Interview with Will Hunter

LSA – The London School of Architecture

 Will Hunter + Nathaniel (student)

(Shortened transcription of an interview conducted by Natalia Podejko, Michal Mráz and Georgia Papathanasiou at McQUEEN café, London. 17/03/2016).

Context
Tools that we can now use did not exist ten years ago. We are enabled to exist simply by technological advances that have happened over the last ten years – in terms of communication and collaboration.

We are a response to how we use a city in a different way. We are outside the four walls of institutions.

Economically we are a school for independent minds – first UK cost neutral educational model.

Architecture is not stable condition. We are one of the first schools that tries to make a pedagogical culture interested in the future rather than today or even 50 years ago.
By 2020 computer will have the same power as a human brain, by 2050 as the whole of humanity.
We are in a time when sitting in front of a computer designing is not going to be operating.

What does it mean to be proactive?
Finding opportunities. Not only waiting for phone to ring. Finding ways how architects could be involved in the world. Not only about designing commissioned buildings.
Each think tank (6-7 people) looks at critical pressing issues of today. We are spatial strategists.
We cannot be a shrinking profession that has less and less influence, actually we should be designing the world.
To learn from being in the area. Learning about existing connections; allowing more people to collaborate.

 How do you attempt to achieve that?

You just do it. Rather than sitting in the studio with your drawings thinking about what might happen we are actually going there finding out what is happening which enables us to extrapolate what it really is about.

It is not about giving it to you on a plate. There are some schools where all is provided.

It is about harvesting the existing networks which is much more contemporary way of working.

Are you also saying that you are reactive?

No. Reactive and proactive are two different words. Reactive is just responding to a problem. We try to anticipate how the world is changing.

You say that your ideology is to connect practices with academic approach, what is your particular goal behind that?

There is not really this binary separation between academia and practice. What we have got is smart students and smart practitioners working together.

We try to address very fundamental purposes of architecture. We operate within a huge context of planetary concerns.

Making binary distinction between them is not interesting, what is interesting is to get smart people from architecture and outside of architecture to collaborate.

Does your curriculum support interdisciplinary programme?

We believe that loads of knowledge is being produced in many disciplines and architecture is the nexus of all disciplines and all the knowledge that is produced has some impact on how architecture could be made. So we certainly seek to encourage students to be engaged with all the new stuff that is being produced. We use the city as the place that unites all the different kinds of knowledge.

So what kind of fields should also be involved in architecture?

I think it could be anything. We should not exclude anything.

Nathaniel: I am making an application with a friend. We are looking at how to solve queuing.

Is everything wrong with architecture? Are you criticizing other institutions?

No, there are loads of different interesting schools and people producing interesting stuff. We just do this what we do.

Could your way of thinking be applied somewhere else as well?

We rely on 40-50 practices. You need a big city. There has to be enough latent space within the city to allow us to operate. You can do it in Los Angeles probably. (They are doing similar programme.)

 Do you value more the process or the final product?

I am more into the final product. The final products are students themselves. You can mark the work of course but more important is if something has changed in your head that makes you confident to go out do interesting things – these are going to be the leaders of the profession in 5-10 years. That is the real product.

Will: How was it? [When you were in LSA]. What did you think?

The format was very traditional. Is this the usual way of presenting?

Will:

This is one of the ways. This should test you before you go to investor or have public speech. To communicate with different audiences.

This was a mid presentation, not a final?

Absolutely not. They are half way through.

Do you have an architectural language? In terms of output.

No. Of course not. We do not want to have a style. Not formal. That allows lot of exploration.

Rather 40 different personalities.

So you make projects in groups?

In the first year. Thesis is individual.

From your previous interviews it is clear that you intend to change place frequently. How does the space that education happens in influence the education itself?

Can you inhabit any kind of space?

Not any kind. It is already an institution because of the relations. It does not necessarily have to reside in architecture.

We look for big space, big windows, some light. It sould be anywhere.

Do you want to have your own place? Place to store things?

We are renting a studio. We want to keep it light. We are reducing infrastructure to save money or fees.

You have a laptop, maybe a kitchen table when you start practice. All the things are already in the city. You can buy it for a million or use the city.

Then the trade happens – you help someone, they help you.

We want to bring as many interesting people as possible to share what they have to say.

How does the collaboration with practices work?

Students work 3 days a week in the first year. And then in the think tank that are lead by 2 practice leaders and other practices could be involved as much as they want. Second year we employ some of the practices for the thesis work.

What is in there for the offices?

They are gaining a lot of it – stimulation as well. They can think about bigger issues.

Nathaniel: first day we got together the practices to make a presentation – it was the first time to meet so many practices in one room giving presentations about their work.

Back to space: if you were free how would you imagine your ideal school, environment, …?

Second home. In the chunk (?) of the city, commuting no one really enjoys. Using different spaces there in the city. I am not worried about the architecture of it. As soon as institutions start thinking about the legacy of architecture they often die as institutions. They forget they meant to be inventive, responsive. They get frozen.

What do you think about connection between living and working?

Nathaniel: first it was really strange. Having to go to university two days a week, getting inspired, getting challenged and then going to work where you are told what to do. It was really hard at first. The more you are into it the easier it is. Your brain starts to question things without you realizing it. Brain is asking more things than when you would have just one thing at a time. It is nice to have two things going at the same time. I think we do not challenge our brains enough. We have some much more opportunities to do more but we still live same like in ‘60s – going to work, come home…

What should architect know when he or she graduates?

Spatial intelligence. To know that you can find things that you need to know. Deal with complexities. Be comfortable with ambiguity. Be brave enough to make propositions for the world.

So what kind of skill after graduation architect should have?

Skills change. We try to teach methodology.

How wide is architectural field? Could I be anything? Are there limits?

We are engaging with reality. We are not creating dystopias. We are spatial. But we would be also happy when students get into planning or become a mayor of London, writer, …

So you are teaching students to be aware of their situation?

It is long life unless you pick what you want to do early or you just carry someone else’s idea of what you should do. Just use a bit of education to find out what is really important to you. We do not want to be didactic.

Nathaniel: It is about being informed and empowered. To know and act upon this. Some of the schools prepare you to go into practice to become subservian of whatever. Here you can do whatever you want to do, they are not trying to make you the next great architect.

There has to be some level of engagement with how your work interfaces with reality and culture and the world. It is not internalized discussion with yourself.

Do you think architecture has special role among the other professions?

It is exiting. Why would not you want to be an architect? What is more exciting than designing any kind of not only a built form but the processes of how you live on the planet. What could be more engaging than that? Why would you do anything else?

Do you have a limit of students?

40 per year.

Student-teacher ratio?

Next year we aim for 1 tutor per 4 students. People are not full time. But hundreds of people are involved.

What makes one an architect?

Definitely not this protection of a title. An attitude a spirit, spatial intelligence. Not just solve problems spatially but actually understand the challenges and opportunities in the world.

So in the end the product of architecture is not a building?

I think we should give that up.

But can you still call yourself an architect? If we create more thoughts than buildings?

The title architect – I just do not care. What is more interesting is what you do. Not the title, but what is your role. How do you make world better? Who cares really? It does not really matter.

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Interview with Will Hunter

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