Interviews

Luis Suárez Mansilla

Spain

Dr. Luis Suárez Mansilla is an architect who graduated from Universidad de Navarra in 1999, and a Master’s in Design Studies from GSD Harvard in 2003. In 2010, he obtained his PhD from the ETSA Navarra, where he is a Full Professor of the Department of Architecture and also the Director of the Master’s Degree in Theory and Architectural Design (MtDA). He is one of the founders and directors of the firm Suárez Santas Arquitectos, based in Bilbao, Spain.

The Master’s Degree in Theory and Architectural Design program, led by Professor Suárez Mansilla was selected in our BAM Ranking 2019 as the 14h best postgraduate architecture program in the world.

We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Suárez Mansilla kindly completed exclusively for the BAM platform.

BAM Interview with Luis Suárez Mansilla
May 2020

1.- Describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within the Universidad de Navarra. What would you like to highlight about its School of Architecture?

I graduated as an architect from the School of Architecture at the University of Navarra (ETSAUN) in 1999. After a period of two years of professional work, I was granted a scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies in the United States, where I graduated with a Master in Design Studies from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University in 2003. In 2004, I established my office Suárez Santas Arquitectos in Bilbao, Spain, and joined ETSAUN as Professor of Architecture. In 2010, I received my PhD in Architecture with a doctoral dissertation titled «Strategies and Effects of Scale», recently published by the Arquia Foundation. I currently serve as the Director of the Master in Theory and Architectural Design at ETSAUN.

The ETSAUN was established in 1964. It is one of the oldest schools of architecture in Spain, and regularly ranks among the best schools in the country. ETSAUN has traditionally considered design as the center of an integrated curriculum that also embraces a broad number of technical disciplines. ETSAUN has a very international spirit, as evidenced by the high percentage of foreign students and visiting professors involved with the school, especially in the master’s degrees/programs.

2.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important for our society?

Architecture is a relational practice where each work is the synthetic result of a complex network of external and internal interactions that crystallize at a certain moment and context. In our current society, where the ability to establish relationships between non-convergent disciplines is an uncommon asset, architects have the opportunity to take advantage of their preparation and expertise to become problem-solving leaders and integrate many professional fields beyond architecture itself.

“Architecture is a relational practice where each work is the synthetic result of a complex network of external and internal interactions that crystallize at a certain moment and context”

3.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?

I envision Architecture Academy as an open environment with the potential to establish creative and productive connections with other scientific disciplines. Schools of architecture should be able to offer creative and innovative solutions for society’s potential demands in a broad number of issues that range from ecology to healthcare.

4.- What’s your academic vision in Master’s Degree in Theory and Architectural Design at ETSA Navarra? What would you like to highlight?

The Master’s Degree in Theory and Architectural Design (MtDA) is part of a school of architecture with a strong tradition in teaching. In times of change and uncertainty, we see ourselves as the vanguard of creative problem-solving needs. In this academic context, the MtDA combines architectural theory and design in a very effective structure that facilitates the interaction between these two disciplines and causes their mutual reinforcement.

“Schools of architecture should be able to offer creative and innovative solutions for society’s potential demands in a broad number of issues that range from ecology to healthcare”

5.- Which are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should meet?

Knowledge, enthusiasm, communication skills, respect for the student, and generosity. In relation to the last characteristic, I like to recall Le Corbusier’s words: «With full hands I have received; with full hands I give».

6.- Which advice would you give to someone who just finished her/his postgraduate studies and wants to become a competitive professional in architecture?

I would tell them to never forget the social mission of architecture and its ethics implications.

7.- Can you suggest another School of Architecture or country where you would like to teach? Tell us why.

I was a graduate student at the GSD at Harvard a few years ago, so I have a very special relation with the US and the American cultural and intellectual context. In fact, my PhD. dissertation was a result of that experience and my interest in American architecture of the 50’s and 60’s. American architecture programs offer a very interesting approach to pedagogy and the learning experience. I would be interested in teaching at an US institution at some point.

8.- Given the current situation of the world regarding COVID-19, how do you think it will affect the architecture education in the near future?

I am sure it will affect Academia at many levels. The imposed shift to online learning that all of us are confronted to in our schools due to the pandemic can be in fact a great opportunity to redefine the learning experience. The pandemic will definitely affect not only the methods and tools we use in architecture pedagogy but also the topics. I think the current context will probably redirect design towards new social concerns. If architects have been dealing with ecology and sustainability in the last decade, the coming years will incorporate health and security as necessary topics for new discourses. Architecture schools will be the labs to propose creative and efficient solutions to these new demands.

“If architects have been dealing with ecology and sustainability in the last decade, the coming years will incorporate health and security as necessary topics for new discourses”

9.- What do you think architects can do to face a crisis like the one we are experiencing in present times?

After the global experience of confinement, the society will definitely demand better houses and safer public spaces. Architects, in collaboration with public administrations and private developers, will have to address certain social challenges. Issues such as daylight and cross ventilation, flexible spaces for remote working and distance learning, connection with exterior or collective spaces will be more crucial than ever in the new housing developments. At city scale, the concern about the quality of urban space will contribute both to limit future crisis and to improve citizens’ daily life.

10.- Do you think the COVID-19 situation will change the way our cities and buildings are conceived? Would it represent a significant change in our manners and priorities?

One of the most effective tools to prevent the spreading of this virus and futures ones is social distancing, and it has to do with space. Therefore, the way that cities and buildings are conceived in spatial terms is critical. It does not mean that cities and buildings will radically change, but they will necessarily have to adjust to the new requirements of use and mobility in order to enable safer and healthier environments. Architects will have the mission to design more inclusive, sustainable and friendly buildings and cities.

“ At city scale, the concern about the quality of urban space will contribute both to limit future crisis and to improve citizens’ daily life”

The BAM Team appreciates the time Professor Suárez Mansilla dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about his professional work at ETSA Navarra by visiting the following links.

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