Andrés Jaque is a Ph.D. Architect who graduated from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid, and the director and founder of the Studio Office of Political Innovation, with offices in New York and Madrid. Since 2013, Jaque is an Associate Professor of Professional Practice of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, where he is also the director of the M.S. in Advanced Architectural Design.
The program led by Professor Jaque at Columbia GSAPP was rated 6th in our BAM Ranking 2019 of postgraduate programs of architecture around the world. We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Jaque kindly completed specially for the BAM platform.
Interview with Andrés Jaque for BAM.
1.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important?
Architecture is now at the center of all the challenges and opportunities that are shaping the present and the future of the world – from climate and environmental defiance, to the way we bring guaranties to the expansion of daily life into digital domains. Architecture is now a momentous platform from which we can impact reality.
This why I enjoy working with the students and faculty of the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University GSAPP. There is a shared awareness that what we do each day will have a significant effect on the evolution of the planet. This shared feeling of both relevance and responsibility is what makes the daily efforts we put towards experimenting with alternative forms of architecture so intense and enriching.
2.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?
Being in New York imprints a very particular relationship with architecture. In New York, architecture is never autonomous. Any architectural device both affects and is shaped by the huge number of actors and realities that the city comprises. Architectures such as the Port Authority or the High Line are complex assemblages of numerous environmental, economic, and political realities. This notion of architecture as a passing point and as an actor in the way power, ecosystems, and societies are enacted is what Architectural Academy has the capacity to champion and master.
At Columbia’s Advanced Architectural Design Program we claim that architectural design is a critical practice. A practice with the exceptional capacity of reinventing how our societies and environments are constituted. This capacity depends on very specific design tools; it also requires the capacity to develop critical perspectives, and it definitively requires being part of a larger conversation with demanding and engaged colleagues. That is what Universities and Academia are here to provide.
3.- What are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should have? Could you highlight the most relevant?
A good professor needs to be good at listening and understanding what the students are saying, and what they are sensitive to.
For me, a good professor is not a person who strikes everyone with a spectacle of “cleverness”, but one who is capable of detecting and mobilizing the capacities and sensitivities of others. A good professor does not promote competition among students, but a sense of collective construction where everyone’s work is relevant and valuable. It is very easy to see where the good professors are: one just has to look where groups of enthusiastic, inventive, and critical architects come from. You will often find that they coincided in places where unique professors listened, offered support, and were demanding of them.
4.- Please describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within Columbia GSAPP
I was invited to teach an Advanced Design Studio at Columbia, and without a plan I just never left. I found an amazing ecosystem here, where teachers and students are entangled in long discussions that evolve over months. I was excited by the amount of incredibly relevant scholars and designers per square feet. In a 20-minute walk through the school, you could talk to several of the most relevant voices in architecture of the last decades. But when it came to discuss architecture, everyone’s opinions were equally important. And it works – this huge accumulation of intelligence and respect makes everyone grow in a way that would not happen elsewhere.
“In a 20-minute walk through the school, you could talk to several of the most relevant voices in architecture of the last decades. But when it came to discuss architecture, everyone’s opinions were equally important”
5.- What’s your academic vision at the Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design?
I am very conscious, and honored of directing a program that has a great history in helping outstanding architects from all over the world to further push the capacities of architecture. It was in Columbia’s AAD program where the architectural digital culture started with the legendary “paperless studios”. And it is here where radical ways to engage contemporary challenges are now being invented, tested, and developed. It is a three-term program, an intense year that immerses students in an ecosystem where architectural design can be explored as both relevant and critical.
We operate from an environmental paradigm, in which architectural devices are characterized as entities that expand across scales. The program serves as a cauldron for rigorously-curated pluralism, where faculty and students work together on eight areas: 1. Rendering technological systems accountable. 2. The architecture of climate crisis. 3. Modes of environmental engagement. 4. Materiality as territorial. 5. Interspecies relationships. 6. Designing inclusivity. 7. The articulation of offline/online interaction. 8. Decolonizing design.
6.- What do you value the most in architecture students?
I do not have a particular model of what a good student is. Normally good students are unique and quite original in the way they are good. But I do believe that they tend to share a sense of intellectual and critical independence, an enthusiasm for doing things in the way they think is relevant, and they have great curiosity alongside the political engagement to explore what it is that shapes the time in which we live.
7.- What would you like to highlight about the Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design?
Something really unique in Columbia’s AAD program is that it is literally installed in the urban matrix of New York. This not only means that Avery Hall, our building, is placed in the very heart of Manhattan, but that we work with the city. Our faculty occupies important positions in the cultural, professional, technological, and political ecosystems of the city. For example, our students develop their school work side-by-side with the Earth Institute, the NASA lab, or United Nations agencies. The AAD offers a learning experience closely engaged with the labs, organizations, and independent practices concentrated in the city.
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 believe that the relevance of any professional practice depends on its capacity to collaborate with others. You must have the capacity to become an interlocutor others can rely on, as much as finding the networks that make your individual efforts gaining a broader context to become effective.
“I believe that the relevance of any professional practice depends on its capacity to collaborate with others”
9.- What do you enjoy most about being the Director of the Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design?
It is the right platform from where I can connect to way the world is being discussed and transformed.
10.- Could you suggest another School of Architecture where you would like to teach? Tell us why.
In the late 1990s I lived in Dresden as Heinrich Tessenow Stipendiat, with a scholarship from the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung. At that time the stones of the buildings that had been destroyed at the end of World War II were lying on the streets, and they shared space with archeologist, punk squats, and the extended network of political organizations that the process of reunification had brought to one of the most important East German cities. Architecture there was discussed daily by the entire city.
That architectural pedagogical context that could be found in the streets of Dresden then, disappeared when the city was renovated and likened to most Western cities. I often think that this laboratory where everyone discussed and experimented with architecture as an existential necessity is a model universities can learn from.
“I often think that this laboratory where everyone discussed and experimented with architecture as an existential necessity is a model universities can learn from”
The BAM Team appreciates the time professor Jaque dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about him and his labor at the Columbia GSAPP by visiting the following links.