9 Questions for ISoA Assistant Professor of Architecture Aaron BrakkeWhy did you choose ISoA to teach architecture?
I came to the University of Illinois last year after spending a decade in South America and chose to teach architecture at ISoA for several reasons. This school is important historically (UIUC granted the first architectural degree in North America to Nathan Ricker) and at the same time is focused on addressing contemporary issues of the discipline. Furthermore, the University of Illinois is an intellectually fertile place that allows for cross-pollination with other extremely bright people. Initiatives, such as the College of Fine and Applied Arts’ Design Research Fellowship, have provided a foundation for me to be engaged in interdisciplinary dialogues, which is fruitful when exploring the future of design. I am also very excited that we will soon break ground on the Design Center that will quickly become a space for tremendous exchange between students and faculty.
I am a professor and architectural designer who actively pursues creative scholarship related to computationally augmented creative design processes. - Aaron Brakke
How would you describe your area of research in architecture to someone who is outside academia and the profession?
I am a professor and architectural designer who actively pursues creative scholarship related to computationally augmented creative design processes. With the rapidly evolving state of software and hardware, it becomes increasingly important for the discipline of architecture to actively inform the development of new tools, ways of working and ultimately our own evolution. One example that Professor Erickson and myself are working on with CERL is to hack our robotic arm to explore new potential ways of building with concrete. Other interests include emerging forms of visualization and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, I have come to believe that researching the hinge between cultural production and technology through historical analysis can reveal strange, interesting and valuable lessons. To this end, I have been studying the Aboriginal peoples in South America and have dedicated the past couple of years to working with and locating ancestral narratives of several indigenous communities of the Andean Mountains.
I have been studying the Aboriginal peoples in South America and have dedicated the past couple of years to working with and locating ancestral narratives of several indigenous communities of the Andean Mountains. - Aaron Brakke
Do anything interesting this past summer? The last place you traveled to?
I was able to travel to Europe and South America this summer. The trip to Europe included stops in France, Italy and Switzerland. A highlight of that trip was lecturing at Sapienza University in Rome. The impetus for the trip to Colombia was to present at the International Symposium for Electronic Art, which was held in Manizales. It was great to be back in Colombia, have face time with my collaborators there and continue my research.
Recently, several practitioners from Chicago told me that they always look to hire our graduates because alumni from ISoA are the best prepared. I would have to concur; ISoA does a great job of preparing students. - Aaron Brakke
Do you believe ISoA does a good job preparing students for a career in architecture?
Recently, several practitioners from Chicago told me that they always look to hire our graduates because alumni from ISoA are the best prepared. I would have to concur; ISoA does a great job of preparing students. We have consistently ranked highly and continue to be committed to academic excellence. One way that we are showing this is by introducing a new curriculum (shortly after being awarded maximum accreditation) which will better allow students to navigate their path from the Bachelor of Architecture, through the Master of Architecture program and into practice. It is worth noting that we have dual degree programs that are a great opportunity for students to expand their knowledge in areas, such as construction management or business.
Though our degrees are not contingent on travel, our students are fortunate to be able to do this via the Barcelona Program and Chicago Studio. - Aaron Brakke
If you could change one thing about architectural education, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about architectural education, I would script a new policy that would require all students to spend one year travelling the world with one third of that time dedicated to working in an architectural office. It is almost unfathomable to think how rich our built environment might become if students were able to experience the diversity of landscapes, buildings, cities and cultures that we rarely access beyond the pages of books or content of websites. Look no further than the Peripatetic school of Aristotle to see the value in leaving the classroom and walking about.
Though our degrees are not contingent on travel, our students are fortunate to be able to do this via the Barcelona Program and Chicago Studio. We are also blessed with a great deal of diversity in our students and faculty in Urbana Champaign.
Do you keep in touch with former students? If yes, how?
I enjoy hearing about and seeing what my former students are doing. We will occasionally exchange emails and share images of current projects.
What one piece of advice would you give to current freshman architecture student? What do you wish you knew as an architecture student that you know now?
My advice for a freshman architecture student would be to look for internships every summer. Experience in an architectural firm can provide clarity and focus to your education. Soon you will be tasked with drawing details and doing structural calculations in your classes, which might seem abstract at first. All of these lessons become much more tangible, relevant and real when you understand how they interface with practice. Most importantly choose to work for designers that you respect and firms that are doing great work.
What one thing would you recommend that would improve the life of being a student in the school of architecture?
Studying architecture is intense. This is most enjoyable when one is invested in the culture of this place and is part of the ISoA community. There are many opportunities for our students to do this. One way is by attending activities, lectures and exhibitions. Participating in our student organizations is another great strategy, which enables you to meet like-minded future architects and help shape the dialogue here.
Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
There is nothing to add about myself. However, I would like to offer my email address if anyone is interested in knowing more about my research initiatives, discussing how to get involved and/or potential collaboration. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org