This fall, DesignIntelligence (DI), named UVA School of Architecture’s T. David Fitz-Gibbon Professor of Architecture, Robin Dripps, one its 25 Most Admired Educators for 2017-2018.

Dripps teaches within the studio design sequence, lectures on architectural theory, and directs a seminar on the relationship between design intent and detail manifestation. Dripps has taught at UVA’s School of Architecture since 1970 and continues to challenge and inspire students through her exemplary teaching.

Each year, DesignIntelligence honors excellence in education and education administration by naming 25 exemplary professionals in these fields. The 2017-2018 class of education role models were selected by DesignIntelligence staff with extensive input from thousands of design professionals, academic department heads, and students. Educators and administrators from the disciplines of architecture, industrial design, interior design, and landscape architecture are considered for inclusion.

Dripps was particularly recognized for “outstanding contribution to the education and development of future practitioners, and for furthering the professions of architecture, engineering, construction and design,” as noted by DesignIntelligence. Dean Ila Berman added, 

“Always operating at the cutting edge of the discipline, Robin is not only highly creative and rigorous, but also fearless in her approach to architectural education. She is truly a prized design faculty member at the School of Architecture who has taught and inspired generations of UVA alumni. I am thrilled that she has received this well-deserved recognition and honor."

Of this exceptional acknowledgment, Dripps said, “This is a very special recognition, especially happening in the latter part of my teaching career. It does seem to validate my constant desire to remain curious about how things work.”

Congratulations, Robin Dripps!

We caught up with the designer and driver of a car that has established two world land speed records to learn more about her teaching, design research, and more…

Describe two recent studios you have taught:

Last year my graduate design studio participated in the Schindler Global Initiative. This was a very ambitious competition to reimagine the physical, social, and ecological infrastructure on the site of one of the world's largest commercial markets, located in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I took this on because it was the synthesis of all my research and teaching for the last many decades. The problem was vast and complicated and traversed all disciplinary boundaries. The site was poorly connected to the rest of the city, prone to flooding and within a context of staggering income inequality with consequently high crime rates. Architecture and landscape students from diverse international backgrounds worked mostly in teams to propose solutions that ranged from extremely pragmatic to visions of a more creative and just future. We developed some sophisticated computer models to simulate what would happen if the contained river that inevitably overcame its boundaries was let free. Could the resulting hybrid infrastructural landscape become a new public realm? Could intense hybridization of disparate programs produce a more vibrant and just community?  Might there be unexpected entrepreneurial opportunities that might start to even out the current economic divide?

We were very excited to then learn that one of my students, Fuhou Zhang, was one of the 12 finalists: one of only two teams from North American schools. The elevator business must be going well since we were then flown to Sao Paulo for an extraordinary awards ceremony and of course the chance to see the site and discover some of the most memorable pieces of modern architecture and landscape architecture in the world. I might add that this project was also selected to be in the Bi-City Biennale that opens in Hong Kong and Shenzhen this December.

The year before, I ran another studio that also was dealing with ideas of vertical urbanism.  This was notable for having almost as many graduate planning students as there were students from architecture and landscape architecture. Helped by sponsorship from Hart Howerton Architects, the class could travel to New York City for a substantial amount of site reconnaissance along with getting reacquainted with the wonders of dense urban life. Since this was an ideas competition, students were able to think in the largest sense of what a vertical neighborhood could be. The solutions were wildly inventive in taking on pressing sociological, ecological and political issues with an imaginative material logic. Moving in three dimensions meant having to rethink completely the current conventions of circulation.

Having generous funding enabled students to then submit their projects to the 2016 Evolo Skyscraper Competition where the project by Margaret Rew was cited as among the twenty most innovative submissions.

What inspires your studio topics?

I am looking for opportunities for serious spatial exploration to engage current issues of social, political, cultural and ecological context.

What are some inspirations for your design and research outside the realm of architecture?

As might be imagined from the inclusion of that photo from another part of my life, designing and constructing vehicles and then driving them within a competitive context is important to me. This design is optimized for extreme conditions and yet I am proud that the current car is as beautiful as it is fast.  Having been engaged in this activity for most of my life has given me an excellent education in fabrication, material performance by working with some of the most creative people within a very different situation than architecture.  This is why the architecture projects of Lucia Phinney and myself have a distinct mechanical attitude!

The other important influence is music. Having studied music theoretically as well as through practice, I find the structural constraints behind free improvisation to be an immediate source of inventive directions that magically move into the world of architecture. A lesser appreciated aspect of the digital revolution is that late at night I can play electric guitar at concert level volumes. Only I can hear this amplified sound through my headphones, so family and cat can live in peace.

What is the last country you have visited?


What places would be on your bucket list?

With new faculty as well as so many exceptional students coming from China, I have learned a lot about this amazing place and would love to visit. Additionally, we hope to make it to Portugal and Scandinavia.

What are a few important lessons you hope your students leave your courses with?

There is life beyond architecture and yet so many problems of life somehow have to do with spatial organization.

Three people alive or dead that you would like to have dinner with?

Zaha Hadid, Odile Decq, Amanda Levete

How does your design research relate to your pedagogical approach and vice versa?

All my writing has come from questions that arrive in the process of teaching. My current research into relational computation was prompted by my urban design teaching where I was bothered by the inability to easily link the amazing amount of available data to the making of compelling spatial models. This in turn raises additional questions to pursue as further theoretical speculations. Then there is the imagining of new courses to engage students in these inquiries. There is very little space between my research and teaching.