This March, the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Grace La co-chaired the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s (ACSA) 107th annual conference, leading the three-day symposium at Carnegie Mellon University and a culminating exhibition, installed at the Carnegie Museum of Art. La was joined by co-chairs Jeremy Ficca, Associate Professor of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and director of its Design Fabrication Laboratory, and Amy Kulper, Associate Professor of Architecture and Department Head at the Rhode Island School of Design. At the GSD, La is Professor of Architecture and chair of the GSD’s Practice Platform. She also hosts the GSD podcast, “Talking Practice.”
Titled “Black Box: Articulating Architecture’s Core in the Post-Digital Era,” the 2019 ACSA conference took its inspiration from architectural critic Reyner Banham’s final essay, in which he described the discipline as a black box, a device known only through its inputs and outputs, but never through its content. In the nearly 30 years since that essay’s publication, the ACSA’s 2019 conference theme responds to field’s current post-digital moment, La observes, in which design has continued to broaden its arsenal of techniques and operate across an increasingly expanded field. Amid such expansion and diversification, the conference aimed to ask what constitutes the central tasks of an architect today, and sought paper and exhibition proposals around architecture’s core assertions, approaches, and techniques.
The response to this call generated 454 paper submissions and 226 drawing submissions, totaling nearly 700 entries—the ACSA’s highest response rate in the last decade.
The conference’s subsequent exhibition, “Drawing for the Design Imaginary,” was on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art for the week following the conference. Presenting works collected from around the world, the exhibition inquired upon the role of drawing for the design imaginary, and how such drawings might scaffold contemporary design thinking and pedagogy amid ongoing advancement in technology, simulation, and modeling.
Alongside La, the conference also featured GSD faculty Antoine Picon and Toshiko Mori, honored as Plenary Keynote and Topaz Medallion awardees respectively, as well as Michelle Chang, Iman Fayyad, Andrew Holder, Max Kuo, Megan Panzano, Tom De Paor, and Sergio Lopez Pineiro. Over 30 additional GSD alums and affiliates from all degree programs participated via delivery of papers, exhibition of projects, and moderation of sessions.
In addition to her GSD work, La is founding principal of LA DALLMAN Architects, internationally recognized for the integration of architecture, engineering, and landscape. Co-founded with James Dallman, LA DALLMAN is engaged in catalytic projects of diverse scale and type. Noted for works that expand the architect’s agency in the civic recalibration of infrastructure, public space and challenging sites, LA DALLMAN was named as an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York in 2010 and received the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence Silver Medal in 2007. In 2011, LA DALLMAN was the first practice in the United States to receive the Rice Design Alliance Prize, an international award recognizing exceptionally gifted architects in the early phase of their career. LA DALLMAN has also been awarded numerous professional honors, including architecture and engineering awards, as well as prizes in international design competitions.