Headshot of Andrea Leers

Portman Prize Critic: Architects Must Think
Simultaneously About Design Dimensions

Portman Prize Critic: Architects Must Think
Simultaneously About Design Dimensions

Wes McRae | November 17, 2023 – Atlanta, GA

In this year's Portman Prize Critic Lecture, Andrea Leers acknowledged that the exceptionally difficult challenges facing designers today — climate change, social inequity — might seem to require highly specialized responses. Instead, Leers said, "We can't think of these things separately, and we don't solve for them separately. It's the doing of it all together that lets them energize each other. We need to think holistically and simultaneously about  the many dimensions of design."

"What we design is always somewhere, and that somewhere is the beginning point of thinking," Leers said. "What kind of climate, what kind of geography, what is the cultural history? We design something, so we have to think about the choice of materials and using old materials in new ways. We design for someone, so we have to think about creating spaces to support human activities and community"

"From the most domestic scale to a really broad infrastructure scale, our challenge as architects is how to think about someplace, something, and someone in every aspect of design," she said.

Leers used recent Leers Weinzapfel Associates' university building projects as examples, explaining design decisions through the process from concept to realization. Projects include Adohi Hall at the University of Arkansas, which is the first large-scale mass timber residence hall and was the largest cross-laminated timber (CLT) building at its completion in 2019; the John W. Olver Design Building at University of Massachusetts, the first and largest CLT academic building in the US; and the in-progress Davis Center at Williams College, renovating and adding on to existing houses to create an inclusive community center that pursues four petals of the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification.

As part of the Portman Visiting Critic Program, Leers will help inspire students in the Portman Prize Studio for the 2023-24 academic year.

"Since 2000, the Portman Visiting Critic Program has fostered design excellence and student creativity in the School of Architecture here at Georgia Tech," said Julie Kim, chair of the School. "This gift has allowed the School to invite an incredible set of thought leaders in practice, who challenge and stretch the perceived limits of our discipline."

"I'm grateful for the support of the Portman Foundation for their unflagging commitment to advancing design discourse through this signature studio experience for our professional degree program."


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