In the framework of the ACE-UIA International Conference on Design Competitions, ACE talked with Eva Jiřičná to discuss her vision regarding quality in the built environment, a roadmap for creative process, regulations, women in architecture and nature...
ACE: Last month, during the ACE-UIA International Conference on Design Competitions in Paris, you took part in the second panel discussion on how to promote quality. Can you tell us more about what is the meaning of quality for you.
Eva Jiřičná: The simple expression "quality” means many different things. Of course anything that comes from an architect's hands is expected to be of a very high design quality. The object or product has to be visually pleasing, design has to be well balanced and suitable for its purpose and has to give us a confidence that the author was a professional who knew what he was doing and sufficiently experienced to master his task. On the other hand, we also expect the product to function well and to be made of materials that are appropriate for the purpose, last well and are easy to maintain. The object has to be good value for money and has to be user friendly... One could continue almost endlessly but there is one thing that has to be added. Quality has many different levels. There is a difference between designing for students’ hostels or five star hotels, for retail units with second hand goods or designer boutiques...It comes down to the distribution of money and setting of priorities which lead architects to arrange different types of quality in a specific order. We approach the project differently if we are designing a school in Africa paid for by a charity or an experimental high-tech research unit at one of the top Universities. Whatever we do we always work with a budget or a cost limit, but we have to make the right choices.
ACE: Talent, modesty, discipline, effort, experience, courage, luck... During the ICDC, you presented a roadmap for successful projects. Can you tell us more about this approach in the design approach?
Eva Jiřičná: Some time ago somebody approached me and asked if i could describe a Design Process or simply "How we do it”. I have been thinking about it and since an architect is always close to a piece of paper and a pencil, I drew that little sketch which has become quite well known.... It simply shows that there is a long journey from inception to completion and that journey is very often complicated and not straight forward. I also put in the qualities of an architect and the amount of work he has to invest in every project. And - at the end of it there is no guarantee the result is going to be a great success!
ACE: In your view, what is the relevance of architectural policies?
Eva Jiřičná: I am not absolutely sure if I understand the question correctly. If you mean planning policies and restrictions some of them are compulsory and some of them like all the "green Issues” are more to do with our responsibilities and conscience ... I always try to understand the limits (policies or whatever other limits or restrictions we have to face) and if I agree I accept them if I do not agree I argue.... But admittedly not very successfully in many cases....
ACE: In 2013, you won the Jane Drew Prize for your outstanding contribution to the status of women in architecture. Is there a transformation happening in the architectural world? What are the biggest challenges for women in architecture?
Eva Jiřičná: I qualified as an architect at Prague in 1962. Yes, it is not a mistake. There were over 70 students in my year and only 6 women. There were practically no women's toilets at the School of Architecture which is a small but very indicative fact... There are more women students on most of the Architectural Schools in Europe and USA and they are doing brilliantly well! There are offices with women architects in a very high proportion. RIBA had several women presidents etc. etc. Yes, the situation has changed a great deal. But there are still problems and there is a journey to take. The biggest challenge for me is to stop talking about Women Architects and stick to Architects... The adjective is not necessary....
ACE: In terms of materials, how do you think your projects will age?
Eva Jiřičná: I do not think the problem of projects aging is in the materials but the quality of the design. If the projects function well and the aesthetics are timeless (perhaps not irritating for the new generation is more appropriate) then it could continue living for a long time. Unfortunately, the present technology is letting us down... Everything changes in the profession electrics, computer technologies, and different ways of working, lighting, methods of constructions and materials... In my more than 50 years of practical experience there are things that disappeared and others that changed - I only get upset if the "replacement" is much worse than what was there before...
ACE: "Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep”-Le Corbusier, August27, 1965 » Light is key for you. A lot of your projects include a very organic approach. What is your relationship with nature?
Eva Jiřičná: The more I work and the longer I live, the more I am convinced that the answer to all the problems our world is facing could be resolved by better knowledge of nature. Nature has all the secrets for a perfect life on this planet if we learn to understand it. I get inspired, constantly astonished and surprised by nature and look for inspiration in nature from the beginning to the end.
ACE: Where do you find your inspiration?
Eva Jiřičná: As previously mentioned Nature is a permanent source of inspiration - there is an unlimited richness in everything Nature provides. But inspiration can come from anywhere - children’s drawings, high-tech objects, books, thoughts, people’s behaviour- everything around us can give us that little impulse which starts the chain reaction...
ACE: Alejandro Aravena directs those just starting out to be as nerdy, free, and rebellious as possible. What is your advice for young architects?
Eva Jiřičná: My advice is not as radical as Alejandro's. I know that if you love doing something you will do it well. And that love of what you are doing is going to make you put all your energy into, gives you the strength to fight for it and defend it if necessary and mainly gives you the pleasure of life.