Nader Tehrani is a tenured Professor of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and a principal at the Boston-based architecture firm, Office dA. He has also taught at the Harvard Graduate School
of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and Georgia Institute of
Technology, where he served as the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished
Chair in Architectural Design. In the academic context, Nader Tehrani has focused on research
surrounding materials, methods of aggregations, geometry and the
advancement of digital fabrication. His participation in the
Immaterial/Ultra-material Exhibition at Harvard's GSD is also paralleled
by his installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Boston ICA, and
Georgia Tech, investigating new means and methods of fabrication in
wood, steel, rope and polycarbonate. As a principal at Office dA he has received numerous international awards. Office dA’s work in green, sustainable design includes Helios House, a
sustainable power station in Los Angeles, and the Macallen building, a
144 unit condominium in Boston. Office dA has also worked on the
Tongxian Arts Center in Beijing, the Elemental community project in
Chile, and the Villa Moda Competition in Kuwait.
Question: How do you teach design?
Nader Tehrani: Well beginning design thinking can be done in many ways and many schools, many schools of thought have battled it in a variety of ways, but the two extremes constitute one is engagement in the world and in all of its synthesis, in all of its complexity and all of its mess and trying to work through design issues by incorporating them, but the other approach, which is something we have tried to adopt in our most recent thinking is to edit and at least initially to begin to think that architecture if only temporarily needs to be absolved of all of that pressure and take on singular issues at a time, so for instance, in the core program we may take the issue of structure, engineering be so central to the architectural question, as one of the core points of an exercise and even at the risk of failure of all of the other constituencies around it, all of the other contingencies around it, all of the other considerations to radicalize the student’s knowledge in that domain. That same thing may happen with problems of programming, problems of circulations, problems of urbanism, but in a way you end up with an initial education that atrophies ten things in order to in a way raise the stakes of one enterprise.
Question: What current ideas are leading the way in design education?
Nader Tehrani: Well the current moment needs to be looked at within a broader framework probably. The way in which the industrial revolution has given a way to… digital revolution is changing things radically. Even the idea of the internet and the accessibility to education, the way that we learn is not necessarily from a teacher, but from somebody in another city who happens to be in a junior program much younger than yourself. The way we learn is just very different now, so and then that has also led to a revolution in terms of production. We build through digital media now and that changes the way that you design things. All of this has changed the way that we instruct in the earlier years and the later years. In addition to that obviously the question of sustainability has become up front and center for a great range of people and that is another debate to be had, but it is of some concern, so there are let’s say a range of issues that have changed the focus from a global level and because of that one may say that there is two tendencies. One is again how you incorporate the world into education. The other one is how do you look at those irreducible aspects of the architectural métier or the architectural tradition without which we can’t consider ourselves a discipline?