Learning to respect others
When Marilyne Andersen was elected Dean of the ENAC in 2013, she was not just the first physicist to hold this post in a school regrouping architecture, civil and environmental engineering, she was also the first woman and by far the youngest dean in the history of the EPFL. As head of a faculty of about 800, with more than 60 professors and research laboratories focusing on subjects that range from architectural theory to environmental toxicology, Marilyne Andersen has her own view on how interdisciplinary cooperation functions. “A lot of people are involved in designing a building. This can be compared to a long chain where everybody holds hands, receiving information from the previous person and passing it on to the next one. If the whole chain is organised in a linear manner, progress is very hard. One person who lets go of one hand by stepping forward is sufficient to break the chain and make the project grind to a halt. Furthermore, it can be difficult to move all the disciplines into the same direction at the same time. In my opinion, the chain should be organised more like a circle, where each person talks to another. The architect still remains the ‘master of ceremony’ but he is probably not the only decision-maker. If he establishes a dialogue with the other stakeholders early in the design process, then the design might also be influenced by the structural engineer or the energy consultant. This kind of collaboration will make the proposal more viable and the chain will be easier to deal with afterwards.”
The people involved in the process do not necessarily have to be all-rounders. For Marilyne Andersen a deep knowledge of one’s own discipline is of primary importance. This should be combined with the ability listen to other disciplines, while not necessarily speaking their (specialist) language. Respect for the skills and capabilities of the other planning partners and a willingness to regard partners as equals is indispensable. “What is important is that people stay strong in their own discipline, because if everyone becomes a generalist, you don’t get anything good. On the other hand, people have to be comfortable with dealing with others who don’t speak their language. Learning this is very important and has to happen already at university. We teach our students to accept interdisciplinary collaboration as an interesting challenge, get familiar with it and consider it an enrichment to have someone with a different background collaborating on the same project. This mind-set enables them to achieve things that they could never have achieved alone.”
Similar prerequisites also apply to the teaching staff at ENAC. According to Marilyne Andersen, they need a sort of ‘T-shaped’ qualification: “We need disciplinary depth but teaching at ENAC also requires an open mind and curiosity towards other disciplines to build ties and develop new ideas at the interface of domains.”
Contrary to faculties at other universities, ENAC introduces interdisciplinary collaboration early on in undergraduate education. In the second year, all students – architects, environmental engineers and civil engineers − take a one-week intensive course together, co-taught by professors from different disciplines. “They are faced with a problem that they couldn’t solve alone and for which they have to combine their skills,” says Marilyne Andersen. “This is usually a quite successful venture for the students. It’s hard to organise, but it’s highly enriching. We repeat it in a different format in the third year, with one afternoon per week over a semester, where they also collaborate on a project in order to foster this exchange.”
Many paths lead to better knowledge
In her career as a researcher, Marilyne Andersen has acquired extensive expertise in dynamic daylight simulations. In her own teaching, she focuses keenly on simulations to give students a better understanding of daylight. But this year she will be expanding her repertoire to take account of other, unquantifiable properties of light. “We will use physical models to explore the qualitative aspects of light, supported by simple tools like the heliodon to understand and anticipate sun courses and shadows. We will use photography and drawings to capture a lighting atmosphere that the students then try to recreate in a physical model. Afterwards, they photograph the model and use this as the objective to attain in a computer simulation.
The experience of actual, built space allows us to better understand the connection between numbers and actual conditions in terms of glare, illumination levels, views out and other daylight-related aspects. Rather than saying ‘I need 300 lux on the work plane’, the ambition is to imagine a specific atmosphere in a space and then try to turn it into reality.” Subsequently, the lighting scenario is validated through a quantitative, simulation-based approach.
In Marilyne Andersen’s opinion, simulations are especially suitable for anticipating the dynamic changes in the levels of daylight – something no other approach can achieve – and for making quantitative predictions. “There have been many attempts to make simulations usable at early design stages. This is difficult, however, because it requires decisions that cannot readily be made and an accuracy that is hard to achieve early on in the process. Physical models, by comparison, allow a straightforward approach to assessing the qualitative aspects of light. They are almost useless, however, when it comes to quantitative evaluations and