“Some of the most famous architects in the world – Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima – are non-Western, non-European women. That says a lot about how ‘emancipated’ we are here in the West.”
As an architecture student at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in the 1990s, Baerbel Mueller remembers having a lot of freedom: “We had no time pressure. Although we were passionate and productive, [it was] a clichéd ‘artist’s life.’ ”
That life included heavy smoking, excessive drinking, working all night and sleeping under the drafting tables. “You could say we were willing to die for our craft,” she said, laughing. Now an architecture professor at the Angewandte, Mueller (46) says attitudes have changed. Among other things, current students are healthier, more efficient and “a bit more realistic.”
“We were living in the moment; they are looking to the future.” A graduate of one art school and professor at another, Mueller sees both the “potentials and limits” of the major architecture programs in Vienna, a third being at the TU (Technical University).
“The TU is a mathematical university, where each student can design a curriculum. The academy focuses on discourse with a strong theoretical/political agenda, the Angewandte on how innovation and technology can shape future society,” Mueller said.
Her own part has been the establishment of the [applied] foreign affairs laboratory, through which she takes a select number of students to SubSaharan Africa to conduct special workshops and research projects. The laboratory allows Mueller to share the “vital importance” of non-Western perspectives, cultivated through her own extensive travels before, during, and after her own university studies.
Spending almost half of each year in Ghana, Mueller has developed contacts, networks, and projects there — which has nothing to do with the catchphrases “development” or “aid.” “I’ve never categorized the world into ‘first’ and ‘third,’ she emphasized. “We always think someplace like Africa has everything to learn from us, but I would say it’s the other way around. We need to catch up with them.”