Greg Lynn is an architect, designer, and professor at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, where he is also the Academic Director of the Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design (M.S.AUD) post-professional degree program.
Lynn is the founder and owner of Greg Lynn FORM, the Chief Creative Officer of Piaggio Fast Forward, and the Design Advisor at Curbside. He is the author of nine books and won a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, as well as the American Academy of Arts & Letters Architecture Award. Lynn graduated from Miami University with degrees in Architecture and Philosophy and has a M.Arch. from the Princeton University School of Architecture.
UCLA’s Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design program, led by Professor Lynn and other professors, was selected in our BAM Ranking 2020 as the 20th best postgraduate architecture program in the world.
We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Lynn kindly completed exclusively for the BAM platform.
BAM Interview with Greg Lynn
1.- Describe the beginning of your academic career at UCLA. What would you like to highlight about the Architecture and Urban Design Faculty?
When I joined the faculty in the late 1990s, what was unique about UCLA was the collaboration between history/theory faculty and design/technology faculty. It was the only school with the diversity of a faculty of different experiences working together in design studios, technology research, and history/theory seminars. It was also unique that the Chair of the Department was a historian and theorist and not a practitioner but that she elevated the role of design to engage contemporary culture.
2.- Do you remember a turning-point during your architecture career that pushed you to be a better architect? Can you describe it?
That’s very easy. As a teacher, I tried to be a clear and simple communicator of often unfamiliar and complicated ideas. Because UCLA is a public University with many other schools and there is a high degree of interaction across campus, many of the most important presentations and conversations I had were not with architects but with material scientists, physicists, artists, lawyers, and investors on the faculty in other programs. Disciplining myself to communicate clearly and lucidly while being an advocate for architecture was a turning point for me, and a change from my experience teaching at other Schools of Architecture. When I arrived at UCLA, my focus shifted from only trying to provoke architecture students and practitioners to trying to provoke people outside our field to think about architecture in new ways.
“Disciplining myself to communicate clearly and lucidly while being an advocate for architecture was a turning point for me”
3.- What would you say is the most exciting aspect of the IDEAS’ M.S. in Architecture and Urban Design?
The work with partners has been amazing. The program is not sponsored and the donations we desire are not financial but actually the time of individuals in the leadership of companies who must innovate or die. Companies like Boeing, Disney, Toyota, Hyperloop, arrival, and many others who have worked with our students need to be constantly innovating. Giving our students and faculty access to the leadership of these companies leads to discoveries of the value of architecture beyond simply designing good buildings. Often, critical thinking about experience, function, the integration of technology, and large-scale global concerns are what architecture is asked to supply rather than just handsome, efficient, durable environments.
4.- How do you see the architecture academy in 10 years? What would you like to be different?
The studio environment that is common to the architecture Academy is very desirable to many fields because of the ability to define problems and discover solutions by looking at many variables collaboratively with many experts and stakeholders. Acknowledging that the value of an architectural education can be greater than providing the standard services of an architect is already leading to the integration of design thinking about the built environment into the curriculum of different programs within the Academy. This is not a question of teaching entrepreneurship but of leveraging what we already do so well within studio culture to solve broader important problems, and to be valued for doing so.
“The studio environment that is common to the architecture Academy is very desirable to many fields because of the ability to define problems and discover solutions by looking at many variables collaboratively”
5.- What strengths should a good architecture professor have? What is your academic vision as a teacher?
My job is to prepare graduates to be relevant to the field in 10 years and this involves not just having the foresight to predict what skills will be needed in the near future but also to train students to advocate for themselves and to change the field from the minute they graduate. Many schools prepare students to be employable for today, but that is not enough. We need to give them the creative, critical, and communication skills to guarantee they will change the field and to be relevant in the future as the field changes rapidly.
6.- Given the current situation of the world regarding COVID-19, how do you think architectural education across the world will be affected?
In the M.S.AUD studio I lead, we have spent the last year focusing on the design of workspaces and mixed-use civic spaces that maximized fresh air ventilation, and rethinking the movement of people and how they occupied spaces with the criteria of social distancing and limited contact among cohorts. To do this, we used technology from the video game industry where functions were programmed into agents who moved through spaces and interacted with each other guiding us in thinking about cohorts and hygiene. We used computational fluid dynamic simulations to study the flow of fresh air into, through, and out of buildings, including the study of the maximum surface area to bring equitable access to fresh air through a building. I am certain the students who used these technologies for design for the first time will continue to do so in the future, just as I am certain aspects of social distancing and ventilation will continue to be topics of concern for architects to consider.
“Many schools prepare students to be employable for today, but that is not enough. We need to give them the creative, critical, and communication skills to guarantee they will change the field and to be relevant in the future as the field changes rapidly.”
7.- Who do you admire in the architecture academy? Who do you use as a reference?
I have always looked for mentors for guidance and criticism, and I’ve been very lucky to have many great ones who have become dear friends. I also admire and follow the careers of many of my students and alumni from my office. The one thing common to all of these generations is that all of these people teach. Whether they are 90 years old or 40 years old, they understand the value of teaching to their own work and the value they can give to graduate students. It is not unique to architecture, but it seems to be somewhat of a rule that the greater the quality of the built work and its influence on the field, the more likely the person is to have a longstanding presence in the Academy in some capacity.
8.- What would you suggest to someone deciding on a postgraduate program right after they graduate from an architecture bachelor’s?
That’s very simple. Go visit the school, talk to the students, observe discussions, research the events and publications, and find out about the careers of the alumni. The reputations of schools are always a decade behind their reality, and it is important to experience places first hand and not rely on reputation.
“The reputations of schools are always a decade behind their reality, and it is important to experience places first hand and not rely on reputation.”
9.- What advice would you give to someone who just finished her/his postgraduate studies and wants to become an architecture professional?
There’s this thing I’ve been doing for the last 20 years that we all have come to call the death talk. It’s very simple. The most important educational decision that a soon-to-be-graduate has made is where they went to school. But the most important decision they will make in their entire career is what they do the first few years after they graduate. My closest friends and colleagues 30 years later are either the people I went to school with or the people I worked with the first few years out of school. Of course, there are many decisions to make all the time in one’s life, but the colleagues I rely on and the friends I ask for advice and help are almost all people I met in the ten years when I started and following Graduate School. There are no wrong decisions after graduation, but those decisions tend to have the biggest impact on one’s career. Being a competitive professional has probably never been more open to personal determination and has probably never been a more dynamically changing definition than now. So it’s important people are honest about their core competency and to calibrate this with their ambition and mission in order for them to have what they define as a successful career.
10.- What is your creative process when beginning a new architectural project? Do you have a “system”?
Yes, I have never thought of it that way but I suppose I do have a system. I communicate to my client that I’m a team member and collaborator with them and not simply a service provider. I make it clear that I will make every effort to bring all of my experience and insight to every project and that I will always be as critical as possible with myself as I am with them. I also am more focused on the right team and requirements than on closing deals. I never try to sell fantasies regarding schedule, budget, or success because the process is already stacked against architects. Any experienced client knows that contractors and architects will underestimate costs and schedule in the name of optimism and this is built into the business structure. This is why the building industry is unique as being less efficient than it was 50 years ago.
The field is not set up to support my approach so I often find myself starting a conversation about a building project and ending up working in some broader or even more specific capacity for a longer term with a variety of diverse companies, organizations, and individuals. I often very rarely get work without developing a personal and a business relationship based on shared risk and reward with the people I work for. I share these experiences and the personal business acumen associated with my approach with my students for their use and curiosity.
“It’s important people are honest about their core competency and to calibrate this with their ambition and mission in order for them to have what they define as a successful career.”
The BAM Team appreciates the time Professor Lynn dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about his professional and academic work at UCLA by visiting the following links.