Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse, May 6-8, Geneva /

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Archipelago Team
'Powerful Islands and Architectures': An Interview with Yves Leuzinger
25.02.2021

Yves Leuzinger was the director of HEPIA until February of 2021; he is an environmental engineer with a focus on sustainable development. Several years ago, he, along with other representatives from HEAD and HEPIA, initiated a long-term vision project, “Pôle des Architectures”, to think about how the myriad design disciplines taught within each school could interrelate and coalesce in new forms. Archipelago is one initiative that arose out of this exploration.

To start simply, how did the idea for Archipelago come about?

I strongly believe in the value of transdisciplinary work and we have been thinking for many years about how to implement it in various fields. In the case of architecture, we realised the richness of our three departments: HEPIA’s Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and HEAD’s Interior Architecture. In order to renew the way we look at architecture and to foster a centre of pedagogical excellence, HEAD and HEPIA agreed on a common approach, shared research focuses and identical foundation coursework for our students. The three departments remain independent and attached to their departments, but a mutual strategy is in place which is supported by the administration. Archipelago was born out of the desire to get our teams to work together. What better way than a festival to test this teamwork and put some shared structure in place!

Many aspects of Archipelago, from its physical design to branding, have been done in conjunction with your respective schools. How are HEPIA and HEAD uniquely positioned to work on Archipelago and how does the event reflect your larger pedagogical stances?

Universities of Applied Sciences in Switzerland are characterised by their practical approach to a profession, even though they are university-level. Their mindset is thus very well expressed in the mix of research and teaching. Designing a theme, content and scenography for an international event is a stimulating implementation of this practice-as-pedagogy concept. The students of the three departments are able to express themselves and discuss their ideas together, and they will ultimately get to carry out parts of their projects. The stimulation between students, assistants and teachers is strong and pushes everyone to challenge themselves.

What is the role of the design academy today? What responsibilities does it have and conversely, what are its potentials?

In Universities of Applied Sciences, the primary role of the school is to provide sufficient professional background for professional practice, with a critical mindset and in a spirit of self-learning. In order to foster reflection and offer the best chances of entering the labour market, a school must be connected and provide a place for thinking and developing new approaches. Our numerous external contributors and guest lecturers ensure that our teaching is in line with our ambitions, i.e. to be a school known and recognised throughout Switzerland and Europe that enables its students to easily find a suitable job. The presence of professional BA and high-level MA programmes ensures our recognition and influence.

Archipelago will be broadcast from Geneva in early May. What is the significance of this point of origin? What does this specific place offer for your schools and for design discourse at large?

Located in the heart of Europe, in a large international agglomeration with significant growth challenges for a limited area, Geneva offers a very concrete locus of study focused on sustainable development. Quality of life, distinctive landscapes and abundant biodiversity must accompany the growth of the “City” proper. In the training courses and events offered at HEPIA, we focus on making and our students become direct actors in the construction of Geneva. We can renovate the city, both literally and figuratively. In this spirit, creating large events, where inquiry and reflection are the order of the day, generates opportunities to better define our future and that of architecture in its various forms.

It seems nowadays that the work of architects, landscape architects, and interior designers are more blurred than ever, particularly for students and early stage professionals. What do you think about these disciplinary boundaries and to what degree can/should they be challenged?

The various disciplines are evolving and overlapping in some respects. Nevertheless, they remain professions in their own right, whose characteristics are distinct. It is the results of their respective work that intersect the most, precisely through increased collaboration and an openness for a broader vision in the realisation of professional endeavours. Training courses therefore remain distinct but with interdisciplinary aspects, to the benefit of more integrated and global projects.

What has the collaboration between HEPIA and HEAD been like so far? Have there been examples of this in the past?

The willingness to collaborate comes from the schools’ administrations, but it is implemented by the people in the departments. For a long time, collaboration was a welcome idea, but it was not well established. A number of circumstances made it possible to implement it in a very strong and motivating way, in particular thanks to the presence of curious and enterprising Heads of Departments who have formed real friendships.

The elephant in the room is the ongoing pandemic and its effects across all aspects of life. Why plan a festival now and how has Archipelago needed to adapt both in concept and form?

We wanted this event to act as stimulation to think about the future of architecture in its various guises, a showcase for experimenting and questioning the act of working together and looking at relevant forms of collaboration for the future. We developed a classic but innovative model at the beginning, only to have to rethink the whole concept online and with minimal presence. A real twofold challenge! In our case, the process was at least as important as the final design. We accumulated ideas, modes of expression and communication tools. It was certainly a lot of work but very much formative and almost ideal in our case: a seminar for and through the creation of more collective thought.

What do you hope to see in Archipelago? What should the people watching from home take away and what are the plans for it afterwards?

For everyone to find food for thought in order to better understand the challenges of building sustainable cities and for our teams to draw guidelines for their future collaboration – powerful islands and architectures, but a common thought and action towards Archipelagos.