Erick CÁRCAMO discusses the similarities and differences between the East Coast, West Coast, and Vienna; the role of workshops in architectural education today; the effects of the Web on studio culture; and more.
*Image by Vaso PLAVOU and courtesy the author. Erick CÁRCAMO, instructor.
images, clockwise from top left: Odysseas NIKOLAIDIS; Rachael McCALL; Dimitris SPYROPOULOS; & Antonis SEFERLIS. All images courtesy the author. Erick CÁRCAMO, instructor.
suckerPUNCH: Could you tell us a bit about the recent studios and seminars you have taught?
Erick CÁRCAMO: I recently taught two studios at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) and, in parallel, a seminar at PennDesign (University of Pennsylvania School of Design). The studios at SCI-Arc have been part of the core graduate program (M.Arch I), which means introducing the students to the rigor of creative work for the production of architecture. That includes studying the interrelationship of tectonics, geometry, and form using working methodologies such as generative and descriptive modeling, drawing, and analytical diagramming—all for the purpose of preparing students to develop spatial organization and conceptual thinking. Both studios were challenging and a learning experience as far as going back to basics, since most of the studios I taught previously have been at the more advanced, graduate level, where the basis of architecture described above has already been exercised and therefore there is more room for experimentation.
sP: What differences you see between the East and West Coasts, and between the States and the University of Applied Arts, Vienna?
EC: I feel there is a common understanding and unsaid rules between them—of course, “architectural design thinking” being the common denominator. All three places—the East Coast, West Coast, and Vienna—share similarities, so the differences, while they exist, become less noticeable. All sides have a hyperawareness about each other, although for each student the academic thought at their respective institution changes their work perspective. For some students, being a part of an institution is enough for them to carry its traditions into their work. While technique is seemingly embedded in the Wild West, where projects are executed in the constant pursuit of innovation with little regard for tradition, one can always distinguish the arguments of East Coast projects and how they preserve a deeper connection to their tradition and school of thought, which keeps their arguments sharp with great imagery; both are valid in their own context and in the overall academic discourse. The University of Applied Arts, Vienna is an exception to European architectural-academic philosophy and a sister school to both the East and West Coasts—this similarity clearly being a result of the foreign influences that lead the school. Vienna is a positive culture shock well taken and finely driven by the students. In the end, East Coast, West Coast, and Vienna provide a broad, complex, and sophisticated value to academic discourse, all having similar voices but distinct traits.
sP: Could you talk about the growth of workshops as an important part of an architect’s education? How do they differ from studios in their focus and duration? How do they differ when being taught at schools compared to being taught independently?
EC: Workshops are a great step toward gaining a broader tool set, both in technique attainment and in conceptual thinking—they offer an opportunity for the participants to attempt the different discourses these workshops provide and to understand how each of them approach methods of design. Workshops should be done as a break from routine studio work and the academic core. On the one hand, the different adjustments of a workshop at a school are based on and influenced by the academic institution, and the projects tend to be related to a predetermined subject. On the other hand, the multiple independent workshops that my partner Nefeli Chatzimina and I teach are organized to have a certain strategic duration, which is important because, much like competitions, they exercise fast decision making and force quick design solutions. They also allow for a different degree of interpretation of architecture, projecting and passing aesthetic qualities, making the workshop a perceptual issue and always an attempt at the innovation of an architectural language.
sP: How do you see technology as integrated into your teaching?
EC: As very important, if not the most important. All of my teaching is based on the full use of technology, by way of the computer as a tool of thinking—a very important tool that allows me to teach students to be seduced by architecture through technical achievement while simultaneously allowing me to introduce conceptual thought.
sP: What do you see as the role of fabrication technologies and craft in education today?
EC: Their role is clearly seen in the sophistication of physical models. Innovative craft is an important implementation in bringing complex geometries out of the computer and into the material. Although physical models are scarce at some schools (since the computer provides a faster manifestation of imagery as a final product), it is essential to bring out the physicality of these images and exploit the digital formal qualities through materials, and then to move back again into the digital.
sP: What effects do you see with the speed and disappearance of lag time in technique and design between contemporary practitioners and students?
EC: Technique and design in academia usually move incrementally faster than in offices. In general, practitioners tend to plateau, which should not be interpreted as a negative comment, because talent is not measured by technique alone. Professional experience is often combined with the virtuosity of recently graduated students, who inject bursts of innovative tools into the practice, making a two-way learning curve that is absorbed by both the newly hired student and the practitioner, creating a recurring effect.
sP: How has the Internet changed studio culture and its relation to global design?
EC: The Internet is a double-edged sword when it comes to studio culture. On the one hand, Web portals often dictate a certain architectural culture based on images with little insight into their conceptual approach, other than perhaps a few descriptive paragraphs. When that is the case, the emergence of originality is often scarce. On the other hand, the Web is a useful digital platform where students and professionals can exchange and promote design ideas while exposing multiple ways of approaching an architecture project. The Internet is instantly gratifying, even necessary, but dangerous.
sP: What do you see as the role of theory and history in architecture education today?
EC: Evolution in every field is a continuation of an existing platform, theory, or history. Architectural thought should be one step ahead, no matter what tools are used to execute a project. Theory and history are fundamental sources, and necessary in order for students to generate a strong critical aspect to their architectural thinking and, furthermore, to smartly speculate where the field of architecture is going.
sP: What do you see as the role of (professional) practice in architecture education today? How do you see your teaching influencing your practice?
EC: Active practitioners as mentors in architectural education play an important role both for students and for the prestige of the schools, especially when the practitioners are branded and known. They inspire students and their eager enthusiasm to succeed. Nefeli and I have found our involvement in academia to be extremely refreshing. There is a certain level of freedom in running studios and seminars as a laboratory, where ideas are tested and transformed from experiments to research that influences and constantly feeds back into practice.
sP: What positive and negative baggage do you see current students bringing to the table?
EC: I don’t think students bring negative baggage. Instead, I read their inexperience as an opportunity that might lead to innovation and I try to find a possible insight in their thinking. It’s always dependent on the instructor to allow new approaches. Given that a tutor sets up a specific but open agenda of thinking, students always bring about positive results. It’s up to the tutor’s experience and insight to guide the students further.
sP: What significant differences do you see from when you were in school?
EC: There has been a significant change both in the elaboration of technique and in conceptual thinking—both have moved fast within six years. To be specific, modeling has become more precise, and therefore geometry has become more optimized. This precision is important, and to a certain degree one could say it adds to the argument of the project. Imprecision used to be more acceptable. The software should allow you to think a different approach in architectural theory, construction, and practice; therefore, architectural criticism keeps evolving in parallel. In addition, the ongoing economic and sociopolitical landscape within the last six years has fashioned new architectural discussions. This has lead to a new discourse in terms of materiality, methods of construction, and energy use.
sP: Are there any weaknesses or tendencies at schools today that you would like to see shift, or anything you hope comes into focus in the near future?
EC: Architecture has become a science of image production. We are asked to construct images, both in the academic and professional environments—although there is a big distance between spatial experience and the affect of an image. Sometimes there is a tendency to only focus on demonstration of technique without pursuing a strong conceptual agenda. My expectation is to see a higher integration of new techniques and contemporary architectural arguments.