Eric Haas receives 2016 USC Mentoring Award

School News

Eric Haas receives 2016 USC Mentoring Award

October 17, 2016

Professor Eric Haas received a 2016 USC Mentoring Award this past spring. He was one of three faculty across campus who were recognized as “Faculty Mentoring Undergraduates.”


Haas joined the USC School of Architecture faculty in 2008 at the invitation of Professor Alice Kimm in an effort to assemble “a dynamic group to instruct third year housing.” Kimm continues, “Who better than Eric, with his dry humor, his ability to inspire students to reach way beyond their initial concepts in search of true innovation, and his simultaneous academic rigor?” 


Haas is a Principal of DSH // architecture, an award-winning firm specializing in residential and educational projects but engaged in a range of design practices, including the occasional cat shelter. His academic and professional interests range from design theory and urban histories to material research and tectonic systems, which are reflected in the diversity of the courses he has taught at the School, which span undergrad and grad, and includes studio, thesis, and building technology. 


Haas was nominated for the award by former students who not only appreciated his teaching style but also felt that he had substantively changed their lives. 


“The very best studio professors I experienced always leave you with more to think about after a desk crit,” said Chi Bhatia ’14. “There’s a happy medium of letting us students be confused, in order to find answers on our own, and providing us with the right guidance, when we feel lost. Eric consistently found this happy medium which sets him apart from any of the other professors I had at USC.” 


“Haas… helped me find my true passion in architecture,” declared Alex DiMento ’14, who took five courses with Professor Haas while at USC. DiMento credits Haas with guiding him on his career path as well as helping him navigate his way towards graduate school. “I feel that I would be stuck in a rut without his guidance. I am extremely thankful to have him in my life.” 


Below, Haas discusses his inspirations as a teacher, student, and practitioner, and how each role influences the rest. 


What inspires you as a teacher? 

Working with people who want to try something unknown is probably the greatest reward in teaching. Design is Darwinian—not all options are good ones, and you have to see many iterations to tease out the sound directions. Some of the best solutions end up being those that are illogical, too abstract, or sure dead ends … so continually taking chances is incredibly important and what keeps me invested. 


On teachers/mentors who have inspired him: 

Unless we’re extremely focused, our discipline’s cultural contributions can easily be compromised by the various professional concerns we need to address—though that inherent complexity is what makes architecture rewarding in the first place. So I’d say those people both during and after my education who’ve encouraged—and challenged—me to stand my ground, go further and think more deeply about what a design can do are the ones that I hold close. 


In what ways has teaching informed your practice and vice versa? 

I’ve had a practitioner/teacher profile for nearly twenty years, but I don’t really see them as wholly distinct activities—sometimes the studio runs a bit like an atelier, and we take opportunities in the office to have the kind of conversations we have in school. The experimentation and freedom of the teaching environment is an important source of energy, and the perspective that practice can bring to those sometimes heady ideas is a critical test. I’ve thought a bit about how architectural education would look if we returned to a sort of apprenticeship model—though I’m not sure students would flock to a twelve-credit course with me simply entitled “Architecture.”

Eric Haas