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    10 Questions with... Hitoshi Abe

    For five years, UCLA has sought to redraw the lines of the architecture field with its Suprastudio program, in which master architects lead an intense year of post-graduate study and research relating to a different field. Histoshi Abe is the man behind this bold-thinking plan, not to mention significant projects across the globe, steered from his practice Atelier HItoshi Abe in Sendai, Japan, and Los Angeles. With three concurrent Suprastudios taking places this year—overseen by Frank Gehry with Gehry Technologies, Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn FORM, and Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects—the ambitious approach to education is evolving in significant ways. Here, Abe shares his thoughts on the big year ahead and the dreams architecture students ought to be dreaming.

    Interior Design: How did the Suprastudio platform at UCLA get started, and how has the initiative offered something new?
    Hitoshi Abe: In Asia and Europe, there’s a different way of conducting research in the field of architecture than here in the U.S.Professors can teach their students for a much longer time outside of the US. We came up with this agenda—assigning a professor to teach post-graduate students throughout the year, revolving around a specific theme.

    ID: And what will these themes address?

    HA: When we think about the situation around architecture, some will say there aren’t many jobs, others say that maybe the only interesting projects are happening in China. The architecture world only seems to discuss architecture from the inside.

    ID: But these Suprastudios focus on the architect’s role in major industries, correct?

    HA: Look at the outside world, at other disciplines such as urban design. Other industries are talking about their future, and there is so much expectation hinging on architecture. The architecture they are talking about is very different from that which we discuss inside. This is where we really should look, and expand the boundaries of the profession. That’s the theme of UCLA's IDEAS campus: a platform between architect and industry. Amazingly, I don’t see other programs doing much of this.

    Hitoshi Abe PortraitID: Who is ideally suited to participate?

    HA: It’s a postgraduate program, so these students already have enough of a basic education to go out and practice. But the reason for them to come back to school is to open up another potential, which you cannot see in day-to-day work. If you come here, you’re exposed to three studios, and three different challenges to break the boundaries of the profession. They learn how to challenge the human condition, and find where the new possibilities are in the field. When collaborating with a company like Disney, for example, you need a very specific knowledge and set of skill to work on a project. Through out research and potential, they’re exposed to a very specific discipline. They emerge ready to really be the leader in the field.

    ID: This next year sees an expanded program, with 15 students growing to 45, and three Suprastudios headed by industry veterans Greg Lynn, Thom Mayne, and Frank Gehry. What do you hope this next year will achieve?

    HA: These are great professors. You just don’t see any other school doing this kind of interesting program with strong leaders from the profession. I’m curious how they are going to break the boundaries of architecture. Lots of collaboration will take place, and we’ll see great synergy among three Suprastudios.

    ID: Are there practices within the industry that need to be looked at and updated?

    HA: An industry, which defines a profession, has a tendency to fixate on the boundary of the profession—something you can protect. Architecture was defined a long time ago. Technology has shifted, much further away from when architecture was defined. What we really want to address this: How do we create multidimensional understanding of the potential of the architecture field? That’s how we keep our job from becoming really outdated.

    ID: What do you feel ought to be imparted to the next generation of architects and designers?

    HA: There’s a lot of potential in architects. They’re learning how to integrate so many different conditions and situations to achieve different purposes, and education is very valuable. A very simple example is of somebody working on design for a movie. To bring the virtual reality of a world together, you have to be focused on so many things. This type of education—to integrate different architectural thought and technology to achieve a goal—is very unique.

    ID: Would you say that the traditional architecture jobs are finite, yet, there is plenty more to be accomplished via architectural principles?

    HA: There’s a lot of potential, especially given the importance of dealing with our environment. Architects perform important roles, and students need to know that there are a lot of worlds opening up for them.

    ID: So many architects who work in California cite a real culture of freedom and innovation in design. Would you agree?

    HA: I think there’s a great tradition of interesting and experimental architecture here. The interesting thing about California is that there is so much interest in seeing the future by pursuing technology. That makes me very excited.

    ID: What are the benefits of maintaining your offices in both Los Angeles and Japan?

    HA: It’s interesting… I force myself to have a presence in Japan and Los Angeles. It forces me to think about our practice in different ways. Our Sendai offices handle projects within Japan, and my office here in California takes care of projects outside of Japan. In Japan, we’re facing the environmental issues from the nuclear crisis. We’re working on social housing, and dealing with a very local community yet it’s something to be discussed globally. I enjoy being local and global at the same time.

    More in this series:

    10 Questions With... David Howell of DHD Architecture and Design
    10 Questions with... Michael Maltzman
    10 Questions With... Wendell Castle
    10 Questions With... Vicente Wolf
    10 Questions With... Tom Phifer