in building design?
AK: These links are very important to us. The mutual benefits are achieved on several levels. Within our Department we have set up two Research Groups, which have become very active in the last few years – Architecture Research Group (aRCH) and Building Information Modelling Collective Group (BIM-C). The research-active staff who take part in research projects within these two groups also teach on the Bachelor of Architecture and Architectural BIM Technology programmes. Their research experience is transferred directly down to undergraduate programmes.
Within the scope of the activities of our BIM-C Research Group, some of our most recent research has explored the possibilities of integrating immersive technologies (VR, AR & MR) within the architectural design process from conception to on-site management through to post occupancy monitoring. We have also began developing efficient workflows for the recording of historic buildings/places utilising aerial photogrammetry obtained from Drones and translating this information into a workable design tool. Other areas of on-going research include BIM Level 2 integration within the Irish context and Energy Simulation through BIM.
The BIM Collective (BIMC) has utilised various Enterprise Ireland (EI) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funding programmes to enable Industry – Academia Partnership projects. These have covered a broad range of companies from architectural practices to large multinational cooperation’s. Many of our partners are involved in, or seeking, competitive advantages in tendering projects in the UK and further afield; these include projects in the UK, Europe or the Middle East.
In the mean-time Architecture Research Group (aRCH) has established some very useful connections and is running active projects through PhD scholarship (Bausch and Lomb), and Joint Research Programmes (INTERREG) with UCD and Bangor University in Wales, UK and through LANDscape: history, theory, praxis, practice: Interdisciplinary Research Cluster at the University of Limerick, to name just a few. We are always actively looking to expand the existing connections and create opportunities to develop new ones.
Plan: What advice would you have for young students thinking of undertaking a career in architecture?
AK: For young people who have inquisitive minds and are impressed by drawing or three-dimensional modelling, if they like to question everything or they are passionate about cultural heritage, or interested in their built environment, but above all to the ones who are curious and would like to make a difference – they should all consider studying architecture. Architecture is a wonderful way to contribute and create impact to the social and built environment, but it is also an amazingly comprehensive and all-inclusive discipline which offers well-rounded educational profile and a wide spectrum of skills which can help young people not only to examine and develop the world but themselves as well.
Plan: What are the key challenges facing architecture in Ireland?
AK: Thanks to some very eminent architectural practices in Ireland who have won prestigious awards, numerous design initiatives and activity of RIAI, but also due to the constant supply of good quality work and innovative designs from smaller practices, as well as the Schools of Architecture and their students, the culture of Architecture in Ireland seem to have expanded significantly in the recent years. One can be quite confident that this will only continue and that Irish architects are on any challenge architecture may face in the near future.
Plan: In terms of supporting education, what can and should the Government be doing?
AK: If we want someone else to support the education, we should first ask ourselves what can we do to enhance its relevance. As most of the things today, education seem to be in crisis as well. The fast pace of scientific development and technological advances and upgrades, coupled with insatiable desire for constant increase of financial growth and a strong shift in the way people socialize and communicate today has polarized many societies and is fragmenting our everyday life. This puts a lot of pressure on all human capacities including logic and reason. It also pressures the natural inclination to excel in our endeavours to the full extent. Education should not be exclusively a way of acquiring skills.
The industry dictated set of skills are a necessary, but not sufficient element for a complete education. The educators can potentially play a very significant role in providing a measured approach in facilitating the ambiance in which the young people, firstly examine and understand better the world we live in today and finally, through emphasising critical thinking, encouraging speculative ways of reasoning and including ethics, the educators can prepare a platform for engaging the future challenges. The absence of comprehensive approach to education and embracing only short-term profit-oriented goals will leave generations unprepared for life and challenges on the horizon.
A wider educational platform may be required to include all aspects of life. To achieve this, the educators can realign themselves with their communities. Not just business community or users, but cultural, spiritual communities, residents, various interest groups etc. The participation of the community is a condition for forming the citizen. It is an important mean to secure full development of human spiritual, ethical and intellectual potentials.
Plan: What are the key qualities of WIT architecture department and what kind of graduate comes out of the college?
AK: We currently offer two different level 8 programmes – there is Bachelor of Architecture (Hons) and BSc (Hons) in Architectural & Building Information Modelling Technology, as well as two level 7 programmes -BSc in Applied Conservation Skills and BSc in Architectural Technology. We pride ourselves on our joint approach to student-focused learning experience through “thinking and making” we provide at the Department of Architecture. Almost all of our staff are experienced design architects and technologists, some of them are leading experts in the high-end technologies in building and construction. A large majority are research active and, thanks to the great support from the Waterford Institute of Technology and School of Engineering our Department will soon have over 30% of staff with a PhD in their field of study.
The Department is based in the Granary, a magnificent stone building on the quays in the Waterford city centre. We have close contacts with local authorities, business, industry, service providers, Waterford City architect, Waterford University Hospital, Waterford Healing Arts Trust, Garter Lane theatre, Garter Lane Gallery, theatre royal and many other local groups with whom we take part in organizing events, projects, workshops and other mutually beneficial activities. Through Erasmus exchange programmes and European Association of Architectural Education (EAAE), the Department is also very well connected with other schools of Architecture in Europe with which we organize and host or attend numerous projects, workshops, etc.
All of our programmes are academically and professionally recognized and certified – Architecture programme has been fully aligned accredited by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and our Technology programme has been accredited by the Charted Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT). This means that our students are immediately employable. I don’t have the exact figures with me now, but almost all of our graduates are employed immediately after they finish the programme. We are overwhelmed with calls from architectural practices asking for our graduates. Our former students work in very reputable architectural companies all over Ireland, UK, US. In Europe, our graduates work for very prestigious architectural practices, such as Renzo Piano Workshop and Ateliers Jean Nouvel to name just a few.