Viewpoint (January 01, 2005)

It is not very often that I come across a situation where academia and private industry forms a partnership that will allow ideas to develop; ideas that have ramifications on the future of practice. In late November, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, organized around the presentation of papers by ten finalists vying for the 2003-2005 EAAE Prize. The European Association for Architectural Education (EAAE) organizes a competition that is open to all faculty of EAAE member schools, all schools of architecture in Europe, members of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC), and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) in North America.

The ten papers ranged from the phenomenological to the integration of technology and production in the design studios. In addition to the ten papers presented, each member of the distinguished jury presented a keynote address: Juhani Pallasmaa (Finland), Dagmar Richter (USA/ Germany), Peter MacKeith (USA), Alberto Prez-Gmez (Canada), and the chair of the jury, Per Olaf Fjeld (Norway), pictured above. Fjeld opened the workshop with a discussion on the demands of preparing future architects in a time that gives students only a basic understanding of architecture but little in the ways of ethics, ideology or even professional direction. Indeed the gap between education and the profession–both in relation to the production of architecture and in meeting society’s demands on architects should be addressed. Nevertheless, Fjeld is optimistic, and the workshop reflected this optimism and the challenges associated with achieving progress.

Each of the participants presented their papers as a work in progress that will eventually be published as a book. They will have a chance to resubmit their final paper, where the winner will receive a minimum of 10,000. What is noteworthy in mentioning this endeavour is that the sponsor of the competition is VELUX, a manufacturer of roof windows and skylights. While there appears to be little connection between the interests of a building product manufacturer and the ideas presented at the workshop, the critical point to be made is a product manufacturer’s recognition of the importance of enriching the dynamic among research, education and practice. A high standard of production in architecture (cultural, aesthetic and technical) is dependent upon these three elements; as long as the autonomy of education, research and practice is maintained, then the ethics of architecture is maintained. If a private building product manufacturer sponsors a worthy academic initiative, even if it amounts to just plain old fashioned public relations, it still contributes to the furtherance of architectural discourse. If the result is better buildings in the long run–buildings which may even use VELUX windows–then so be it.

Here in Canada, companies such as Arriscraft, Shouldice Designer Stone and Hanson Brick have contributed to lectures and student architecture competitions. This precedent for the sponsorship of architectural activities like these should be recognized. Nothing could ring more true than the expression “What goes around, comes around.” Planting seeds of cooperation, while mutually respecting professional interests and autonomy is essential to benefit future collaborations among research, education and practice. Promoting these values will allow the production of architecture to operate at a higher level and make us all work smarter.