The Building Blocks of Design

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. 



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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What materials do you think will be the next drivers of architectural innovation?

Nader Tehrani:
  I’m sure there is a lot of materials out there, smart materials, materials that at the nano level are being developed.  In fact, these come to the discipline quite late, so I’m probably not the right person to ask that question, but one of the reasons that I went to MIT was as a way of being to collaborate with material scientists and begin to imagine ways in which some of their work and our work can become relevant to each other.  But at another level I think it has not to do so much with a material that is going to revolutionize all of the industry.  There are going to be that and certainly the role of composites has had a vast impact on the way that we think about skins, structural skins, the strength of skins and the way that the boat building enterprise, airplane building has had an impact on the way that we even in fact built materials and furniture and skins in our own firm has had the kind of consequences that you’re asking, but I think of them as very small steps actually and I think that there is a huge leap forward that we still await.

Question: Do good architects need to have a grasp of other disciplines as well?

Nader Tehrani: That was possible let’s say until several decades ago where education and the advent of specialization had not been so in a way stratified.  To the degree that now knowledge has been put on a rocket booster if you like the idea that different disciplines are occupying their own very distinct set of research principles that are inaccessible to a larger public.  It is becoming more and more difficult to create great generalists, so part of our challenge I think right now is how not to lose sight of those very disciplinary traits that characterize the core of your field on the one hand, while remaining agile and able to engage the other disciplines in such a way that you can give architectural substance to their knowledge.  The problem with these other discipline groups is that they’re brilliant in what they do, but they don’t necessarily understand their architectural potential nor do they understand their ability to synthesize and only the architect is trained to think in a way, to take incompatible elements and put them together into some kind of synthesis.  Whether it is a difficult synthesis or a happy one is a different question, but the idea that the architect is a thinker and a great improviser, somebody who is able to pick up the pieces and that is sort of what I see as the next big challenge.

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