Interview w/ Peggy Deamer

9.18.2015

Interview by ROB YOOS (M.Arch ’17)

PEGGY DEAMER, Assistant Dean, architect, writer, and founder of the Architecture Lobby, took some time to answer questions about
independent studies, the Architecture Lobby, entrepreneurship

P: Peggy Deamer, R: Rob Yoos

 

R: What have you been working on this past summer?

P: Several things; continuing the research that I began this summer on the effects of the Sherman Antitrust Act on the profession of architecture. That was the Arnold W. Brunner Grant I used to produce what basically is a white paper. I have also largely been working on the Architecture Lobby. A lot of it is turning it into a non-profit organization. There are two levels of the non-profit; one is advocacy and one is education.
We are planning two events; one is in relation to the upcoming Architecture Biennial in Chicago and I encourage students to participate. We’re not one of the official invitees, but we are doing a kind of gorilla-renegade type installation at a gallery there. So there is a lot of work in preparation for that. One of the other things we are working on is making a proposal to be one of the participants in the 2016 Venice Biennale. The Architecture Lobby is growing, we’re starting student chapters, and there is a leadership kit going out for chapters at different schools across the country. I’m also overseeing the construction of a small house in New Zealand. I can also say, that when I’m in New Zealand, I am going to be an advocate for a couple of things, one of which being for women in the profession. I organized a symposium with Brian McGrath at the New School last April titled “Feminism and Architecture Part 2: Women, Architecture and Academia.” I will also be acting as an advocate for alternate forms of practice. Big firms do institutional buildings and small firms do houses, but you don’t hear about anybody who is actually thinking about collaboration, new materials, and alternate modes of working, and there’s not a real research culture there. So I’m planning on writing papers and giving talks to highlight these issues.

R: I’m curious if you’re familiar with the Martell Symposium at the University at Buffalo. It was titled “Beyond Patronage” and it highlighted twelve female architects exploring alternate modes of practice outside the typical relationship of architect and client including Georgeen Theodore, Lori Brown, Yolande Daniels, and Natalie Jerimijenko among others. Joyce Hwang and Martha Bohm organized this back in 2012 and they’ve been working on a book that is about to be published through Actar Publishers. However, the topic seems to have not gotten much attention within the broader architecture community since. I think there is definitely more that needs to be done to advocate for that part of the profession. Could this sort of research start with students at the independent level at school? What do you think the role of independent research for students is at Yale right now and would you like to see more of it?

P: I’d love to see more of it. The option to do your own independent research for credit is less taken advantage of than it used to be. There used to be many more students who would apply for that than do apply for it now. I think there is more complacency with the students around accepting the curriculum for what it is. I think it’s healthy for students to individualize their education and take advantage of Yale. It’s the perfect size and there is a sympathetic faculty. Students should take advantage of Yale to cater to their needs and desires a bit more. I think that’s a positive thing. How can you make the practice that you want as opposed to waiting for the bathroom? Independent research goes hand in hand with preparing yourself for something different. I don’t think our curriculum right now is set up to do that so well.

R: Independent research doesn’t seem to be as encouraged as maybe it should be.

P: No one’s there to encourage it. It’s for students to take advantage of. I don’t even know what encouragement would be. I’m not trying to blame the students, but just thinking about what the forum is for noting other courses that are in the book that you can take, including independent research.

R: Could you tell me a little bit more about the challenges working with the Architecture Lobby remotely from New Zealand? Is your goal more to set up a strong framework right now and then redistribute the power structure so that the organization can exist independently?

P: In some way there’s not an automatic compatibility with growing the Lobby and being abroad; I can say optimistically, however, that having this time gives me an opportunity to concentrate on the Lobby. One goal is to really diversify leadership. I do think it is the case that others count on me to initiate things and follow through on things. A lot of people spend lots of time and they’re fabulous, but it’s still the case where if I am not coordinating these interactions between people, they might not happen. I think everyone recognizes that and they don’t want that to be the case as much as I don’t want that to be the case. I can certainly monitor things like I do now, as long as I have internet. I think it will change things and I hope for the better. It could be that we could lose the momentum and I’m hoping that is certainly not the case.

R: Well, it seems that the Architecture Lobby already has a robust platform at Yale through the student body. There was definitely a ton of interest in it last year and I think that the momentum will carry on. I think it really is a responsibility of students to promote awareness among other architecture schools in our community to foster one big network of support. Hopefully we will see that happen over the next year. Are there other schools that have shown promise in developing their Architecture Lobbies?

P: The schools that have been the strongest so far are University of Michigan and IIT and I think they have (shown promise) because of particularly strong student leaders. Those two leaders have since graduated; the one at IIT is actually teaching there now so that can continue. I recently visited and there were a whole bunch of people there interested in participating so that group will definitely be intact. The person who is taking over at Michigan, we’ll see how that works. Those are already intact and growing. The Lobby at U.C. Berkeley is seeing considerable growth and we’ve recently been contacted by Temple University in Philadelphia and University of Maryland. SAIC in Chicago has also recently joined which really is great because that makes Chicago a city with two schools now affiliated with the Architecture Lobby and allows for conversation to exist between the two schools as opposed to being isolated in their efforts. We have someone who is interested in the Lobby from the University of Pennsylvania who doesn’t want to be a chapter head, but whose politics are in the right place and I suspect that other people in Philadelphia will express interest. And then there’s Columbia, which has been consistently strong and has recently composed a symposium that seems fairly robust.

R: It’s a matter of diversifying leadership among these separate schools. Is there potential for a unifying leadership among all of them at some point? Or could there be an annual student symposium similar to the way the student chapter of the AIAS functions?

P: I think that’s interesting. The answer to that is yes. I think we need to establish a balance between recognizing that schools all operate differently, the way students organize and how often or how much do they integrate with the student union etc., is very particular because at the same time there is a common structure so that everyone isn’t making it up on their own as they go. We’re planning a big town hall meeting in March that isn’t particularly organized around student leaders, but is more to attach labor discourse in architecture to larger labor issues so that we don’t see ourselves as part of a larger economic movement. The idea of having a student symposium is a fabulous idea and I think that would really be smart. Let me write that down! What has been so interesting for me has not just been the politics or whether the Lobby grows, but rather it’s just having people meet like-minded people who want to make a difference in our profession and community, and to me, that’s what this is really all about.