Architecture through the Ages Spotlight: Elizabeth Seidel

In our most recent issue of Engineered Wood magazine, we spoke with four architects who are each at various levels of his or her career.

We’re expanding on that article and kicking off a series that will take a deeper dive into those conversations to understand the differences (and similarities) across generational divides in the architecture industry.

Today, we’re spotlighting Elizabeth Seidel, a current architecture student at Montana State University. Seidel serves as the National Vice President of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) in Washington DC. As a student with a bright career ahead of her, Seidel shares her thoughts on the current state of the industry and where she sees it heading from her point of view.

Q: What are the most difficult pain points within your industry? 

A: There are a few pinch points that architecture students can potentially face. First, there can be significant socio-economic struggles for students with the desire to enter a design education.  Students who take junior college courses often have a hard time getting their credits to transfer to a university. Second, while visiting architecture programs this year I became aware of how important it is to select the correct school and program for one’s learning style, desired focused area and accreditation status. There are too many students in an ill-fitting program who end up giving up because they are more design oriented in a technical program, more theoretical in a design build program or vise versa. Both of these points hamper the diversity of worldviews within our industry. As an emerging professional, I need to find the perfect medley of a firm that enjoys what I have to offer while being willing to really pour into me so I can learn. From the firms I’ve worked for, I have realized there is a type of architect I want to work for and a type I don’t. I want to make sure that both the firm’s and my values are morally and ethically aligned. I didn’t realize how ethics would play such a role in my early career decisions.

Q: What is your approach to technology? How does it play a role in your current schooling? 

A: This is an interesting question because I fear that I am already somewhat irrelevant, and I have not even finished my master’s degree. By the time I was a fourth-year student we had freshman that were taught parametric design. I wasn’t taught that my freshman year. It can be hard to keep in mind that we are always learning and growing in the profession. Teach ability, self-motivation, and perseverance are important traits.  I hope within ten years we will have a platform for design that allows for a common design vocabulary for clients and designers to emerge.

Q: Where do you see the industry headed in the next decade?

A: People matter. Community matters. I believe that the social justice architecture movement will pick up steam. This is architecture that causes a positive change in the surrounding community. Social justice architecture stands on a thin line of empowering the public and oppressing them.It is important to understand when one enters a community, local or foreign, that the architecture should cause a positive change. In order to do that, a design firm must consider all aspects of design and construction holistically.  The values of the people must be retained and strengthened by the engagement. An example of a firm practicing social justice architecture is Mass Design Group (MDG) with offices in Boston and Rwanda. Their stance is very clearly laid out on their website as well as in their process.

“Architecture is not neutral; it either helps or hurts. Architecture is a mechanism that projects its values far beyond a building’s walls and into the lives of communities and people. To acknowledge that architecture has this kind of agency and power is to acknowledge that buildings, and the industry that erects them, are as accountable for social injustices as they are critical levers to improve the communities they serve.”

Mass Design Group

I recommend anyone interested in this idea and value system look into them! They really epitomize social justice architecture, but much smaller steps can be taken in our local communities to have the same impact.  I believe this is the direction my generation is ideally headed.

Be sure to stop by the Engineered Wood blog next month for our second installment of the Architecture through the Ages series.

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