The International VELUX Award is a competition for students of architecture that runs every second year. We challenge students from all over the world to work with daylight as an ever relevant source of light, life and joy. The award is one of the most important global student competitions of its kind.

Submission is closed. The regional winners will be announced in August.

Nóra Demeter: I hope students find a new creative voice

While students are working on their daylight projects, we spoke with jury member Nóra Demeter, American-born architect working in Hungary. Managing her architectural practice Demeter Design Studio, Nóra and her team put emphasis on considerations of human dimension throughout the entire design process. Read her insights and messages to students during the global pursuit for creativity.

Nóra Demeter, jury member for the International VELUX Award 2020.

The award seeks to challenge the future of daylight in the built environment. How relevant do you see this topic?

When we think about architecture, we often turn back to our masters. Without a doubt, one of the most important masters when I was learning about architecture at Yale University many many years ago now, was Louis Kahn, whose architecture was all around us. He is perhaps one of the architects, who wrote and thought about light as a tool in architecture in the most prolific way. One of his quotes was that architecture appears for the first time when the sunlight hits the wall. The sunlight did not know what it was before it hit the wall.

I think this is a very simple yet beautiful way of talking about light and architecture, because architecture becomes a tangible form when light hits it. We don’t know the form of architecture until it begins to engage with light.

Your projects include vast portfolio, from large-scale buildings to residential interiors. Can you tell us how you approach a new project?

I have had a journey in architecture that is in a way an inverse to what many people do. Most people start with small projects and if they are lucky, the buildings get bigger and bigger and suddenly they are going from a small building to a bigger building, to an urban project etc.

In my case, the journey has maybe been different because I have decided a number of years ago that my passion is to actually look at architecture from inside out. And so when you look at interiors and think about it, it’s very often, particularly in this part of the world, in Hungary, kind of post facto dialogue between architect and interiors. In my case I find that I like to think about the interior as an inherent part of the architecture.

Müpa Palace of the Arts by Zoboki-Demeter and Associates, photo © Tamás Bujnovszky

So even when we are doing big buildings, we think of the interior intrinsically as part of the building. In that regard, light is very important because I often find that in interior lighting is not just daylight or artificial light. It’s how the space changes in various parts of the day and how we create this transition at various parts of the day in a way where we don’t think that artificial light must suddenly take on the role of natural daylight when it’s no longer available.

So what I find very important, is that these boundaries whether it is between the inside and the outside, or natural and artificial light, are not perceived and that they are designed in a way that everything builds upon the other.

The competition is gathering students from all parts of the world. What will you be looking for when reviewing their projects?

I think it is perhaps an interesting historic time right now, even if it might be blanketed, in a sense of fear, or a sense of emergency, or a sense of uncertainty. I think this is a historic competition, not only because we will be doing this electronically, but because it is a moment when I think every student is aware of what we are in, as a world.

Müpa Palace of the Arts by Zoboki-Demeter and Associates, photo © Tamás Bujnovszky

There is a uniform sense of fragility in this world now that has been there, tragically, for a long time but now mankind has been aware of this more than we were aware three or four months ago. So I think it means that everyone feels a little bit more alone, but in the same time more together. I think all of us feel that we have a sense of responsibility towards the future, a future which we all share in trying to make the world a little bit better than what it was few months ago.

What I think is both challenging and yet inspiring about this particular competition, and all the students that are taking part in it, is that a sense of communal responsibility is maybe stronger than if we had been involved in this competition without the global crises.

So I hope that in their journey, which might be more challenging, the students will share this responsibility and help us see what their response is to this current situation that we are in.

Students around the world are part of the universal lockdown, sitting at home and away from university, teachers and friends. Would you like to send them a message of encouragement?

They are in a very unique position, because in this isolation that they might be in, it is also time for creativity.

For instance, just yesterday, I was looking at an Instagram post by an architect who is a colleague and a friend in Paris, and he was saying that as an architect, this time has forced him to change his habits, has encouraged him to draw again, because for years he has been tied to computer and the fast world that we live in as professionals, as architects, as people, and suddenly he has found a new dialogue with the pencil that he’d forgotten.

So I hope that maybe students find there is a new creative voice that they might have not used in this competition if they weren’t in isolation. I hope it inspires them to make this project, maybe say a little bit more than they have might have done otherwise. And I think we as their jury, will feel very grateful for whatever offerings they have, because in our isolation we are also struggling for inspiration. So it will be a present to experience the voice of youth. Help us see the next chapter of life that comes.

Müpa Palace of the Arts by Zoboki-Demeter and Associates, photo © Tamás Réthey Prikkel

Architecture is usually a result of a teamwork. Where do you see the strengths of team works, when you think about your realised projects?

There are very few architects who are truly isolationists; who actually create on their own. I find that my journey as an architect has been formed by the creative people that I work with; my colleagues, my friends. And every day that I get inspiration from them makes me richer as an architect.

In this new reality that we’ve been in, it’s has been very interesting – as I have an office of 12, in the various forms that we find of communicating now, to maintain this very personal and creative dialogue. So there are different ways of communicating. But nevertheless, just as important as it was before. I think those who are working in teams should help us understand how they made that dialogue work even if it hasn’t been in person.

Watch the entire interview:

By Jadrana Ćurković