10/14/19 Faculty Spotlight: Sascha Delz
Dr. Sascha Delz will join the USC School of Architecture this spring as an assistant professor of architecture. Delz is an architect and researcher whose work focuses on how specific political-economic frameworks influence the manifestation of architecture, urban form, and living environments. He is the author of the forthcoming book Entanglements of Development - Urban Transformation and International Cooperation in Ethiopia, and the co-author of the forthcoming publication Housing the Co-op - A Micro-Political Manifesto.
Can you tell us about your background?
I am trained as an architect with a master’s degree from ETH Zurich. After working as a design architect in Zurich and New York, my interests shifted towards the urban realm, research, and education. I joined the team of professor Marc Angélil at ETH’s Department of Architecture to teach architecture and urban design studios, to work as a research associate, and to pursue a Ph.D. on contemporary urban transformations in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. During my doctoral studies I was a research fellow at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, and the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development in Addis Ababa. Since receiving my doctorate, I have held a postdoc position, collaborating on a research project on cooperative housing, teaching seminars for graduate and postgraduate students, and coordinating the newly established doctoral program in Landscape and Urban Studies at ETH Zurich.
What will you be teaching at USC Architecture?
I will teach undergraduate and graduate design studios with a focus on urban design strategies and housing. In addition, I will conduct a seminar addressing questions of collective housing and related challenges in urban design and planning.
What drew you to the USC School of Architecture?
In my opinion, the USC School of Architecture’s mission of educating ‘citizen architects’ pursues a bold and important objective that distinguishes itself from many other schools. The recently advertised positions show that there is a commitment to this cause not solely regarding content, but also by creating opportunities for young practitioners and academics to join the faculty and work on the stated objectives. Last but not least, situated in Los Angeles for 100 years, the USC School of Architecture is part of the history of one of the essential cities in modern architectural history and urban theory – which makes it a unique place to work, teach and research.
What excites you about your faculty role?
Despite having only met a small part of the faculty during my visit, I was impressed by the diverse, dynamic and open nature of the school, which is why I am very enthusiastic about joining the team. I also hope that, as part of a group of new faculty members, I can contribute additional perspectives and experiences to the already existing expertise in teaching and research. Moreover, I am particularly looking forward to supporting and further developing the School’s aim to strengthen the fields of urban design and urbanism. Here, I see a great potential for collaborations and common projects across the faculty, or with other USC schools, civic institutions and private actors.
What are your thoughts on the current state of architecture across the globe?
I think our profession is at yet another turning point, which makes me rather excited to be able to teach architecture and do urban research at this moment in time. Architecture and urban design, again, are seen as practices that have wider responsibilities, potentials, and effects within a society than just being part of self-referential discussions on aesthetics, functionality, or technological progress. Of course, such directions and shifts are not new: the early modernists, for instance, had a clear social agenda, and some of the initial critics of the modern era were engaged with environmentalist issues, alternative societal models and other kinds of experimentations during the 1960s and 1970s. What I conceive as different now is that architecture’s boundaries are expanded, integrated and sometimes dissolved by a highly interelational approach that consciously understands architecture as deeply imbedded in particular social, political, economic, and technological environments – both globally and locally. This might be architecture’s greatest adventure yet, because it situates our profession in a truly transdisciplinary, collaborative environment where we still have to do things we are used to, but we must be open to new disciplines and learn from stakeholders that traditionally have been faded out from our education and profession. In this way, I hope that architectural practice can become a vibrant, adequate and effective collaborator for engaging with people’s, society’s and the environment’s short and long-term challenges.
Who or what inspires you?
Studying architecture has irrevocably changed my everyday perception of the world by increasing my awareness of the environment through the lens of spatial relations, dimensions, and configurations. Linking these physical realities of the everyday to more abstract processes and theoretical considerations has been a vital source of motivation ever since: with every meter I move, I see things that interest me, challenge me and make me think about why things are the way they are, how they could be highlighted, transformed or improved. Studying architecture introduced me to the world of design, which altered my thinking in ways I could not anticipate and still intrigues me on a daily basis. For me, the power of design does not solely lie in creating physical products and environments that are aesthetically, functionally, and socially considerate. I also understand design as a powerful process that enables us to critically question, negotiate, project, innovate and ultimately solve challenges in a creative way. So, as banal as it might sound, the main source of inspiration for me is the combination of thinking spatially, analytically and in terms of design, which allows the generation of ideas at almost every turn and from almost every source possible.
What are your research interests? What drew you to the work you are doing now?
During my studies, I often experienced a gap between two of my personal passions: my overall interest in global politics, economic development and questions of inequity and inequality, as well as my training as an architect to observe and analyze spatial configurations. The opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. opened the door to investigate the interrelations between these realms. So, on the most general level, my research addresses questions of how political, economic and technological activities influence spatial outcomes of urban planning, urban design and architecture – and vice versa. More specifically, I am interested in exploring these correlations with a focus on housing systems and urban infrastructure. At USC, I would like to further pursue and expand these research activities and investigate collective, affordable models of housing production, as well as integrative design strategies for urban infrastructure.
Why is now such an exciting time to study urbanism and architecture?
To me, social inequity and climate change are the biggest challenges ahead of us. The fact that cities are not only hosting the majority of the world’s population, but are also the largest consumers of resources and energy, means that critical aspects of these social and environmental challenges will have to be approached with, within and through the architectural and urban realm. I am convinced that to effectively and sustainably address these challenges – both on a local and a global scale – we will have to overcome disciplinary, cultural, and ideological boundaries and develop multidirectional, nondiscriminatory practices that include actors and knowledge from all parts of society and from all parts of the world. As difficult as this might be, it is surely an exciting prospect, because our professional expertise is an essential part of addressing these issues, and our engagement can ultimately make a real difference.
Any advice to current students?
Use your time at USC to explore, test and experiment! Keep track of your core interests and passions through which you think you ultimately can make a house, a city and our world a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable place. Regardless of what you do after your studies, I am convinced that even the smallest input, idea, or thought you might bring to a project from your perspective can have a vital impact.
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