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.

Odile Decq: Think about providing something for others

We spoke about this year’s International VELUX Award with jury member Odile Decq, French architect, urban planner and academic. Internationally recognised and awarded for her architectural work, Odile Decq is a passionate lecturer, an advocate of gender diversity in architecture and a founder of The Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture.

Jury Member Odile Decq for the International VELUX Award 2020. Photo: © Franck Juery

The theme of the competition is 'Light of tomorrow'. Students are asked to investigate daylight in the future architectural environment with an open mind and without boundaries. How important do you think the topic of daylight is for student’s professional development, and their work as architects in the future?

Daylight give us energy. So, for the people living in houses, we provide the possibility to feel alive. The difference between day and night, and the effect it has on people is very important to look at.

You want to feel open - open yourself, your life, open your time – you open everything. That is why in architecture, daylight is important. At the same time, we know we need to ensure protection like when it is too sunny, for example, because of thermic regulations. But at the same time, we do want to expand the possibility of daylight in buildings; especially in housing but also in other projects.

I think the question of daylight is as equally important for students as for the professional architect. Because students must understand that the daylight provides life for people, and those people live in the buildings they will be designing.

You have been working with students and teaching for many years. You have also started your own school of architecture. Can you tell us more about your passion for working with students? What do you gain from them?

I have been teaching since the beginning of the 1990s, nearly 30 years now. Teaching for me has always been very important, not because I was successful – at this time I was totally unknown. Because I think education is one of the most important tasks for the future. And I don’t live, and I don’t work to be alive, to do the time. We work as architects for the future.

This is why we have to help students today to be able to practice and to do good for the world in the future, to be efficient for the world tomorrow.

At the same time, teaching provides me a great joy. When I am fed up because of all the tasks I have to do, as soon as I start discussing with my students and listening to their new proposals – they energize me. And this is absolutely fantastic.

I learn a lot from my students. I approach my project work through different research. I always ask my students to research about the world where they will be practitioners. That means, thinking as prospectivists, as somebody who is looking at what will be the way of living tomorrow. Thanks to that research, I learn a lot from them and I love that.

I always say to my students that I am not a teacher. I am their coach. I coach for them to be able to become someone they want to be. I think this is my responsibility. This is why I do not feel as a teacher, but as a coach and as a friend, somebody who helps them. At the same time, this it gives me back many, many things – energy, joy and their smiles - and their understanding of the future life we will live.

I always feel I could learn from them, as much as they could learn from me.

Odile Decq's architecture work. Photo: © Roland Habbe

Looking at the two award categories, 'Daylight in buildings' and 'Daylight investigations', and the specific focus on human health and well-being in both of those categories, what will you be looking for when reviewing the projects?

I don’t know precisely what I will search for, but I would like to be surprised. And I want to be surprised, I want to discover things that make me think: “Oh my God, I have to think about that!” I love to have such discoveries, particularly through students’ work.

The category 'Daylight investigations' looks into how can we transform the light, how we can increase the quantity of light. How we can propose to people a new quality of daylight, especially in the urban context where we all live and where in the future it will be very dense.

With the category 'Daylight in buildings', in a sense it is the same, but with another context. We know that because of the regulations today, energy loss, insulation and the size of the transparent facade, especially in housing – people have tendency to reduce the size of the openings to the outside.

But I always feel we have to find another way. We have to provide maximum daylight which means maximum opening to the outside, and finding another way in other material specification, to fulfill the regulations.

So this is really a reality we are dealing with, providing more daylight and in the same time looking into the possibilities that everything in the building can provide means to fulfill the regulations. This gives freedom when thinking about daylight possibilities in buildings.

How important is to participate in the competitions for architects?

Competitions have always been very important for my career. Because I have been starting my career at the time when, in France especially, competitions for public buildings were starting a lot. And I’ve built my own career like that. Work on competitions is important because at the same time it gives you the need for thorough research of a best solution because you know the other competitors can find another one. We don’t have the same ideas, at the same time; we never interpret the ideas in the same way between architects - we are always surprised by the proposals of others.

For me, competition is architectural research. And the work of the architect is not only fulfilling the regulations, not only executing; it is searching for new solutions and new ideas. This is why I always say that the work of an architect is research. It is so important to do that and to continue to do that all your life.

Odile Decq's architecture work. Photo: © Jinri & Zhu Jie

Students around the world are part of the universal lockdown. Do you have a message for them, to encourage them?

Being locked down, as I am today and as are my students and everybody else, is a big opportunity. It is a big opportunity, first of all, to understand how you can make a coalition with people. A close relation, not just chatting on internet or social network. This really is about finding a solution to be close to people which are not close to you physically.

The second thing is – to keep on working. To work with new projects, like I work with my students. We meet every two days and we have group discussions about new projects – and this is an ongoing discussion. So we are working as we would if we are all together in the same room. We are not physically together, but we are really sharing everything together with this discussion three times a week, and I think this is very important. I would like to send a message to students today:

Maybe you are bored from being alone. If you continue to work, on your studies and on the competition – you will not be bored and you will understand that in this situation, the world is still open to you. Look at the lockdown as your opportunity for the daylight research. How can you invent new means for providing more daylight into your own space?

Working on your project for this competition is also thinking about how to provide something for others. Because the project you do as an architect is for others, it is never for you.

It is a great research opportunity and I think it will give you joy. And I will wait to be surprised by you.

Watch the entire interview:

By Jadrana Ćurković