"We never shy away from difficult questions," says Deborah Hauptmann, Chair of Architecture at Iowa State University

Deborah Hauptmann, shares her vision for design and architecture education.

"We never shy away from difficult questions," says Deborah Hauptmann, Chair of Architecture at Iowa State University

Interview with Deborah Hauptmann, Professor & Chair of Department of Architecture, Iowa State University

Deborah Hauptmann, Professor and Chair of Architecture at Iowa State University, USA. Prior to ISU, she was the Director of the Delft School of Design, an internationally recognized platform for research and advanced education at the Delft University of Technology, NL.

Hauptmann’s research draws on a trans-disciplinary approach to architecture, which includes disciplines such as philosophy, cultural & media studies, the social sciences and the neurosciences. Select publications include: The Body in Architecture and Cognitive Architecture: From Bio-Architecture to Noo-Architecture. Hauptmann is a Henri Bergson scholar; she is the English co-translator of his 1889 Latin thesis Quid Aristoteles de Loco Senserit / On Aristotle’s Conception of Place. Deborah has practiced architecture in Switzerland, Spain, and the US and, since 2008 she has the pleasure to participate in the Biennale Educational Sessions at the Venice Biennale in Architecture, where she hosts three-day workshops and symposia.

What 3 cultural items influenced your life in architecture and why?

Influencing my life in architecture, is the same as asking what influenced my life. I say this because in a discipline that impacts both people and place, your own sense of being in the world can’t be easily taken out of the equation.
So…. prior to architecture my reading was primarily in philosophy. In my early teens I worked through classical and modern, in my late teens I reached, and in some ways never left, existential philosophy.

By my early twenties I leaned significantly into continental and aesthetic philosophy, but more importantly, to the French thinkers such as Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault. Shortly thereafter the vitalist philosophy of Henri Bergson. With respect to architecture, issues of experience and perception took me through German Empirical Psychology through to the usual suspects and this all led me where I’ve been for over the past decade, which is with questions of cognition, neuroscience and Cognitive Architecture.

I suppose that, for me, it is easier to identify authors and schools of thought as influences rather than particular books or titles. Although I can offer this:

Early in my studies of architecture: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities helped me to develop my ability to see. Equally importantly, his Six Memos for the Next Millennium helped me to understand how to capture the movements of thought and then, of course, set them free again.

Later, in architecture, my philosophical and design trajectories crossed in what can generally be held under the designation of material philosophy and material/immaterial practices.

What unique role do you see you and your team playing in educating the next generation of architects?

In my previous position at the TU Delft, educating the next generation followed the general principles of advanced architectural design practice and critical thinking pedagogy. In other words, we prepared students to contribute to both people and place, to the environment both materially and immaterially. Earlier this month, the Keynote speaker who launched our 2019-20 Public Programs series here at ISU was, in fact, one of my thesis students from Delft. Bart Akkerhuis of Studio Akkerhuis, Paris.

The firm has grown in five years to 40 architects of 19 nationalities and, importantly, with seven new babies in the office just this year. Both the intelligence and the quality of the work as well as  the ethos of the office is a perfect example of educating the previous generation of architects. I have been at Iowa State, for six years now and in the US context I it seems to me that there is a sense of responsibility in educating the next generation of architects that is other, and something more, than the architecture design-thinking pedagogy just mentioned.

First, we are in a time with increasingly accessible technological advances. Meaning our students have more engaging toys and tools to play with and use. With the world in the state it is in, both politically and environmentally, the decisions we take about what we will teach becomes more important than ever. At ISU, as a Land Grant University, we take our obligation to educate and serve very seriously.

By this I mean whether traditionally conceived as educating and serving the State’s citizenry or more broadly, as I deploy the term here to suggest any body or population of bodies that our work may affect. This may sound obvious, as if it is simply the social responsibility our discipline bears, but this is a dangerous assumption as the expression of an intention can easily be used simply as an alibi for inaction.

ISU is also a Research-1 and AAU ranked university and we never shy away from difficult questions. In Architecture we also know, that all progress is not necessarily progressive. Put otherwise, when you can do anything, it doesn’t mean you will do the right thing. Thus, while this may seem counter intuitive, working lean can actually be beneficial because we do not run down every path that technological advancements open, we consider where we put our resources, where we focus our intellectual energies, skills, talents and labor, so that we can accomplish the greatest possible effects. We are deliberate. And this, to my way of thinking, directs us thoughtfully and strategically towards the future.

I believe that our team, is, truly educating the next generation of architects to advance visionary design derived from a critical approach that operates within what I might refer to with William James as a stubbornly realistic attitude.

Finally, in a country where the ever-increasing cost of higher education excludes much of our best and brightest, our mission to provide access remains crucial. Our students leave without crippling debt that can devastate the well-being of entire families. They leave with the ability to contribute with all the advanced design thinking available, with an understanding of the impact they will (not can or may, but will) have on the world and, hopefully, with the ability to discern why and where they should focus their intellectual energies, skills, talents and labor in order to help create a world worthy of our children.

What are you most excited about when you think about the impact architecture will have on our world?

I genuinely believe there is a chance for architecture education to positively impact the globe. I believe the impact will derive not directly from ‘architecture’ - whether as a singular object or  cultural or social project – but from the breadth and depth, range, complexity and specialized knowledge of the well-educated - whether by institution or by virtue of their own auto-didactic drive - architect.

By this I am imagining the analytical and creative mind capable of not only to offering solutions to problems made or perceived. But to formulating the correct questions so as to direct us away from the production of the problems we subsequently become required to fix. My hope hangs much on our current believe in the value of diversity, that is grasping the importance of radical relationality and the positive attribute of being radically open.  

Sign up for Engage | Spotlight