PROFILE + INTERVIEW - INAKI ALDAY: ARCHITECT, PROFESSOR, & VORTEX MASTERMIND
UVA’s School of Architecture Department Chair Inaki Alday opens up about his thoughts on the inadequate state of University building, his struggles overcoming shyness, and the story of how the Vortex was conceived.
Where did the inspiration for the Vortex come from?
I think that the idea of the vortex is to get the school together and bring someone in to celebrate that, and to [make] very strong creative work. In a way, vortex began as a way to shake the school and to bring someone provocative from the outside and to ask a provocative question as well.
Were there any precedents for the Vortex?
Not exactly like this, but it started out as a competition that was organized by the community for the Belmont Bridge, so we decided to join that competition. The workshop took on that purpose , and then we decided to do the competition inside the workshop and submit to the general competition.
In its lifetime, what has been the biggest surprise with the Vortex?
Okay. The thing I’m most interested is in the passion that the young students have after this process. What struck me most was receiving letters and comments saying what transformational experience the Vortex is. This (the Vortex) is not something gradual, but quite different and it is eye-opening and unique.
So when you were coming up with the idea, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge was to convince people that this is possible. It’s not everyday that you put three hundred or four hundred people working together with one person as a guest critic. So the biggest challenge was to propose something that there was not a model for, because when you talk about something that you can make references for here and there, it’s easy. But when you begin with a group designing something that there is no clear precedent, how do you convince the people to jump into this unknown? He smiles. That’s probably the best challenge!
Where do you see the Vortex going in the upcoming years?
The Vortex has some very important characteristics. One thing is that the topic is relevant, outside of the School of Architecture, so we are engaging with topics that are important for the city. The first one was about urban infrastructures. The second one was about the relation between the river and the city. The third one was about the malls, the generic strip.
This fourth is about how you can recompose a campus in a university that has a very clear identity, but for a hundred years has been spread out without any idea or plan. This idea of engaging with real problems outside the School of Architecture can be explained anywhere because they are about universal problems.
What is something that no one in this school would know about you?
He laughs and pauses, staring out the window. I think that’s not true, but that I am very timid.
Could you elaborate a little? You are very timid in what way?
Oh, because I have to overcome very much to put myself in front of everyone, and try to do it and look like I enjoy it. But I have always been very timid and I am still very timid.
Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else about the Vortex that you would like to tell us?
Oh, well maybe just to reinforce a little bit what I was saying during the presentation of Sylvia Karres. For this Vortex, engaging with the University and taking on this strong topic of the residential college is a very important statement for this school to ask the University: How do you value architecture and design? So it’s critical. I mean, you look at the grounds and the architecture and public space on Grounds…there’s something missing.
It is very important that the University says architecture and design, landscape architecture, and planning are real estate, management, and business but [are these] part of the culture and the mission of the university? Health is a mission of the University, location is part of the mission of the University. Then there’s art grounds, and an arts committee—is architecture part of the mission of the University?
Is the University compelled, through the buildings and public space, to be part of the cultural discussion? We are supposed to be a University of excellence. Are we committed to being excellent in buildings? Excellent in design, in public space, just as Jefferson decided excellence in the physical environment was a critical part of the university? In that case, this has to be clear and some things have to change.