Office dA: Building Pedagogies

Nader Tehrani, head of the Department of Architecture (from 2010-2014), has recently won two highly competitive architectural competitions with his partner in Office dA, Monica Ponce de Leon. The resulting commissions, to design new campus facilities for schools of architecture, were central features in Office dA: Building Pedagogies, on display through April 11.

From a field of 133 submissions, the University of Melbourne commissioned Office dA, with local firm John Wardle Architects, to design a new landmark building for their Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. The building includes dedicated spaces for research into sustainable precinct design and performance, along with lecture theatres, a library, exhibition and specialist workshop spaces. Dean Tom Kvan said the scheme showed a strong understanding of educational, environmental and social issues in a design that would generate excitement for all their staff and students.

In a similar competition, the University of Toronto commissioned a project to address the accelerated growth of programs and research in their John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The project includes a new auditorium, a vertical staggered atrium, upgraded studio and meeting spaces, a rooftop library and adjoining greened terrace with views of downtown Toronto. The scheme aspires to meet the highest possible standards of environmental sustainability and performance.

According to Dean Richard M. Sommer, ‘Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani are not only among the most innovative and accomplished young practitioners in North America…[they] are also distinguished educators. Their approach to the project and their scheme masterfully balance the need to create an internal life and coherence for student-centered, studio-based studies with a requirement that the school become a better platform for engaging the public on issues of architecture, landscape architecture and urbanism.’

All these clients demanded that the relationship of practice and pedagogy be revisited through the design of their buildings, essentially as didactic instruments for the discipline. Using the design development of the three schools as focal points, the exhibition examined the roles played by design, pedagogy and building in Office dA’s work.

‘Of the commissions one could have the honor of being bestowed,’ Tehrani said, ‘[these are among] the greatest – where questions of pedagogy and design come into direct contact, confluence and friction. It is a rare occasion when one's client is one's best collaborator and fiercest critic all at once…we look forward to this as a significant opportunity and a design challenge.’

Office dA has received considerable acclaim for its work, including an award in architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and nine Progressive Architecture Awards in architecture and urban design. Recently, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum honored Office dA with the prestigious National Design Award in architecture.