What drew you to UC Berkeley and the CED?
As an architect interested in environmental design, building performance and the different ways to integrate architectural design and building physics, Berkeley has been a recurring name during my studies, first, and in my professional life later. It is hard to understate the importance that the research ecosystem within and around Berkeley has played in shaping current sustainable design practices and environmental analysis and design.
The work done within Berkeley at the CBE and around Berkeley at LBL have been powerful enablers of my own work and research. So in a way moving to Berkeley feels a bit like an intellectual homecoming, and I am both honored and humbled at joining this institution.
What ideas or movements within architecture have caught your attention? What are you currently interested in the field of architecture?
I think we are in a phase where architecture needs to rethink itself and its role in society. When you think about who is responsible for the current climate crisis, we do not usually think of architects and architecture, but the AEC industry overall is responsible for about one third of world wide emissions. We need to radically rethink our discipline’s tools to enable architecture to become part of the transition to a climate neutral society. My interest lies in how we can more broadly measure the built environment impact, both positive and negative, and how can we use this knowledge creatively to start envisaging a different approach to our built environment.
What was it like working at HENN and Foster+Partners? What role did you play and how will it shape your time at Wurster?
My work experience has been mainly in professional practices but still related to academia as I have always worked in or led practice-based research teams. At Foster+Partner in London, I have been an Environmental Design Specialist and member of their environmental and computational design unit, the Specialist Modeling Group (SMG), for 8 years when I left in 2015 as Associate Partner. I later founded the Performance Based Design team at HENN in Berlin and headed it for the past 5 years. I think both experiences taugh me a very pragmatic approach to research, as an ever more necessary part of any practice who aims to find genuine answers to the many pressing questions that weigh on our profession.
What was your favorite or most rewarding project as a student or in professional practice?
My favourite project as a student must certainly be my graduation thesis, that in 2005 imagined a network of bicycles as a micro-mobility solution for the city centre of my hometown, Rome, long before this was practiced across so many cities worldwide.
I have been lucky enough to work on some quite extraordinary projects in my career so far. While at F+P, I have been involved in projects like Masdar City, an -unfortunately failed- utopia of a sustainable city in the desert. I have also been heavily involved in truly ambitious projects like Apple Park and the European Bloomberg HQ. At HENN, I was fortunate to lead the design of an organically shaped public square in Darmstadt (Emanuel Merck Platz) and the first world wide carbon reinforced building, now starting construction, in collaboration with the Technical University in Dresden Among many other projects.
Certainly the design of the Bloomberg HQ in London holds a special place for me, as I have been involved in it since the very beginning. I was first in charge of developing the facade design concept and then heading the development of an innovative and patented multifunctional ceiling system.
How would you describe your teaching style and philosophy?
I hope I’ll be able to promote a collaborative atmosphere where students learn to develop, visualize and argue their ideas with the teachers and their peers in a creative and non-judgmental environment. I’ll put a lot of emphasis on the critical use of digital simulation tools as a guidance in the reasoning process that leads to an architectural project.
What are your thoughts on remote versus in-person teaching and how potentially teaching remotely will affect Fall semester?
It is going to be different from the traditional physical format of the studio for sure. Traditionally, you have those very physical experiences while discussing a design together; looking at a large format print of a proposal, crouching together over a physical model, sketching and drawing together. Those moments will of course no longer be possible at least in the short term. This is actually one of the reasons why reopening an architecture school might be more difficult during a pandemic than reopening, say, a law school. But every crisis is an opportunity for innovation and for growth.
How do you enable effective remote collaboration on an architecture project? How do you take full advantage of Mixed Reality and gaming technologies? Those were very relevant questions in any contemporary architecture practice even before Covid-19. They might have been brushed aside in the context of a design studio but now are more relevant than ever. We are currently tinkering on the various ways the perceived limitations can be turned into a creative stimulus and enable an even richer studio experience.
Have you taught a studio in the past and, if so, what did you think about the experience?
I have unfortunately a limited experience with teaching studios but the few experiences I’ve had have been really inspiring and energizing! I think it is such a fantastic opportunity to be able to guide bright, eager, young minds and I very much look forward to collecting more experience.
But I am very accustomed to working in a professional creative studio environment, reviewing and guiding early stage design proposals for, say, a competition or an early stage commission. I think there are quite a few similarities there, and I hope I will be able to bring this practice based approach in the classroom to prepare the students for what the industry might expect from them in terms of creative inputs and professional interaction.
What advice do you have for students in pursuing an architecture degree?
Don’t do it for the money.
Don’t do it for the glory.
Do it because you know it’s the most beautiful and fulfilling career path for you.
You'll literally be paid to imagine and build the future in what we will all live in.
CED welcomes Giovanni Betti, Assistant Professor of Architecture!