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Interviews

Yodan Rofè: The architect is just a vehicle. The wholeness generates the design.

Yodan Rofè

Yodan Rofè is an architect and urban planner with over 20 years of professional, teaching, and research experience. He was the founder of the Movement for Israeli Urbanism and served for five years as the Head of Urban Design at Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing. 

His research interests include building processes and structures of informal settlements, urban form and movement, accessibility and equity, cognition and feeling in the built environment, as well as public space and street design. 

Together with Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, he wrote The Boulevard Book published by MIT Press. Together with Kyriakos Pontikis, Yodan edited the book In Pursuit of a Living Architecture: Continuing Christopher Alexander’s Quest for a Humane and Sustainable Building Culture, published by Common Ground Publishers.

Natalia Olszewska: I’d love to understand your connection to Christopher Alexander. Could you tell us about meeting him and his influence on you?

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Anders Engnell: We Need To Solve The Problem of the Car

Anders Engnell. Image: culdesac.com

Anders is a real estate development and construction manager with 7 years of experience in people-first, master plan community development. He studied urban planning and development at the University of Southern California and now leads construction for Culdesac Tempe. Previously, he served as a development manager at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

Anders: I read your interview with the Neutras talking about the need for more idealistic developers. I’m intimately familiar with how difficult that’s still to find nowadays.

Michal: When have you decided you are going to be one of those enlightened developers?

Anders: Growing up in metro Detroit, the home court of automation, I grew up around a place that was strongly influenced by GM, Chrysler, and Ford lobbying powers through the 20th century. The area had as little public transit as possible, buses with 30 or 60-minute headways, no rail system to speak of, and complete dedication to the automobile.

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Andrea Jelic: If we don’t design for humans, who do we design for?

Andrea Jelic

Andrea Jelić is an architect, researcher, and educator working at the intersection of architecture and enactive-embodied cognition. Her research explores how the built environment affects the lived-living body. Dr. Jelić is an Assistant Professor in Space for Healthy Organizations at KU Leuven, within research groups Research[x]Design (Dept. of Architecture) and Building Physics and Sustainable Design (Dept. of Civil Engineering).

She is an Advisory Council member of ANFA—Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture and a faculty member in the Master’s program “Neuroscience applied to architectural design” at IUAV University of Venice. Her main research interests include the interplay between spatial design, organizational dynamics, well-being at work, social sustainability, and (learning to) design for the diversity of bodies and user experiences.

Natalia Olszewska: I came across your Ph.D. dissertation on neurophenomenology and architecture during my studies. It has great depth and it’s probably one of the best works you can find on this topic today. What made you interested in it?

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Nikos Salingaros: People feel it when a space doesn’t work

Nikos Salingaros

Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros is Professor of Mathematics and Architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio. As an internationally recognized architectural theorist and urbanist, he was a visiting professor of Architecture at Delft University of Technology, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Querétaro, Mexico, and Università di Roma III. He holds a doctorate in Mathematical Physics from Stony Brook University, New York.

His publications include the books Algorithmic Sustainable Design, Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction, A Theory of Architecture, Principles of Urban Structure, and Unified Architectural Theory, plus numerous scientific articles. He collaborated with the visionary architect Christopher Alexander in editing the four-volume The Nature of Order. Salingaros won the 2019 Stockholm Cultural Award for Architecture, and shared the 2018 Clem Labine Traditional Building Award with Michael Mehaffy.

Michal Matlon: How did your journey start? How did you get to work with architecture and architectural theory?

Nikos Salingaros: My journey began when I discovered the work of Christopher Alexander while I was a graduate student in theoretical physics. I’ve always been close to art and architecture. I used to paint when I was young.

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Alessandro Villa: We all appreciate natural materials

alessandro villa
Alessandro Villa

Alessandro Villa is an architect alternating design activity with teaching. Since 2003 he has been an adjunct professor of Interior Design at Politecnico di Milano and a faculty member at Scuola Politecnica di Design. He has also been a visiting professor at the Tongji University of Shanghai and Goenka University in New Delhi. Alessandro worked on long-term research projects focused on innovation on behalf of international companies (FIAT, 3M, Fincantieri, Beiersdorf) and universities.

In 2004 he opened an interior design practice, working on small-scale architecture, graphic design, and visual communication. He is an expert on materials for interior use, interested in senses and perceptual aspects. He also collaborates with Impronta, neuroscience for architecture and design consultancy.

Natalia Olszewska: I have known you, Alessandro, as one of the pioneers of neuro-design in Italy. You started to write about this topic many years ago. What made you interested in this new field?

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Upali Nanda: The project doesn’t end when the doors open, that’s when it begins

Upali Nanda
Upali Nanda, director of research for HKS Inc. Image: hksinc.com

Upali Nanda is a director of research for HKS Inc., a global architectural firm, and associate professor of practice in architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. She also serves as the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation.

In 2015, Nanda was recognized as one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in Healthcare Design by Healthcare Design Magazine. Most recently, she was honored with the 2018 Women in Architecture Innovator Award from Architectural Record.

We are continuing the first part of the interview with Upali which we published in March 2021.

Michal Matlon: In one of your interviews, you said we need to stop seeing buildings as passive objects and start seeing them as living organisms that can be in conversation with our brains. Do you feel this is already being applied? And is it mainly on the technological level, as in the case of smart buildings, or is it also about qualities implemented into design?

Upali Nanda: The application seems to be more through smart cities and smart buildings. However, that is not always the intent. We are now moving almost from a human-centered to a living-centered way of thinking. For any systemic ecology to survive, it has to work in an interdependent way. 

Buildings, for the longest time, have just foisted themselves within an ecosystem, and they haven’t talked to the world outside of them. They haven’t even talked to the humans inside. That’s what we’re starting to change now. 

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Itai Palti: Architecture is to become an empathy-based profession

Itai Palti is a practicing architect and researcher focusing on designing with the human experience in mind. He is Director of Hume, a science-informed architecture and urban design practice. In 2015, Itai founded the Conscious Cities movement. For his work in advancing changes in the design profession, he was named by Metropolis Magazine as one of 2020’s ‘Game Changers’.

Itai is the Director of The Centre for Conscious Design, a think tank focused on using design to address urban challenges facing society. He is also on the Advisory Council of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. An alumnus of The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, Itai has worked alongside the late visionary architect Jan Kaplicky at Future System on projects such as the Ferrari Museum in Modena.

Natalia Olszewska: Let’s dive into the topic of Conscious Cities. I think that our readers would like to find out more about your movement and the motivations behind it.

Itai Palti: In my opinion Conscious Cities have always existed if you think of cities as the accumulation of human decisions and intent. When I first thought about Conscious Cities I didn’t think about new types of cities, but rather a new way of reflecting on how we shape our environment, and how our environment shapes us. The latter is a matter of consciousness. How aware are we of this process?

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Júlia Hanuliaková: I got confronted with psychology only when I started working with animals

julia hanuliakova
Image: Archive of Júlia Hanuliaková

Julia Hanuliaková studied architecture at Slovak Technical University, as well as historic preservation at the University of Oregon. She started focusing on zoo design, which she practiced at renowned studios Jones & Jones Architects and The Portico Group. In 2012, she has founded her own studio Zoo Design Inc, which worked on projects for zoos in USA, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Russia, Finland and others. In 2020, she became a director of the zoo in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Natalia Olszewska: I’ve seen your website, I’ve read about your professional experience, and I’m looking forward to exploring the intersections between human and animal design! How did you get into this field?

Júlia Hanuliaková: I went through the classic architectural education and what I’ve noticed is that the school did not provide me much background on the human experience. I got confronted with psychology only when I started to work with animals. Pretty much all the ideas about how we can create better spaces for animals came from human psychologists that over time switched to animals.

Michal Matloň: When you think about a design of a zoo, what part of it is about designing for animals and what part is designing for humans?

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Michael Diamant: We have changed the Scandinavian discourse on architecture

Michael Diamant

Michael Diamant studied society planning at Stockholm University and has a great interest in architecture, city planning, urban sociology, demography, history, and social anthropology. In 2013, he started a Facebook group promoting new traditional architecture, which has since grown to over 25 000 members. One year later, a member of this group started a group Arkitekturupporet (Architectural Uprising) that has grown to over 50 000 members, transformed the debate about architecture in Sweden, and spawned multiple local groups in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and other countries. Portuguese translation of the article can be found here.

Natalia Olszewska: Welcome, Michael! Could you tell our readers about what you are interested in and how this interest started?

Michael Diamant: I studied society planning and urban sociology at Stockholm University. I’ve always been interested in architecture and city planning, specifically classical city planning. I am very interested in urban sociology, demography, history, culture, and social anthropology. I am also interested in architecture but I don’t have deep architectural knowledge other than that I know the different styles and the key to a good facade.

A long time ago, I noticed that old buildings usually seemed very beautiful to me, and the new ones didn’t. What I also noticed is that the majority of people see it the same way, and they vote with their feet. Maybe people don’t always dare to say that they find most modernist buildings ugly, but where people spend vacations, where people want to hang out, tells you a lot. 

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Colin Ellard: I’ve had people shout at my face to get lost

Colin Ellard
Colin Ellard, cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo and director of its Urban Realities Laboratory. Image: Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo and director of its Urban Realities Laboratory. Colin works at the intersection of urban design and experimental psychology. He is a practicing scientist but he also works in collaboration and partnership with architects, museums and other NGOs on projects meant to enrich public debate about the built environment. He is a member of the advisory committee for the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, an Urban Design and Mental Health Fellow, and a Salzburg Global Fellow. Ellard’s most recent book is Places of the Heart.

A Sudden Twist

Natalia Olszewska: In your TEDxWaterloo talk, you mentioned a sudden twist in your scientific career. You said you weren’t interested in human-environment relationships from the beginning. Something happened around 2005 and you isolated yourself on an island. Could you tell us the rest of the story? 

Colin Ellard: Oh man, that was a tumultuous period in my life. You know, some like to call it a ‘midlife crisis’. But then one of my colleagues said: ‘You don’t honestly think you’re only halfway through your life. How long do you think that you’re going to live?