Elena Manferdini is a graduated architect from the University of Civil Engineering in Bologna (Italy), and later she starts her studies at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), where she obtained a Master’s of Architecture and Urban Design. She is the founding and director of Atelier Manferdini with offices in Venice, Italy. Manferdini is part of the faculty of the SCI-Arc since 2003, where she is also de Graduate Program Chair and the Director of the Master of Architecture Degree M.Arch 2.
The Master’s program led by Professor Manferdini at SCI-Arc was rated 15th in our BAM Ranking 2019 of postgraduate programs of architecture around the world.
We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Manferdini kindly completed specially for the BAM platform.
Interview with Elena Manferdini for BAM.
1.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important?
I think that a fundamental role the architect has is to reshape what we understand to be the status quo; to actively pursue the idea that some other possibility might be out there. This is a very important act—a subversive one almost— stemming from the understanding that political problems can’t be solved by an atrophied collective imagination; and such collective imagination must be continuously trained.
Architectural education trains architect to make arguments for new realities. Once an architect has established there is an audience that feels that change will be beneficial, and that audience is substantial enough, one can eventually make the change. I think that’s what makes a good architect operate in the world and enable new subjectivities.
2.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?
I believe education should be more affordable. I understand firsthand how the support of an institution can change the career path of a student, and being able to provide funds to the most talented individuals is a primary commitment of the graduate programs at SCI-Arc.
“I think that a fundamental role the architect has is to reshape what we understand to be the status quo; to actively pursue the idea that some other possibility might be out there”
3.- What are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should have? Could you highlight the most relevant?
While I believe that teaching is a privilege, being a professor is simultaneously a physical, emotional, and intellectual occupation that requires stamina, a sense of humor, and full participation. Teaching is fundamentally an act of learning. SCI-Arc is a small independent institution, and as a consequence for those that teach here, the school shapes you while you shape SCI-Arc. Every faculty member at SCI-Arc has a dream, an ambition, something to achieve, and the school provides a platform to make a sincere contribution to the architectural discipline.
SCI-Arc was founded on the idea that architects should teach what they practice, and we still believe that practicing architects can best communicate to students the complex realities of thinking about—and making—architecture. Today, SCI-Arc faculty is comprised of some of the most dedicated and cutting-edge thinkers in Los Angeles within architecture, culture, history, and technology. Design Studio faculty are active practitioners working in many of LA’s most innovative architecture firms. This symbiotic relationship between practice and teaching produces a close dialogue between conceptual and professional practice.
4.- Please describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within SCI-Arc
17 years ago I chose to plant myself in one organization and work towards one mission. I started teaching at SCI-Arc in my twenties. SCI-Arc trusted me and I earned its trust in return. In time I had the freedom and privilege to make a lasting difference in the fields of architecture and education as Graduate Programs Chair.
However, it is never an individual journey. Intellectual and design values are nurtured by strong, self-confident communities. Being proud of what I do takes defeating my self-sufficiency and accepting a state of mutual dependence with other individuals. It is managing to lead a positive advancement for many. Just knowing that the people that are working with me at SCI-Arc are proud of that collaboration; that everybody takes pride in the work they have participated in is a big satisfaction. Great achievements are found in the giving and receiving of care by many.
“Teaching is fundamentally an act of learning. SCI-Arc is a small independent institution, and as a consequence for those that teach here, the school shapes you while you shape SCI-Arc”
5.- What’s your academic vision at the Master of Architecture degree M.Arch 2 at SCI-Arc?
With a commitment to using the latest technology and a fearless attitude toward architectural design, the radical curriculum of our M.Arch 2 program is specifically geared to propel advanced design exploration and new modes of communication as it advances contemporary architectural experimentation and expands the boundaries of conventional architectural practice.
6.- What do you value the most in architecture students?
SCI-Arc students are fearless. They are an unstoppable force that drives the ambitions and achievements of the school. Students are the pulsing heart of our institution. Every incoming class raises the bar, because as new generations come to study here they bring new sensibilities and shift the discussion—that substantially changes what we need to teach. While the school is a transformative experience for our students, something they don’t often realize is that students change the school more than teachers.
7.- What would you like to highlight about the Master of Architecture degree M.Arch 2?
SCI-Arc is a place that nurtures students’ talent. The program’s commitment to independent thinking, research, and innovation through M.Arch 2’s rigorous course of study serves as a platform to rethink architecture.
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?
To create architecture is to create consensus. And it’s crucial to grasp that this is not just a one-person skill. It takes vision, expertise, time, technology, financial investments—architecture is a long career path. But one must build—since that is both the essence and the apotheosis of the discipline—just like a writer must publish; otherwise it’s just keeping a diary.
SCI-Arc has more than four thousand alumni working all over the globe in a variety of professional architecture and design practices. M.Arch 2 alumni have led design teams at Morphosis, Gehry Partners and Gehry Technologies, Gensler, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, UN Studio, Kengo Kuma and Associates, Tesla Motors, In Europe, Snøhetta, BIG, Zaha Hadid, UN Studio, In Asia, MAD, Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban, and more.
“While the school is a transformative experience for our students, something they don’t often realize is that students change the school more than teachers”
9.- What do you enjoy most about being the Director of the M.Arch 2 at SCI-Arc?
For the past nearly 50 years, SCI-Arc’s collaborative, immersive environment for students, theorists, and practitioners has empowered the next generation of architects. The graduate programs at SCI-Arc attract an internationally diverse student body to speculate and resolve imminent issues facing architecture, starting with present challenges. Being the chair of the graduate programs, in service to this community of talented and ambitious individuals, is a privilege. On a personal note, I am proud to see a new generation of talented young women sharing with our school their passion and commitment to architecture.
10.- Could you suggest another School of Architecture where you would like to teach? Tell us why.
I made up my mind a long time ago that SCI-Arc was where I wanted to make my contribution. It takes commitment, energy, and vision, but also a good dose of loyalty to make a lasting and valuable impact on a creative community. SCI-Arc is exactly where I need to be.
“On a personal note, I am proud to see a new generation of talented young women sharing with our school their passion and commitment to architecture”
The BAM Team appreciates the time that Professor Manferdini dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about her professional work and labor at the SCI-Arc by visiting the following links.