Design in the World

Over on Archinect, I’ve posted a lengthy interview with Detlef Mertins, Chair of the Architecture Department at the University of Pennsylvania.

[Image: Detlef Mertins; photograph by Kristine Allouchery].

There we discuss the changing nature of architectural education: what teaching strategies, points of reference, and technologies (such as robotic assembly and 3D printing) can be used most effectively in the classroom. We go through everything from Mies van der Rohe vs. Toll Brothers to the use of algorithms in architectural design; from LEED certification and green building practice to comic books, Archigram, and the use of narrative fiction in student presentations.
On algorithms, for instance, Mertins remarks that the ongoing controversy over whether or not to use mathematics as a generator of architectural form overlooks the fact that reliance on algorithms is simply part of a long “tradition of architects seeking to learn from nature’s capacity to produce forms, patterns and structures of extraordinary beauty and functional prowess. Algorithmic design taps into a giant reservoir of mathematical models already at work in the processes that constitute the universe. In that respect, it’s still a form of mimesis.”

[Images: Student work from the University of Pennsylvania – in this case, a project by Justin Coleman, Amy Johnson, Jaime Lee, and Herman Mao, from their 3rd Year course with professor Cecil Balmond. See Archinect for more].

It’s a good interview, if I do say so myself. For me, as well, it comes with the well-timed realization that if someone as intelligent, articulate, patiently deliberative, and simply good humored as Detlef Mertins can survive the city of Philadelphia, then there may still be hope for our species…
So check it out – and feel free to leave comments on BLDGBLOG if you have any reactions or further thoughts, especially if you’re a student (or faculty member) at Penn.

4 thoughts on “Design in the World”

  1. Geoff, what a fantastic interview! I’m in the process of getting ready to apply for grad school next fall and Penn has been on my list for awhile.

    The architectural firm I work for has done a lot of developer work recently, and as a young designer it has been very frustrating to not be able put any creativity into a project that has to be done quick and cheap. Needless to say, Penn has me even more intrigued now.


  2. It bothers me that your excellent interview with someone who has chosen to live in the fine city of Philadelphia comes bundled with an simplistic toss-off of the the city. Beware indeed – what hype are -you- believing?


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