One-on-one with Dennis Andrejko

Building blocks to a sustainable future

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Dennis Andrejko is chairperson of RIT’s new Master in Architecture program. He recently spoke with University News senior communication specialist Kevin Fuller about his new role, how the program’s focus on sustainability is especially important to students and faculty and how the program will play a part in reducing our carbon footprint.

Age: “Age does not imply wisdom, nor does youth vigor.”

Former position: University at Buffalo, Department of Architecture

Education: Bachelor of Architecture, Arizona State University; Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hometown: Ontario, Calif.

Question: Talk a little about your background and how it led you to RIT’s new architecture program.

Answer: I grew up as a young child in the ’60s in California and was influenced a little bit by ecology and environment. I always had an interest in nature and the environment. I even enjoyed reading (Henry David) Thoreau when I was in college. I went to school at Arizona State. Even from the beginning and going to school in Arizona, the different climates in Arizona and Southern California were a challenge, in terms of smog and pollution, traffic, congestion. What does all that mean? Do we become a part of the environment around us or apart from the environment? Mostly all of my explorative things in architecture school were thinking about this relationship to nature.

Q: Although sustainable architecture is relatively new, are there any architects out there who have influenced your work or career?

A: I was influenced by architects like Le Corbusier, who was a brutalist, but he used raw materials like concrete. It was how he expressed those forms. Sometimes they were just objects on the landscape. It was always an exploration of the materials. Others like Greene and Greene, (Bernard Ralph) Maybeck. These were architects around the turn of the century who were using more natural resources like wood, local materials, those kinds of things. Frank Lloyd Wright—a big influence. Thinking about site, thinking about climate, thinking about context—and ultimately thinking about client.

Q: How is sustainability changing the architecture and design world?

A: Sustainability has always been around, but the design thinking as a label hasn’t always been around. It is about sustainable thought. It’s about resources. The other avenue that has come into play as a competitor is the primacy toward technology. As we have evolved, technology has allowed us to become supreme. I challenge my students all the time. Would you like to go without your iPhone? Would you like to go without your computer? Technology has allowed us to get where we are today, in a very positive way. As architecture evolved, it was really apart from nature. It was technology dominant. What does that primacy toward technology mean toward the primacy of nature? It’s people becoming more aware of that relationship. How can we best grab onto and not take advantage of technology? How do you best strike a balance? And it’s all about good design.

Q: As sustainability efforts evolve, can sustainable architecture become more affordable or mainstream?

A: Sustainability is not yet mainstreamed, but that’s our goal. Sustainability is just the right thing to do. I have said—and I will continue to say—that the right type of architectural exploration is sustainable architecture. We are not there yet, but a focus of this program is to mainstream it, ultimately.

Q: Where can RIT and the Rochester community benefit most in terms of offering a Master of Architecture degree focusing on sustainability?

A: I look at the Master of Architecture program as a bridge program. The future of architecture is vested in a collaborative between leaders investing in the environment. It takes a team effort. One of the strongest proponents of getting this program off the ground was the local architecture community. We want to be a backer. We want to be a supporter. The professional community knows it’s only going to benefit them and how they serve. The architect’s goal is service to society. That’s really what we do. We are public servants. Our goal is to make it better for you to live, to work, to play. If they can be a part of the team that got this together then they can enrich their offering to the community. Public service and service to society is the biggest value to elevate us as architecture professionals.

Q: Is sustainability a fad or is it something you see as the future of architecture and the design world?

A: Unfortunately, there are two things that get us thinking and it’s usually a result of being reactive instead of proactive. People will buy anything that is hot and in demand. Unfortunately, that’s how we think. A fad gets us thinking. We have to be proactive. Unfortunately, disasters and fads happen. Sustainability shouldn’t be a fad. We need to mainstream it.