Q&A: Amale Andraos

The cofounder of WORKac talks about mentors, Kurt Cobain, and the glories of sleep deprivation.

Courtesy Amale Andraos

It was announced today that the architect Amale Andraos, co-founder of WORKac, will replace Mark Wigley as the new dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). The following interview with Andraos (from our retired "Shop Talk" column) is excerpted from our September 2010 issue.

Job Description

Current Projects
We’re designing new spaces for the new Children’s Museum of the Arts, in New York; and new offices for Creative Time, as well as working with the Clark Art Institute on an exhibition presenting their expansion, for which we are designing an outpost at Mass MoCA. We’re also continuing our foray into the world of urban farms, working with Alice Waters’s foundation to start the Edible Schoolyard program on the East Coast. And then there is China, which continues its intense pull. We’re waiting to start work on our winning competition entry for the redesign of the main commercial street in Shenzhen. We’re also designing the main library for the new Wuhan University Campus and just finishing a mixed-use tower competition in Shenzhen.

Why Do You Do What You Do?
I ask myself this question all the time. My partner, Dan [Wood], once presented a chart to our students comparing Frank Gehry’s life to that of Kurt Cobain: at 27, Cobain committed suicide—the same age at which Gehry first decided to go to architecture school. I think this timeline says it all.

First Step on a Project
Examine it from every possible angle.

Last Step on a Project
Take photographs. Usually with Elizabeth Felicella, who has been shooting our projects since the beginning. It’s always the last time we’re in the space alone and can take the time to record it before turning it over to its new life. It’s a necessary closure for us, when it all finally comes together.

A class in progress at the Edible Schoolyard—a 763-square-foot greenhouse where kids learn how their food grows. WORKac completed the project earlier this year.

Courtesy Iwan Baan

How Do You Break a Creative Block?
1. Drop everything. 2. Generate a sense of untenable urgency. 3. Go for a run.

B.Arch. at McGill University and M.Arch. at the Harvard Graduate
School of Design

It always seemed to me this was more of a guys’ thing. But this may be changing with the increase of women in the field—practicing, teaching, and studying. Without calling them mentors, among the people I learned the most from I would count Howard Davies, Bernard Khoury, Toshiko Mori, Michelle Addington, Rem Koolhaas, Diane von Furstenberg, and, of course, Dan. I hope I can offer some of the same support and inspiration to our students and office. I think Freud once said the three most impossible tasks were teaching, parenting, and, of course, being a shrink.

World-Saving Mission
With the current rate of urbanization and the projected population boom, one of the biggest challenges today is to reimagine our cities, reinvent their support systems, and rethink their infrastructure, working toward integration.

First Act as "Design Czar"
Architecture is a strange field where we’re constantly asked to demonstrate over and over why design matters, to everyone, all the time. It’s exhausting. As a czar in a totalitarian regime, I would just declare its importance, period.

Various members of the United Nations design team, including Le Corbusier (far left) and Oscar Niemeyer (center)

Courtesy Oscar Niemeyer Foundation

Dream Team
I wish I was there for the design of the United Nations. Le Corbusier, Niemeyer, Harrison…the stakes were so high: it was about the future
of our world and the dawn of a new era, and all eyes were riveted on them. It must have been incredible. The World Trade Center was such
a missed opportunity.

Office Chair
Knoll SoHo, but only by default

Office Sound Track
Rhapsody. It’s not a sound track. It’s an Internet service that streams music. Every-one in the office can play what they like, but everyone also has veto power. My recent picks: the latest albums by Yeasayer, Hot Chip, and Broken Bells. But my favorite one is actually called Possessed, by the Balanescu Quartet. It’s a classical remake of Kraftwerk’s greatest hits.

Favorite Tchotchke 
The iPad?

Most Useful Too
My brain, I guess.

I always browse from scratch.

Best Place to Think
Anywhere while running

Courtesy University of California Press

Current Read
Colonising Egypt, by Timothy Mitchell. It was recommended to me by my friend Lucia Allais, who seemed worried that my reading had maybe excessively shrunk to Diapers.com since the birth of my daughter.

Something Old
Byzantine icons

Something New
Ayah, our two-month-old daughter

Favorite Space
The Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, by Henri Labrouste, in Paris. I have fond memories studying for my French baccalaureate there (or, rather, studying a little and hanging out a lot).

Guilty Pleasure
Anything by Maria Cornejo, the fashion designer

Time and sleep, especially these days


Learned the Hard Way
Get a contract signed prior to starting work.

Je ne regrette rien.

Dream Job
To design a city

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