Hadrian Predock Q&A

Hadrian Predock Q&A

Award-winning architect Hadrian Predock is the new incoming Director of Undergraduate Programs, taking over the position from outgoing Alice Kimm, FAIA who, after occupying the role for four years, is returning to full-time practice. Prior to joining the USC School of Architecture, Predock, co-founder of notable Los Angeles firm Predock_Frane Architects, was on the design faculty at UCLA’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design.


Predock’s work, which includes innovative approaches to residential design, cultural institutions, housing, retail, as well as art installations and furniture, has been honored with numerous awards, including AIA Design Awards and being selected for the Venice Biennale and other international exhibitions. On three occasions he has been awarded the AIA’s top design award, the AIA Honor Award. Distinguished work includes the Getty Center’s New Family Room, the contemplation space, Acqua Alta, and a new twist on the urban infill housing typology, Habitat 15. In 2004 Predock was named to the Architectural League's Emerging Voices series. He received his B. Arch. from the University of New Mexico and his M.Arch. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.


Guy Horton spoke with Predock about what he is looking forward to in his new role, the challenges that lie ahead, and architecture as a lifelong “project”. 


Guy Horton: What are your chief interests in directing the undergraduate program at USC?

Hadrian Predock: Firstly, Dean Ma, Gail Borden and Alice Kimm have done a fantastic job shaping the program, which makes it an ideal time to join USC. My primary interests in directing the program include a few different areas that in combination will lead to a more defined identity, giving the school stronger visibility and a higher caliber of design thinking and excellence.  I have a strong personal interest in crafting curricula and pedagogy. Undergraduate education in architecture should be teaching students to be strong thinkers as well as strong makers - a comprehensive student. So I will be observing the current curriculum and looking for opportunities where the studio sequence and other courses can further challenge our future architects. Buildings are mute, so they ultimately need someone to be able to speak for them. As architects we should be able to articulate a disciplinary set of concerns that are deep and broad.


What are the current trajectories in architecture? How does USC frame itself within these? How is the architect's relationship to technology changing? These are interests that I would like to make an active conversation at the school.


Another interest is in student culture and promoting an active studio environment. The students ultimately bring the critical mass of energy to the school to keep momentum going, so I will be interested in interacting with students and student groups to promote student culture as a central part of the school. 


I'm also interested in establishing an ambitious exhibition program that creates strong visibility for the school while contributing to the larger architectural community in Los Angeles and beyond.


GH: Where would you like to take the program?

HP: USC is a large undergrad program that thrives on a multiplicity of perspectives and strains of thought. It is not a small boutique environment under a singular heading.  The scale of the program therefore needs coherence in order to resist becoming generic or fragmentary. What brings specificity to USC so that it looks and feels like USC and not any other comparably sized program in the country? This is a central question for me. Topics like locale, representation, technology, content, and format all contribute to definition and ultimately identity. While I have a lot to learn about the program during the coming months, I imagine steering the program toward a more specific identity that is recognizable through student work, the website, social media channels, and becomes part of the collective conversation within and outside of the discipline. I imagine that a deep engagement with the city of Los Angeles itself will have a strong bearing on this question of identity.


GH: How do you envision the program setting itself apart from other programs at other universities?

HP: This is again, a question of identity and resisting a genercism that can emerge when many schools of architecture are doing the same thing at the same time. USC should territorialize the city as subject - both in historical and contemporary terms. There can be various modes of teaching and thought (digital, material, formal, etc) but if they are all working under a similar thematic overlay or ambition, then there will be cohesion and specificity. Producing coherence in other ways, such as through particular modes of representation, or having a defined problem in the studio sequence that no other school has, leads to a more specific identity. The emergence of new events that are driven by students can also catalyze schools to produce their own internal cultures which are then expressed and communicated to the larger architectural and design sphere. I will advocate and support any of these measures to set the school apart.


GH: What do you feel you bring to the program as a practitioner and educator?

HP: The dual role of practitioner/educator allows me to have one foot in an internal disciplinary world where there is an absolute freedom to talk and think about architecture without constraint, while having another foot in the world of practice which is a world in which the architect must be skilled at mediating between the discipline of architecture and other cultural domains. This is a very privileged and lucky position to be in, as it allows for a broad perspective and for long-term personal growth. While there are fundamental differences between practice and academia,  I ultimately see the dichotomy between the two to be a false one. In my experience there is a seamless and natural interchange between the two worlds that can produce a lifelong "project" in architecture instead of a series of buildings. I want to bring this seamless understanding to the school and communicate this idea to future architects.


GH: What are you most looking forward to as you take on this new role?

HP: I am really excited about the future of the school and how I can contribute to conversations that will help to shape the program in positive ways. The interaction between administration, teaching and research will allow for a new mode of working for me, that will extend the boundaries of my professional life into new territory. I'm also really looking forward to getting to know the faculty and students and to help propel the program forward.


GH: How do you integrate your practice with pedagogical goals?

HP: The interplay between teaching and our practice is at times very interdependent/relational and at times about allowing for autonomy.  Partially this is a question of context - like whether the studio/course is a core/fundamentals pedagogy versus a more freely ranging topic studio - and partially a question of understanding the differences between a general disciplinary conversation and your intentions behind practicing.  In teaching within the core studio environment I try hard to work directly on fundamental disciplinary stuff that may or may not have much to do with my interests in practice, whereas in a topics environment I would likely research an area that I have a strong personal interest in. I view this interchange between authoring and relenting as incredibly productive, in that it constantly tests our assumptions as thinkers and designers, and creates a less stable plane of existence.  Extending into our practice, I believe there is a positive "vulnerability" that results out of this, causing us to question our own decisions more carefully while remaining within a very present, contemporary conversation. At times, though,  it's important to keep the work of our practice completely free of what might be happening in school. Otherwise, it risks being overwhelmed or over influenced, and losing sight of what drives the project of the office.


GH: What inspires you to serve as the director of a program like this?

HP: USC has an amazing history as an important architecture school that has produced significant figures in the world of architecture. The school has amazing potential because it is situated in what I consider to be the world's greatest city and the epicenter of global architecture in the early 21st century; to be given the opportunity to direct an undergraduate school of this caliber is an honor. It is incredibly humbling to be able to contribute to LA’s history and to know that we are in dialog with the vast landscape of architecture, architecture schools, and architects that have produced the significant architectural culture of this city.


GH: Who do you see as some of the critical differences between a 4-year undergrad program and our 5-year professional degree?

HP: The differences between a 4-year B.A./B.S. and a 5-year professional degree are about creating the right fit for a variety of  student types at different stages of development, interest and commitment. The 5-year degree is really tailored to students who live and breathe architecture at an early stage in their lives and are ready to immerse themselves in five intense years of evolving specialized study. The 4-year degree is designed for the student with a greater degree of uncertainty, where there is space and time built into the curriculum to allow for an exploration of a broader field of knowledge, and to test out a variety of areas without a total commitment to architecture right away - which may (or may not) come later in graduate school. There are many places of overlap between the two models and also areas of divergence, but neither one is necessarily better than the other - just different. My personal view is that, as educators, we should be supporting the broadening definition of what architecture is and means by tailoring different kinds of curriculum and degree models to this expanding field.


GH: Will you continue to teach and what draws you to teaching?

HP: Teaching is a primary component of the director position and I look forward to begin my teaching at USC in the Fall. Teaching is a way to produce a cross generational and cross cultural discourse that makes architecture exceed mere practice. As instructors we carry our histories, techniques, and knowledge and transmit these to the students, who in turn transmit their own generational interests and differences against ours. This friction is vital to the production and progression of all forms of thought and culture - especially in design and architecture.


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