02/25/19 Faculty/Student Exhibition Spotlight: James Diewald


The USC Architecture Faculty/Student Exhibition Series is a program that profiles the work of a faculty member along with a selection of student projects from their studio or seminar. Next up in this semester’s series is lecturer James Diewald and his “Practical Grounds” exhibition, which examines contemporary trajectories of the metropolitan ground in teaching and practice. Student work is presented alongside a selection of large-scale commissions that operate between architectural and urban form. The work raises questions about the nature of public space, the role of landscape in urban environments, and the agency of the architect in development-driven projects.

What inspired this exhibition?

I lived in Vienna, Austria for a few years. During that time the Mariahilferstrasse, a street near my apartment, was converted into a ‘Begegnungszone’ (encounter zone). What was once a secondary commercial street became a seamless sequence of promenades, micro-parks and plazas that mixed vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes. This deliberate ambiguity of territory had significant aesthetic and cultural consequences. The exhibition is inspired by the productive ambiguity that comes from blending architecture, landscape and urban public space. 


More generally, what inspires your work?

I am interested in abstraction, ambiguity and the sublime. I am inspired by moments where I discover these qualities in the world. I spend as much time as possible in unfamiliar environments, such as the High Sierras or underwater.


Can you describe your process? 

I look for alignments between typology, geometry and context to identify approaches that are resonant, rigorous and unfamiliar. This typically involves a lot of back and forth between hand drawing and a digital model. Through this process of drawing I look to frame some simple question or statement that has cultural and disciplinary relevance and to identify critical precedents. I use the text and the precedents to refine and develop the work.


What do you hope viewers leave this exhibition with? 

I am interested in how architecture operates upon the urban field of the city. Towards this end, much of the agency of architecture resides in the interface between building and ground. I hope that the projects displayed in the exhibition will provide viewers with a few ways of thinking about how disciplinary thinking on this topic can be applied in both design studios and practice. 


Do you have any advice for current students of architecture?

Reflect on what you care about, distill that into simple terms with relevance to a variety of audiences, and apply that to your work.

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