South Dakota State University Assistant Professor of Architecture Federico Garcia Lammers will receive the 2020 AIA/ACSA Practice + Leadership Award March 12 in San Diego at the 108th ACSA Annual Meeting.
This national award honors architectural educators for exemplary work and highly effective teaching, scholarship and outreach in the areas of professional practice and leadership. Garcia Lammers is receiving the award for inventing and coordinating the SDSU Forensics Studio, which he started five years ago in the Department of Architecture’s graduate curriculum.
“The award is given by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the American Institute of Architects. It’s a combination of the professional and academic worlds coming together to recognize excellence in teaching,” he said.
Garcia Lammers had done similar forensics work professionally and posed the question, “How does the department connect its students with the professional context they’re going to work in?” during a department meeting. That simple question grew into the forensics studio, the last studio in the professional Master of Architecture curriculum.
“Typically, in architecture studios, faculty members give students a hypothetical building design and guide them through an iterative process of making drawings, models, images, etc.,” he said. “In the forensics studio, students don’t design a building.
“Essentially, we’re trying to tell the stories of existing buildings by documenting the pressures that affect the production of buildings in South Dakota—and all of the people involved in that production,” Garcia Lammers continued. “I wanted to connect the students to the people who are making buildings in the state and in doing so, put them in the middle of the social, technical and political conditions that shape architecture.”
Brian Rex, who leads the department, has taught for 25 years and was intrigued by the thought of including the studio as part of the curriculum.
“I’ve watched some very talented studio professors over my time and I’ve never seen someone challenge the definition and means of teaching a design studio so radically and yet so pragmatically,” Rex said. “The Forensics Studio is radical because it goes places people haven’t dared to try in architecture studios but it’s pragmatic because it is rooted in a close study of the realities of professional practice.”
The students captured the “buildings’ stories” through diagrams, films, websites and books, which analyzed ubiquitous professional data, like meeting minutes, information requests and email archives. All of the information came from architectural firms in the state. The firms have supported the department since it started in 2010. Teams of students collaborated with one participating architecture firm to research the firm’s methods of work and to unfold the critical workflows of that practice. Garcia Lammers explained, “the goal is to theorize about architectural labor by visualizing underexamined professional processes.
“This award wouldn’t have happened without the firms’ support of the students’ work, the mission of the department and everything we do. The firms I contacted were interested in the idea and saw it as a way to combine theory and practice, and think critically about both,” Garcia Lammers said.
The forensics studio was part of an exhibit in Antwerp, Belgium, organized by the European Association of Architecture Education, and another at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, both in 2019. It was also published in, “Black Box: Articulating Architecture’s Core in a Post-Digital Era,” the latest publication by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.
“The first two years, when I’d tell people what we were doing they couldn’t grasp it—I’m not sure I could either. As the work developed, it resonated with academics and professionals who are and aren’t interested in the topic, leading to important conversations about what defines architectural labor.” Garcia Lammers said.
He would like to take the studio further by visualizing the entire life span of buildings and their respective sites.
“I’d like students to question how architectural contexts combine historical, social, political and technical circumstances,” he said. “If you could imagine the Architecture, Mathematics and Engineering Building in 50 years … first of all, is it still here? That’s a critical question. By looking ahead, we can unfold what timespan we design buildings for—and whom we are designing them for? Is it 30 years? 40 years? 100 years? 200 years? What does that mean in terms of material consumption and labor?
“Those are some of the things I’ve learned from teaching the studio,” Garcia Lammers continued. “Our focus has always been on the amount of imagination, energy and time that go into making a building, but what happens after that? I think the students are eager to address that question, and I’m ready as well.”