Tigerman: I have a question about what you say about a series of smaller establishments within the larger envelope of the school. I am a Chicago booster. I love Chicago. I was born here. And I wonder, I’m hoping that there will be ways you can have an impact on Chicago, not just its architecture community, and not just here in Crown Hall or at IIT, but on the larger architecture community, and on the city. And your notion about research and how it could intersect with different disciplines, I would hope that would expand beyond this place—beginning with Chicago itself.
Arets: I agree completely. Over the last six years, I had a professorship in Berlin. I did six years in Berlin. I couldn’t help but think, why should I work in whatever other place when I’m in Berlin, and I have a city which has a tradition? Here in Chicago, I think I would really like to become a part of the city. I would like to learn more about it.
I would really like to, as you said, start to think about hybrid urban conditions. I believe strongly that people with different backgrounds can live in one building. The challenge for big cities is to make big buildings, and in these big buildings you can have a hybrid population. I think when the buildings are big, public space is extremely important. But you can live next to each other whether you have one background or the other. Whether you’re rich or not as rich. I think in a big city that should be possible.
That’s possible in cities like Amsterdam. But it depends on the urban structure of the city. I’m quite sure that we could do something like that. One thing we should not do is make an architectural school an island for only academic debate. I would really like to bring other debate into the school, and I would like to bring the school within the community of Chicago.
Tigerman: I’ll give you an example, in terms of architecture schools. There’s IIT, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Art Institute. But there is also a place called the University of Chicago, with which I’m somewhat familiar. My wife and I are on the visiting committee of the Divinity School. And it’s arguably the best Divinity School in the country. Arguably it’s the best university in between the mountain ranges, in terms of intellect.
It would be interesting in this spirit of breaking down barriers to find ways to introduce you to other cultures, intellectual and otherwise in Chicago, to find a way that the architecture school at IIT could be more integrative.
I can help with that. So let me start by saying my wife and I are going to invite you to dinner. I would like to bring some other people together to introduce them to you. So that interaction that you want to have here at the school, in this building, can actually reach beyond architecture, beyond IIT.
Arets: Yes, thank you very much. The school, the IIT campus, is a brilliant place. Since 1970, no academic building has been built here. Buildings like 3410 [South State Street], they could be cleaned a little bit. And there’s a big challenge now to build a new building: the Innovation Center [which will house workshops and media labs]. I think there’s a big challenge here at IIT, and the surrounding area, to develop this into an area where, besides IIT, a lot of people could work and live.
I think by densifying this area, this could also be over the next five or 10 years developed as an interesting new condition of Chicago. So we should concentrate on this area, the campus.
But of course I think IIT needs to have a debate with the city. And I think one of the important things we did at the Berlage, and what I learned from Alvin Boyarsky also, is that you have to bring the city into your house.
It’s the same thing you’re doing when you invite people. You’re not only inviting architects, but you’re also inviting artists, writers, or you invite maybe the baker or the butcher because you think you can have an interesting debate with those people.
That’s what you do in your house, and I think that’s also the way we should see an institution like this. It should also be in a way an open house. We have to understand what this place is, what the potential of this place is. Don’t forget, at IIT we have also a very interesting design school.
Tigerman: Yeah, but it’s downtown now.
Arets: It’s downtown, but it’s still part of Chicago. It’s part of IIT, and I think Patrick [Whitney] is doing a great job there. Of course, you can say it would have been for us better if it was our neighbor.
Tigerman: It was.
Arets: It was downstairs. But okay, schools became bigger. That’s the situation. Schools are different. I think we should not just mimic each other. I think having diversity and different points of view at different schools is as challenging as within each school having different professors and different studios who have a debate. Because without debate nothing goes.
Tigerman: Well, one thing I will say that Donna Robertson did do, is she brought in a certain number of theoretically inclined people that didn’t exist here before her time. And she got in a lot of trouble with the old-time faculty, the old guys about that. But she did that, and it was a refreshing change. This semester you had Brad Lynch teaching, and David Woodhouse, and Pat Natke. In other words, the better, younger, next generation of architects.
Of course, you’ve always had Jeanne Gang and John Ronan. And now Ross Wimer is doing a studio regularly. So you have some of the better people in town teaching here. The question is: What are they teaching, and is there interaction between what goes on here? And that’s what you’re talking about, and that sounds to me very healthy.
Arets: It is a big challenge.
Tigerman: It’s a huge challenge.
Arets: It’s a huge challenge, we know. I think we have to understand that a school like this should not be a school where units will do whatever they want. But a school should have a kind of direction, a kind of vision. Otherwise people are each doing their own studio, and maybe some are doing a studio five years in a row.
So I think that when we talk about debate, when we talk about having to communicate with Chicago, we also need to have a debate and communication within the school. And that’s one of the first things we have to establish here. I don’t say it’s not here …
Tigerman: No, actually some of the old guys, without naming names, the Mies acolytes, are still here teaching. And they tend to be somewhat—I’ll say reluctant—to engage across generations, across disciplines, across preconceptions. You have to find a way to break it. That’s part of what exists here, and you have to deal with it. It’s a part of what has happened here. It’s a great challenge and I wish you great luck with it.
In any case, I think having you here, having a person of quality, is really important. So many schools, deans, and directors of our architecture schools go from school to school to school. And they become administrators, and the schools are weak. All the second-rate schools do that. And it’s good to finally have an acknowledged, good architect with a theoretical background who does good work actually running a school. And it’s great for the city. So I just want to say thanks and welcome.