Grace O'Conner

Danielle Willkens, Assoc. AIA, is an assistant professor of architecture at Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design, and Construction who combines the old and the new in her teachings. As the recent winner of an AIAS/ACSA New Faculty Teaching Award, she’s finding that her unique blend of technology and history resonates well with today’s students.

I am very much a product of the amazing mentors I had in school, from my undergraduate studies through graduate school. I saw how they used academia as a platform for outreach, and thought it was a phenomenal way to make an impact. Not only are you shaping young minds, but you’re instilling new ideas as to what architecture can do, beyond just bricks and mortar.

I’m a self-described techie who also loves sitting in an archive and researching, and I try to marry both sides in my teaching style. It can be a struggle to prepare students for practice in a digital age while also helping them grasp traditional techniques and become more aware of their surroundings. Nothing has been taken off the plate for architectural education; we’re only adding to it. Our goal is to make a design education feel more like a network, where everything interrelates and comes together in numerous ways. There’s no perfect method for practice or education; we want to give our students room to develop their own voices and take advantage of the tools at their fingertips.

When it comes to diversifying architecture, it’s great to see our schools at roughly 50 percent female—but there is still that major drop-off when it comes to licensure. I’m fortunate to be part of a great movement working to amplify the voices of female designers and trying to highlight those who have been overlooked in the past. There are still stories left to be told and interesting research to be done, and we’re benefiting from being in a digital age where archives are digitized and the past is made available in ways never seen before. It opens a very interesting path for students, who are helping to uncover histories while building their own. — As told to Steve Cimino