Enrique Walker is an Architect and an educator: He is Associate Professor and Director of the Master`s of Science in Advanced Architectural Design at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University, New York. This year he was a member of the Jury at the 2016 DOMES Architecture Awards, together with Alberto Campo Baeza and David Chipperfield.
His approach to the evaluation of the works submitted is summed up in his own words: “As some of the jurors of previous installments of the DOMES Awards have mentioned, our task is not easy. We must evaluate a large series of projects -from afar, single-handedly- whose particular circumstances are mostly unknown to us. We can only hint at the constraints that clashed into their briefs, and at the design questions that preceded their design strategies.
Actually, we do this all the time in our field. We read design backwards. We evaluate projects as arguments, by inscribing them within the genealogies of the strategies they advance and the questions they address. And we often celebrate those projects that had the ability to define and exploit -and ultimately outlive- precise design questions. This is in fact the case with most of the entries I have selected. If there is a common denominator to them, it is to have identified, and used to their advantage, certain given constraints -small sites, vague boundaries, found objects, scant programs- and to have made the most of briefs in which there was little room for received ideas. Most seem to have formulated a precise design question, and a precise set of operations to address it. Some might also share a position on design.”
Enrique Walker spoke to our Editor, Stavros Martinos, about what makes a distinctive architecture culture as well as about architecture education at the GSAPP of Columbia University.
SM: You have been teaching studio at the GSAPP for several years now and you have had many Greek students; looking at the body of (mostly, homegrown) works submitted for review at this year’s awards, did you discern any recurring traits that seemed familiar?
EW: I did. All architecture cultures develop received ideas. And someone on the outside detects them more easily. Though I must say I am not entirely on the outside. I have followed the Greek architecture debate obliquely through friends and students. I would say most received ideas among the submitted entries were professional, rather than academic, and probably derived from certain recurrent commissions (recurrent design problems leading to recurrent solutions).
SM: In case you noticed any works standing out from the rest, what was it that made them remarkable?
EW: I noticed many remarkable buildings and projects, most of which had what appeared to be a difficult brief, one that left little room to operate. By the same token, those difficult briefs probably also implied less room for recurrent solutions. As I mentioned in the jury statement, most of the selected projects seem to have exploited given constraints to their advantage. They formulated a precise design question, and a precise set of operations to address it.
SM: DOMES is an award for architects practicing in Greece (or for Greeks practicing abroad); Is there still a point in making such distinctions, if there ever was? In what sense?
EW: An architecture culture or debate is generally defined by a number of buildings and projects, as well as by the platforms that discuss and disseminate them (galleries, journals, schools). Their common denominator is often a place—a city, a region, a country—and this of course has pitfalls. But you can also consider it an editing device. An annual selection of work potentially allows for a conversation among various buildings and projects, and in turn for new work to be produced accordingly. And this might ultimately prove relevant for the place itself, or elsewhere. Different architecture cultures imply different concerns and questions within the field, and their interplay contributes to the diversity in our increasingly homogeneous global debate.
SM: Your teaching and research highlights the importance of constraints in architectural design, largely drawing from literary practices. How do the needs of contemporary practice (either “professional” or “academic,” if such a distinction is meaningful) leave space for erudition?
EW: You may know that I also taught a series of design studios on received ideas. Over a number of years we detected, defined, and archived recurrent design strategies in contemporary architecture design. There were many goals to this project, one of which was to instigate awareness in the students of their assumptions and repertoire of design operations. The studio would establish a common—though implicit—knowledge in order to design. In turn, students would assess their own work by inscribing it within certain genealogies or histories—the genealogy of the particular design problem they formulated, of the strategy they articulated to address it, of their building type. As I suggested, the work was produced in conversation with other work. Erudition allows for exerting judgment and establishing findings in the design process, and is therefore a critical component of the equation.
SM: Columbia GSAPP is a major incubator of contemporary architectural thinking, drawing students from all over the world; what do you deem necessary for a prospective new student to bring into the school and what should they rather leave behind? Is “the melting pot” there a reality indeed and to what extent?
EW: At Columbia, I direct the post-professional program on architectural design. The program provides a platform for our students, who are already trained architects, to engage a debate on the state of the field and the profession, and to speculate on emerging conditions that might be changing the way in which we understand design and practice today. In other words, the program encourages students to operate simultaneously as designers and intellectuals, and raise questions about their own work, and the way in which their work is potentially situated within the field. Since they all have different backgrounds and concerns, there is a broad range of design questions simultaneously at play. The program regards this diversity as definitional, and what activates our debate.
SM: Thank you!
The 2016 DOMES Prizes were awarded to:
‘UrbanTatoo’, Animation Centre, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Paris – FR (pangalos dugasse feldmann | architectes – Agisilaos Pangalos, Anne Feldmann) for the Best Built Work of the Years 2011-2015,
Refreshment Room – Restaurant, Schinias, Marathon, Attica – GR (Pavlos Aravantinos) for the Best First Building by a Young Architect and
‘Fertile City’ – Archaeological Thematic Museum of Piraeus – GR (Giannis Giannoutsos, Chrisovalantis Mpasoukos) for the Best Project.