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Early Experiments in Rethinking Architectural Practice by Nicolás Delgado Alcega

On March 4th, 2021 LA.IDEA AIA|DC hosted its first event of the year 2021, presented by the emerging designer Nicolás Delgado Alcega, a recent Harvard GSD graduate and principal of Alliata / Alcega based in Rome.

Nicolás explored the constraints we are all bound to deal with as Architects, and highlighted the opportunities that our work has to promote tangible change in the world we inhabit. Through a deep dive into architectural history and theory, the audience was initially guided through various facets of architecture that have embodied the profession from the times of Vitruvius and the Italian Renaissance, such as the acts of thinking, discussing,, envisioning, drawing and writing. In the 15th century architects were already visionaries and givers of forms - thinking big while crafting small details, and this dichotomy between scales of thought and impact has been present in the profession ever since.

He continued to highlight that there is currently a momentous shift that is bringing a greater focus to the inequality within the built environment and work places, as society faces the threats of climate change and unpredictable politics. As humanity might be reaching the brink of collapse in different ways, it becomes essential to implement a more complete approach within the practice, for architects to continue to develop the cities around us. Both theoretical and built projects offer avenues for investigating the built environment and how it affects the world - and the plurality of expressions of architecture all have a place as a response to our times.

Watch the full event video HERE. This presentation was AIA accredited and provided the attendees with 1.5 LU’s.

“Every time you start a new project, you will feel unprepared in one way or another. So don’t let that stop you now.” - Carie Penabad, Cúre and Penabad

As a reaction to the forces of development, with a stand on design quality, indoor comfort, urban betterment, and professional practice disruption Delgado Alcega showcased an experimental project that was developed during the time he was getting his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami alongside his classmates; Claudia Ansorena, Rogelio Cadena, and Gerardo Delgadillo. In addition, they were accompanied by their mentor, architect of record and design collaborator, Jorge Trelles.

For this project, the students became the designers, developers, and property managers of their own built project. It became a tool of discourse to various architectural ambitions and questions that were ultimately translated into brick and mortar. A site in an underserved neighborhood was selected, and the team studied different cities around the world whose urban and architectural qualities they looked to translate into a vision of a better Miami. Taking into account that the University of Miami architecture program centers its education on architecture being a form of civic art within the city, Nicolas and his peers developed a building prototype after examining it through different lenses and scales.

As they were developing the architectural project, the need to handle the enterprise of architecture and construction and its complexities became real, as well as the importance of community – teachers, friends, family, team members – who came together during the hardest parts of the project and helped the team solve a myriad of difficulties in trying to bring the project to fruition. They were eventually able to raise the capital needed to begin the building process and acquire the loans needed to get the final product.

The prototype was designed with a different urban proposition by pushing parking spaces to the rear of the property and building a facade in close proximity to the sidewalk and street (changing the existing relationship between pedestrians, cars and the streetscape), and the architecture was developed around a courtyard. The courtyard became an essential piece of the design which created a center, a place of encounter, an organizational piece and a space that created different opportunities to be explored during the contrasting living situations the building could offer while allowing for passive cooling design strategies to work in an extremely hot city . The building has 4 two-bedroom units available to be rented for short term stays, and have become housing for local students and hospital care personnel.

The building has been successful as it opened its doors to tenants, and its living units have been 100% occupied since its completion. Nicolás highlighted the overwhelming support he and his teammates received from those around them. He included that without conviction and naiveness it is unlikely the project would have had the success it did. The continuous help from their mentors, teachers and colleagues was essential in pushing through to bring the project to fruition. Now, most of the team members have gone off to begin their own practices, continue their studies at Harvard, Yale and MIT, as well as teaching at different universities, but this practical experience in all areas of design and construction has proven to be crucial in their development as Architects.

Nicolás Delgado Alcega is involved in teaching, practice and publishing. He is a principal of Alliata / Alcega, a design and research studio based in Rome, and a Lecturer at the University of Washington's College of Built Environments. Delgado Alcega is also a founding editor of ​Pairs,​ a journal dedicated to conversations with designers, academics and activists involved in issues of the built environment, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His work across these fields tackles the ways in which architecture’s reflexive capacity can best affect the social, political and economic phenomena transforming cities and towns today. Delgado Alcega received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami and a Master in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is originally from Venezuela and previously worked in an architecture and urban design practice, a graphic design studio, an archaeological excavation, and a film-making atelier.

Juliane Trindade, LA.IDEA’s 2021 Past-Chair, moderated a Q&A session with questions from the attendees through the Zoom chat, which addressed the way the project was nurtured by historical studies of successful urban areas and architectural typologies, the lessons learned and potential replication of this model in the future, and a conversation about the dichotomy between timeline and requirements to obtain licensure in the US versus the hands on experience a project like this could provide the designers.

Special thanks to the AIA|DC for facilitating the platform to provide this presentation and to Juliane Trindade of LA.IDEA|DC for coordinating the event.

Event Sponsored by Eduardo Diaz

Blog written by Daniela Pardo

LA.IDEA's 2021 Vice-Chair


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