Interview with Martha Thorne

02 / 20 / 2018

Martha Thorne is the Executive Director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize and Dean of the IE School of Architecture & Design, part of the innovative IE University in Madrid/Segovia. Since 2015 she has been a friend of the We Are Water Foundation and was recently a member of the judges’ panel at the One Day Design Challenge in Shanghai.

What do you think about the One Day Design Challenge initiative?

For Roca, it is a magnificent opportunity to reach out to young people, to convey the values of this 100-year old company, and it is also an opportunity for students to try out different designs and submit them for the judges’ panel’s appraisal. For me, a private company that goes beyond its mission to produce and sell products, focusing on contributing to the formation of the society where it operates and connecting with the local community, is extremely positive. 

What has it been like to be a member of the One Day Design Challenge judges’ panel?

It has been fantastic. The other members of the panel were very insightful, had a good eye, and the deliberation was arduous. Furthermore, the projects presented were highly varied and really good. 

Do you think that the hurry and the countdown encourage creativity among the designers?

I think that designers are always going to have to deal with difficult parameters in their day to day work. When these parameters are not there, creativity does not develop, because people tend not to focus. Therefore, having a limited amount of time, and a very specific challenge in terms of function and what to design, encourages creativity a great deal. We have been able to see this in many of the projects presented today. 

Do you think this type of event helps participants to launch their careers?

I think that when students or young designers face situations that are very similar to reality, even if it is for just a day as in this case, it becomes an unforgettable experience for their future careers.

As professionals, they will have to deal with competitions, clients, they will have to design objects with many limitations, so everything that represents training in an environment of this kind will certainly help them. 

In your opinion, what are the challenges that architects and designers will have to address in the near future?

I think that architects and designers are tackling globalisation and the same challenges that society as a whole is facing. It is possible for architects and designers to play a more important role, because our main challenges are manifested in the physical environment, whether we are talking about global warming, immigration or the rapid process of urbanisation. This is why the contribution of architects and designers will always be direct, real, and therefore extremely important. 

Do you think students are ready to tackle these challenges in the future?

It is interesting that when us educators are asked about education and about whether our students are ready for the challenges of the future, there are always two distinct parts in my response: the first is that if you are not ready, the only people responsible are myself, as the dean, and the teaching staff. We have the power to change education and to inspire our students, to teach them to see everything in perspective, to delve deeper into topics. On the other hand, in the field of architecture and design, knowledge and practice come through experience. When they graduate, they cannot be expected to be able to take on all the challenges. They need time, practice and experience. Our role as educators at IE is to provide them with a solid basis so that they can embark on their careers and, in truth, we are confident that they will become successful professionals who will make a difference. 

Do you think that the work of the We Are Water Foundation can have an impact in the future?

I think that foundations have an increasingly important role to play. Today, governments encounter many difficulties when it comes to carrying out this work and in many cases they are not able to do it. They should respond to their constituents, which means that a large portion of the global population which needs better access to water cannot find spokespersons to speak for them. This is why there is a need for foundations, especially those like the We Are Water Foundation. In my opinion, any private company that invests in this type of organisation and has a very clear mission, to educate people on the use of water and carry out initiatives in local communities, has significant value. Foundations play a very important role in society. 

As curator of the series of conferences “Spaces for women architects” held at the Roca Madrid Gallery, do you think that the role of women in architecture is fully recognised? Taking into account that the Pritzker Prize has only been won by three women, is this a reflection of the reality?

I am passionate about the role of women in architecture and I strive for them to be recognised for their talent and for them to find their rightful place. I think that when we look at the Pritzker Prize or at any prize of importance, we see that at present, many fewer women than men have received them, and this is probably due to many reasons, although in general it has to do with architecture as a profession. The awards are a reflection of society, and if the society isn’t always fair with women, if it doesn’t always recognise women, then the prizes will behave in the same way. This is why we need initiatives like “Spaces for women architects”, organised and sponsored by Roca in Madrid, and in other locations in the near future, to educate people, to make them understand the current situation, to show them the future opportunities and make them see that change is possible. So I think that although our history has not been the most outstanding, I do believe that changes are taking place in our present and future. Part of my task, together with Roca, is to encourage some of these changes.