Alejandra Celedón (Edmonton, 1979) is an architect from the Universidad de Chile. She has a master’s degree from The Bartlett UCL and a PhD from the Architectural Association. Since 2016 she teaches and conducts research at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, where he currently teaches in history, theory and architectural design in the master’s programme she runs. Curator of «Stadium: a building that renders the image fo a city» – Chile Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018, and co-curator (alongside Nicolas Stutzin and Javier Correa) of «The Plot: Miracle and Mirage «at the Chicago Architecture Biennale 2019.
Since January 2020, Celedón is the director of the Master of Architecture (MARQ) from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. The program led by Professor Celedón at UC Chile was rated 17th in our BAM Ranking 2019 of postgraduate programs of architecture around the world.
We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Celedón kindly completed specially for the BAM platform.
BAM Interview with Alejandra Celedón
1.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important?
Architecture is a lens through which to see, understand and intervene reality. Buildings shaped our environment across civilizations and time, thus education on the built environment should start as early as possible. Ideally as part of the curricula of secondary school. If we aim to imagine other – better – futures, it is not only important to teach about our current environmental circumstances but to understand them as part of the history and culture of the discipline.
2.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?
The role of Architecture Academy will be to rethink how we live together as societies in relation to our environments. In a future world that is both politically and environmentally challenging – architects could play a key role in articulating (and composing) different fields, while giving them meaning and material form. Architecture Academy should keep up with the times to come, considering building as a sound board and thermometer for society as a whole, but also as an active agent of change. Universities and academia should continue being places where knowledge is produced and exchanged: places where to imagine and reinvent collectively the future.
3.- What are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should have? Could you highlight the most relevant?
Being either a great designer or an exceptional researcher does not necessarily ensure being a good professor. Attentiveness to get the most out of each student – considering their various backgrounds, abilities, and interests – beyond architecture, are the defining characteristics of a good professor.
4.- Please describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
I studied architecture at the public university – Universidad de Chile, and went abroad to first study a Master at UCL in 2006, and after completing my PhD at the Architectural Association in 2014. After that period, I returned to the country and I worked for a few years in various locale universities, mainly at Universidad San Sebastian. Eventually, through a joined effort between Universidad Catolica and government funding, I joined the institution in 2016 with a three-years research project on geopolitical strategies regarding housing in Chile during the 80s. Such work ended up in the form of an exhibition ‘Stadium’; the Pavilion of Chile at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale. The school has allowed me in the last 5 years to explore different formats to trigger research, producing interesting crossovers with other disciplines such as film, history, art and archaeology. Exhibiting, curating, and discovering different means of production has been a platform for research that the institution has allowed me to pursue.
“Universities and academia should continue being places where knowledge is produced and exchanged: places where to imagine and reinvent collectively the future”
5.- What’s your academic vision at the Master of Architecture at the UC?
The programme has achieved excellent student’s work and leading in rankings because of a number of reasons. The hard work of previous directors who have managed to assemble a great faculty team by combining in a harmonious way the best Chilean practitioners, and consolidated academics, with a younger generation of architects, researchers and academics. For a number of years, the programme’s focus has been a balanced mix between local concerns and a strong international agenda, that has attracted professionals of excellence from all around the world to teach, as well as a cosmopolitan scene of students. This has to be continued and enlarged for sure, while including a stronger agenda that contests specialization. MARQ is the programme within the school that does not aim to provide a specific set of tools or knowledge: environmental, technological, landscape architecture or heritage, but rather to enlarge and deepen the limits of the discipline. I see the programme as a bastion of resistance against the partialisation and atomisation of knowledge.
6.- What do you value the most in architecture students?
Autonomous, self-driven, and students with personal identities and interests are the most valuable features. Dependency, passiveness, and obedience are the most problematic. The studio-based teaching defines architectural education as a horizontal process in which teachers learn from students, students from tutors and professors as well as from other student peers, in a challenging and collective environment of production of knowledge that requires everyone to be active agents of their own educational experience.
7.- What would you like to highlight about the MARQ?
It is one of a few Master’s programmes that attempts to merge in one degree both written and designed components that respond to the same set of questions. In a year and a half students manage to develop a critical view towards the environment and building, and to set a research field of enquiry to speculate within. The Master’s studio takes place in small group of students (8-12) under the supervision of highly prepared professors in a teacher-student rate that is not encountered very often. This means a very personal dedication to each design project and thesis. Being Chile an extremely interesting destination (and origin at the same time), the school is also vital and vibrant. Often seen as off-the-map geographically, it is in its centre in terms of ideas and testing grounds for the rest of the globe. While the Master’s programme promotes topics and questions that engage with internal conflicts and politics, these are never disconnected of worldwide fractures and concerns. The programme permanently receives lecturers, workshops’ teachers, and students from abroad that enrich that tension.
8.- Which advice would you give to someone who has just finished her/his postgraduate studies and wants to become a competitive professional in architecture?
I would suggest two things. First, to visit buildings on site as much as they can, observing and describing them with acute eye. Second, as Werner Herzog suggested to students in a recent lecture at the school, as part of the public programme titled La Ciudad y las Palabras [The City and Words]: “read, read, and read”. Only then design can be a critical practice. Quite often students are compelled to deliver fast solutions instead of finding the right questions, to make buildings or give answers where none are required, or where other sort of interventions might be a better fit. The only path to be competitive is to enrich and enlarge architectural culture as far as to empower our views and interventions in the world.
“MARQ is the programme within the school that does not aim to provide a specific set of tools or knowledge: environmental, technological, landscape architecture or heritage, but rather to enlarge and deepen the limits of the discipline”
9.- What do you enjoy most about being the Director of the Master of Architecture at the UC?
I only came to occupy this position very recently, but in the short time as Director I have enjoyed being in a middle point between the institution, teachers, and students. Occupying that fracture-space amid different worlds seems appealing to promote certain modes of work within a school. I also enjoy being part of an outstanding group of talented friends, colleagues and students.
10.- Could you suggest another School of Architecture where you would like to teach? Tell us why.
I have found a richness of thinking and operating from a remote corner of the world like Chile, that allows to observe and think tangentially already set agendas and destabilize given architectural problems. The topics and urgencies take a detournement when seen sideways. This is a position you can sustain in smaller, younger schools, a view I would battle to conserve in case I move teaching somewhere else.
“I have found a richness of thinking and operating from a remote corner of the world like Chile, that allows to observe and think tangentially already set agendas and destabilize given architectural problems”
The BAM Team appreciates the time professor Celedón dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about her work at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile by visiting the following links.