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World Mag > WM Winter 2014 edition > Interview with Jurgen Strohmayer

Interview with Jurgen Strohmayer

I’m not sure if the word career might be the right way to look at it. For me that sounds very strict and linear while I think the society we live in is fluid and constantly changing.
Jurgen Strohmayer
Jurgen Strohmayer

WM: You were at AISB from 2003- 2008 and completed 8th – 12th grade at AISB, what are your fondest memories? How was the school back then? Any special memories that you want to share?


JS: The school felt full of things to do and explore. I would describe both the academic and the extra-curricular programs at AISB at the time as vibrant. The school was an intense environment with a high density of things happening all year round in proportion to how many people we were in class. Thinking back, this was only possible because teachersand staff at AISB cared deeply aboutstudents and the learning environment that extended beyond the classroom.


Teachers were also mentors and friends. I remember the very strong music and theater department led by Greg Jemison, Terry Ham, and later Randy Wanless and Elizabeth Hunt. I made a lot of my friends in the theater productions, musicals, choirs, and bands that were not only in my school year, but others as well. I spent a lot of time at school in the evenings, over weekends, and during free hours and lunch to rehearse for shows. There were many of us but to name a few: Diana Damian, Petru Calinescu, Tony Hagen, Patricia Khalil, Moshe Gordon. This vertical learning environment outside of the classroom is how I would characterize AISB when I was there.

WM: You went on to start a degree in History at UCL, and after a year youchanged your field of study and startedan Architecture degree at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. How did you choose this university and your major? What were the main 3 points that drove you in that direction? How did you decide you had to change your degree and what were the challenges?

JS: I was interested in so many different directions and fields of interest during my high school years that it was difficultto decide what exactly I want to study.


The spectrum of things I did at AISBdefinitely didn’t make it easier for me todecide what I want to do. But looking back at these years when I was unsure, I feel very grateful for my parents and the people at AISB that accompanied me in this time because I had the privilegeto figure things out for myself, makedecisions, test them and then change them.

Why did I change to architecture? I just didn’t know it existed until sometime intomy first degree. I did a bit of art in highschool and I knew that it was something I was interested in, but I couldn’t see how I could make something out of this interest. I was ignorant of buildings until I started noticing strange or overwhelming buildings while travelling in Japan. I had an urge to be part of the teams that made these buildings. It was only after this basic intuition that I discovered there’s a word for it and that I want to gointo the field of architecture. From thenon, things developed quickly. I quit UCL, found out that the University of Applied Arts in Vienna was in fact the only school in Europe that would still hold
an entrance exam before the semester started in October (it was August at the time), so I spent a month preparing for that exam with George Iordachescu, whom I knew from AISB. It worked out in the end.

WM: What is architecture to you?

JS: Architecture is the design of our built environment. Architects are responsible for making drawings that might become buildings. Just as we care for the wellbeing of our body or the cultural implications of our clothes, people have been caring about the dwellings they live in; the way they work and look. So architecture is not the same thing as building although there’s a complicated overlap. Architecture is also one of many fields that engages with the physicalobjects we make in our society, next to industrial designers, fashion designers, urbanists, and so on.


WM: How did your time at AISB support your decision to attend the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and presently, what you do now in terms of the internationalism and diversity associated with your work?


JS: AISB allowed me to explore a lot ofdifferent things and let me keep an openmind about what I wanted to do. Even if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in high school, my time at AISB gave methe tools to figure things out. My currentuniversity is small but international. My professor is an architect and theorist from L.A. and we speak English at university even though it’s a public, Austrian institution. We are taught in a“vertical studio” system which meansthat all the 40 students across years oneto five work in the same room on the same task. There is no differentiationbased on experience or age or year- of-study. Somehow that reminds me of what I said earlier about the extra- curricular programs at AISB.


WM: What career are you pursuing now? Tell us more about what this career means to you on a personal level? What attracted you towards this career?


JS: I will complete my Master’s degree in January 2015 and start working as an architect. Where that takes me is still open. I’ve been working at Wideshot Design in Vienna next to my university projects for two years and that has given me experience outside of the academic world. We recently completed two stores for a Mongolian cashmere fashion house for which I also did the interior design brand identity. Next to that I’ve produced a series of vases and objects made out of high-performance concrete with another architect in Vienna that was exhibited at design expos. In thepast years, I worked in offices in Londonand Los Angeles where we worked on a cultural center in Lisbon, a hotel in Bangkok, and a museum in Taipei.


The twist is that I’ve also had the chance of working on a few projects in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo through my time at university and that is another direction my work might go in. I’ve travelled on the African continent on three separate, long visits, which have been part of development projects in dialogue with local architects, artists, and institutions. I think my time at AISBmade me more open and flexible interms of what and where I do work. I became interested in this direction of architecture because I knew so little about Africa and I wanted to change that.


WM: You live in Vienna now, what is that like? Tell us 3 reasons why Vienna is a special place for you.

JS: To be honest, I don’t give Vienna the time it might deserve. It took me a long time to get used to how small and insular it was after living in London and Bucharest. I’m here because of the university, and the network of friends and professionals I have made through that is great. Vienna is dependable, easy-going, and calm. None of the things I would have looked for in a city to work or live in.

WM: What advice would you give current AISB students who are trying to decide on what career path to choose? Is there anything you could share with them that might help them identify the right university studies for them, and furthermore, the actual career they
will pursue? What about those who have chosen something they are notsatisfied with? What advice would yougive them?

JS: Mr. Mennick, my university counselor at AISB at the time, once told us thatpeople on average have ten differentjobs in their lifetime. For me it was impossible to foresee what I will do and in retrospect, I should have been morerelaxed. I know that’s extremely difficultwith parents, teachers and universities demanding decisions from you as a student juggling IB courses at the same time.

But to get back to your question, I’m not sure if the word career might be the right way to look at it. For me that sounds very strict and linear while I think thesociety we live in is fluid and constantlychanging. I felt that I had a very limited view of what jobs were out there when I was in high school. The variety of things to do is hard to grasp, so the best is to stay open and flexible while beinghonest to one self. I guess that goes for parents and teachers too.

WM: What should an Alumni Association “look” like to you– regarding involvement with the school and the community? What should be the association’s focus? What do youthink the benefits of being part of suchan association are/would be?

JS: I imagine that it’s very difficult to figure out a relevant Alumni Associationfor such a diverse and international community. Making the AA’s web presence stronger makes sense. I follow it on Facebook and the WORLD publication and every now and then I see announcements for meetings or so. To me that already seems like a successful way of keeping the AISB alumni community connected.

Read the entire WORLD Magazine Winter 2014 edition here.



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