Longtime Faculty Member, Sigrid Miller Pollin Retires
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Sunday, September 15, 2019
It's with heavy hearts that we announce the retirement of Professor Sigrid Miller Pollin FAIA. Sigrid began her teaching career at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 1984 and joined the design faculty at UMass Amherst in 1998. Since then she has led seminars, undergraduate and graduate studios, and has become a much loved and respected member of the Department of Architecture.
Sigrid is known for her commitment to design excellence and an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, architecture, and art practices. She was elected to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows (FAIA) in 2009 and has received myriad awards, including the UMass Amherst Chancellor's Award for Creative Activity 2010, citations and awards for merit from AIA New England, AIA Western Massachusetts, and the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, and the BSA Women in Design Award of Excellence 2017. With her firm, Miller Pollin Architecture, Sigrid has designed residential projects in California and New England, commercial, and institutional projects, including the award-winning Gordon and Crotty Halls at UMass.
Sigrid took a few minutes to share some of her thoughts and memories of her time at UMass. If you would like to share a memory of your own, please click here to leave a message for Sigrid as she leaves UMass for the joys of semi-retirement.
What did you love most about teaching architecture?
Sigrid Miller Pollin: Teaching both undergrad and grad design studios was very rewarding. I found crafting design exercises to be a creative process. Design process methods such as cross media transformations can often lead to unexpected results for students. For example, in the undergraduate Design I sequence, a string of projects began with students photographing handshakes in the studio. This was a kind of first day ice breaker. Parts of these photos were then translated into dynamic drawings leading to concepts for spatial and material relationships such as interlocking. As students began thinking about the application of the evolving concepts in architectural design the now long-lived “cube project” entered the sequence. Concrete (pour stone) and wood interlocked to form beautiful cubes which were then studied in section for their spatial potential. Finally, at the end of the semester, these studies transformed into designs for habitable spaces. This sequence took on a life of its own after we introduced it many years ago. This has been fascinating and rewarding to see.
I also loved the “wild card” Grad 5 studio in which students experimented with space making through understanding the structural and esthetic qualities of materials in distinct categories such as sheet type, strand type, or cast/liquid, for example. In response to these categories they constructed amazing bridges of paper or impressive vertical constructs of chip board. In another design sequence spatial constructs made of wire and magnetic connections led to architectural concepts such as spatial extension or implied boundaries. ‘Great Spaces’ was a seminar I taught for many semesters. The course content stepped away from a chronological presentation of architectural history into studies of memorable spaces clustered together, based on common characteristics such as compression, transparency, verticality, or tectonic expression.
Teaching is a very humbling experience. You’re always finding out how little you know about the world. It is the “finding out” part that, for me anyway, provides a springboard for diving into the creative process in art and architecture.
Have you seen any significant changes that excite or concern you?
SMP: Of course, technological advances and social media have dramatically changed the life of the architecture student. There is so much in these advances that is incredibly productive and seductive-laser cut models, 3-d printing, readily accessible internet info, constantly advancing software. However, I do get concerned about equating technical skill with good design. We all know software products, such a CATIA or Revit, are great tools. But sometimes they wow us so much, we forget that a thoughtful hand sketch or a simple paper model can capture an expandable conceptual basis for a project.
You have built a highly respected firm even as you've been teaching full time. What do you like about keeping a foot in both worlds
SMP: In my view practicing keeps you abreast of the profession and the actual construction process. I think the students appreciate this. For me, it was a way of staying close to my original goal in going into architecture. I wanted to design and build buildings. And then, by good fortune teaching proved to be a great compliment to the practice. When I was a student at Columbia, I always wanted to learn from practitioners. This stayed with me as I taught my students.
What are your plans for the future?
SMP: My plan is to continue my architectural practice and continue my studio artwork. I have a slim book coming out soon which is a collaboration with a poet named Jane D’Arista from Connecticut. I produced 10 pen and ink drawings and she is writing a poem for each. It has been a wonderful collaboration. I’m very eager to see this published. I have never worked with a poet in this way before. I have had eight collaborative art shows with UMass faculty Steve Schreiber and Jane Thurber and I look forward to more of these. In general, I know that I don’t know what new projects will emerge in the future but I am looking forward to new frontiers.
It’s amazing to reflect on the growth of the Department of Architecture since the nineties. The department continues to be a wonderful place to learn about the creative process.