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Member News: Teaching Architecture at the Edges of the World

Fiona Mckay

This article has been written as part of the AIA Newsletter’s commitment to up-to-date member news.  If you are aware of UK Chapter member’s involvement in other newsworthy projects or events, please bring them to our attention via a “comment” follow up note at the end of this article and we will endeavour to publish further feature articles.

While the rest of us maintain our careers – however volatile they may be – safely here in London, peripatetic architecture professor Marga Jann, AIA, RIBA, DPUC, continues to teach her particular brand of socio-environmentally aware, ‘live project’ design in places other architectural practitioners rarely venture.  

Since participating in the AIA UK chapter as UK Board Correspondent in 2010/11, Prof Jann – or more commonly, “Marga” - has held teaching positions in Uganda (2011-12) and Saudi Arabia (2013-14) as part of a Cambridge Visiting Fellow/Research Associate research project (2011 to date).  Exotic as these places may be, they merely follow her earlier experiences as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Sri Lanka (2005-6) and as a Visiting Professor in South Korea (2008-9) and Cyprus (2009-11).

Back ‘from the field’ in 2014, she returned to Cambridge for some well-earned rest and a chance to catch up with AIA UK colleagues. She also took the time to record her comparative teaching experiences as a lasting legacy.

Although she had planned to stay in Europe for the time, in 2015 she was invited to teach in The Bahamas and could not resist the offer.  After the rigours and political intrigues of Saudi Arabia, it was a welcome change to assume the duties of Visiting Associate Professor at the College of the Bahamas (COB) - an institute of higher education looking forward shortly to becoming a full university in line with its major role in the Caribbean. 

Marga’s first teaching priority is typically to get her architecture students involved in live community-service (‘hands-on’) projects. In the Bahamas, her first local contact was with the Adventure Learning Centre & Camp, founded in 1986. In collaboration with ALC Director, Tim Seeley, it was agreed that the COB architecture students should provide design input for two cottages scheduled for construction in 2016/17. These cottages were to employ the latest technology in solar energy and to serve as models for sustainable and affordable hurricane-resistant design throughout the islands, particularly in wake of Hurricane Joaquin.

Encouraged to be inventive while developing indigenous building themes, the resultant student designs included elevated structures; rainwater harvesting; edible landscaping; anti-mosquito screened porches and windows; hurricane shutters, sliding security doors; cooling and protective vegetal walls; natural, cross-ventilation; and solar roofing. For good measure, consideration was also given to seismic design and accessibility requirements. You can view more here and here.

Image: Junkanooer, 1 Jan 2016, Marga Jann

Image: Junkanooer, 1 Jan 2016, Marga Jann

This tropical initiative was seen both as an opportunity to share sound design principles with the larger Caribbean community and to help sustain the environment and culture through the encouragement of traditional ‘Bahamian aesthetics’ —especially with regard to local detailing and colour palette. On a wider level, Marga has been exploring the Bahamian ‘Junkanoo’ tradition and its potential to inform and positively impact future design projects. 

Will Marga settle in paradise? She has a US home base in Hawaii - where she has also taught - as well as in her native New York. However, as she puts it, ‘I have a propensity for islands and the Tropics, but am glad to serve where need should arise—there is so much design work to be done in the world, particularly in developing regions, if architects would only dare to reach out and explore more, particularly now that the “world is flat”.’

Author: Lorraine King

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