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AIA's Committee on Design Crosses Borders—and Disciplines

December 10, 2008

By David Sokol

When the late Maria A. Bentel, FAIA, was a member of the Committee on Design (COD) in its earliest days four decades ago, the group decided to organize conferences overseas because “there was a lot of learning we could do to make us better architects.” So recalls Bentel’s daughter-in-law Carol Bentel, FAIA, a partner at New York-based Bentel & Bentel. The COD is one of the AIA’s 24 Knowledge Communities.

Danish Modern
Photos courtesy AIA
More than 100 AIA members recently visited Copenhagen for the conference “Danish Modern: Then and Now,” organized by the AIA’s Committee on Design and Historic Resources Committee.

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In 2001, Carol Bentel became chair of conferences for the COD, and now helms its advisory group. During her tenure, she has attempted to expand the committee’s scope even further. “We need to look outside of architecture not to compare ourselves,” she says, “but to see how we can apply successful efforts in other design disciplines to architecture.” 

In April the committee put her hypothesis to the test at “Design Parallels,” a conference in Detroit. Her prescience was validated as the audience listened, enraptured, to automobile designers discussing their work.

Members of the COD, along with the AIA’s Historic Resources Committee, proved the experiment once more in early September when 116 of them traveled to Denmark for “Danish Modern: Then and Now.”

The five-day grand tour included a boat excursion, led by Danish Architecture Center CEO Kent Martinussen, to see waterfront redevelopment sites, and a walk through the Royal Opera House designed by Henning Larsen. The AIA members also visited the factory of furniture maker Fritz Hansen. “Danes are very excited to have a Zaha Hadid or Libeskind building, but the reality is they don’t really need that,” event co-chair T. Gunny Harboe, AIA, says of the Scandinavian country’s formidable native talent. 

Participants also met with local architects, such as PLH and Dissing+Weitling, at their offices. “It was a way to get to know the Danes in their own context and relate to them on a professional level,” Harboe adds. One aspect of this conference that was familiar to attendees, however, was the pace. “It’s like taking a semester-long college course, “ Bentel says, “in four and a half days.”

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