03/26/19 Faculty Spotlight Interview: Myrna Ayoub
“Architecture is political, it is social, and it is rapidly changing—often without time to consider its implications. Collectively, we must find a way to make people aware of the values we hold when shaping today’s built environment.”
Myrna Ayoub is a lecturer at the USC School of Architecture and also received her Bachelor of Architecture at the school.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles to immigrant parents from Lebanon. I grew up in an environment where heritage and culture were an important part of everyday life. I had the privilege of traveling and spending my summers in the Middle East as well as interacting with people from various cultures across the globe. Inherently, that’s been a huge influence on my view of architecture and how the places I visited were so differently shaped by specific identities, rituals, traditions, and governance.
I received my Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California. After practicing in design offices in Los Angeles, France, and Lebanon, I pursued a Master of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. While teaching on the East Coast, I worked at several Design Research Labs where part of my research focused on various sensory experiences in relation to the urban environment. I collaborated with people across disciplines to run seminars, lead workshops, curate exhibits, and lecture around issues of identity, displacement, sanctuary, and refuge. Last year, I made my way back to my hometown of Los Angeles. In addition to teaching at USC, I pursue architecture projects, design research, and design education mentorships with several collaborators in Los Angeles and internationally.
What will you be teaching at USC Architecture?
I currently teach an undergraduate studio ARCH 102b, “Architectural Design I,” and a seminar for non-architecture majors ARCH 106x, “Workshop in Architecture.” This past fall I taught the undergraduate core classes, ARCH 102a, “Architectural Design I,” and ARCH 105, “Fundamentals of Design Communication.” The past two years, I have also taught the summer program for high school students called “Exploration of Architecture.”
What drew you to the USC School of Architecture?
I’ve been a part of the Trojan family for a long time. As a high school student, I decided to enroll in the summer Exploration of Architecture program for two weeks. It was my first taste of any formal understanding of architecture, and that experience led me to apply for a B.Arch at USC. I’ve been in and out of the USC School of Architecture in several roles ever since - as a prospective student, undergraduate, alumna, critic, and now faculty member. It’s been really important for me to teach while practicing – teaching is a platform to exchange ideas, and sometimes what’s conducive in practice isn’t in academia or vice versa. At USC, there is an environment with such diverse backgrounds that I often feel like I am learning as much I am teaching. It’s been an honor being back and teaching alongside people that inspired me and had such a huge influence in shaping my outlook on architecture.
What excites you about your faculty role?
I’m most excited when working with students directly; I enjoy mentoring a new generation. I have a long standing interest in design education and I believe it’s an environment to foster creative confidence, cultivate curiosity, and encourage an inventive culture. As an instructor, I try to invoke in my students the power of design in everyday life. I encourage students to exchange ideas, critique, and learn from each other’s work in the classroom and beyond. In return, they offer as many perspectives as I do, with an understanding that different perspectives help reveal several truths and possibilities—a vital discernment when addressing any design solution.
What are your thoughts on the current state of architecture across the globe?
I strongly believe that architecture has the power to make a difference in society. It is the physical manifestation of space that represents the uniqueness found in cultures across the globe—we must retain that. There are many challenges the field is facing to regain architecture’s agency in today’s society. Architecture is political, it is social, and it is rapidly changing—often without time to consider its implications. Collectively, we must find a way to make people aware of the values we hold when shaping today’s built environment. We are taught to imagine possibilities, think outside the box, challenge conditions, and visualize spatial constructs. The discipline of architecture can lend itself to many scales of intervention. By understanding that what we do is part of a larger discourse in history and a powerful tool for change, we can begin to take part in timely conversations and offer a meaningful perspective on global issues.
Who or what inspires you?
My main source of inspiration is traveling. Sometimes that’s across borders, states, and countries but often it’s exploring a new neighborhood or place in the city I’m living in. I’m known as an urban explorer—I get lost in cities, climb lookouts, crawl into alleyways—I’m fascinated with sociology and ethnography. Traveling is a lens into new urban environments and the customs found in many societies. In my work, these customs are often a starting point when constructing a project. Recently, I’ve used photography and collage as an avenue to document these rituals and spaces. I’m also inspired by the work of Lewis Hine, Martha Rosler, Walid Raad, and Akraam Zaatari—these explorations challenge the notion of narrative and archive.
I’ve always been inspired by fashion; my first job after undergrad was as an architecture designer at Louis Vuitton Malletier. That was an opportunity for me to infuse fashion, exhibition, and branding in the production of retail spaces and furniture. The work of designers such as Dries Van Noten, Kenzo Takada, Miuccia Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Elie Saab, and Coco Chanel have played a major role in the way that I look at craft, form, texture, material, and color.
In addition, as an avid oil painter, I’m inspired by traditional artwork and paintings. I was classically trained in baroque, impressionist, post-impressionist, surrealist, and romantic styles. I love mixing colors, layering paints on canvas, and experimenting with brushstrokes. I enjoy cooking, which lends itself to a more temporal avenue to creatively experiment with flavors and textures. These eclectic resources of inspiration play a large part in my projects—sometimes offering a new lens through which I can address a proposal or a new source of representation. I find that a strong knowledge in historical and theoretical practices in architecture are vital in terms of understanding how to intervene, but all these other fields and interests you take part of spark inspiration; they help conceive.
What are your research interests? What drew you to the work you are doing now?
My interests are quite diverse in scale and content but they all to touch upon themes of social and cultural dynamics within the public sphere. Currently, my research has been primarily directed at understanding the urban conditions in spaces of conflict. These are often spaces, cities, or countries that have been affected by wars, political turmoil, social disparities, or natural disasters. My research attempts to understand the forces of conflict and the challenges they place on the development of urban environments. Currently, this research is explored through cartographic practices and photography, specifically in Syria and Lebanon, looking at context and identity. This research began as a way to understand the complexities existing in the Middle East, with a desire to contribute to the landscape in the region.
Why is now such an exciting time to study urbanism and architecture?
It’s both an exciting and challenging time to study urbanism and architecture. The changes in recent decades are rapidly affecting the access we have to spaces, the way we use them, and the way we interact with people within them. The factors are many: you can attribute this to the development of technology, the depletion of resources and climate change, social disparities, economic fluxes, and even humanitarian issues. Currently, there are more displaced persons than there were during World War II! Now more than ever, there are opportunities to translate the imaginative, theoretical, and farfetched into real long-lasting spatial impacts.
Any advice to current students?
Explore several mediums when presenting your ideas—read, write, make, draw, build, curate, discuss, teach—you’ll be surprised what emerges when you engage in more than one medium. Find inspiration outside of architecture. Architecture school is quite demanding but don’t lose interest in the hobbies and activities you took part in while growing up; you’ll regret giving them up and they often can be integrated into your work and lead to a unique perspective. An education in architecture is invaluable; it’s a way of thinking that can be used in several fields. The way you are taught to iterate and critically address a project through creative solutions can be translated to so many things. Don’t limit yourself. The skills you acquire here will take you a long way. Be critical, understand your surroundings, and start questioning how you can intervene to make a mark on society.