Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Archinect: Where did you study architecture?
David Galbraith: I studied at the Bartlett, University College London, both undergrad and post graduate (Peter Cook's unit), with a period at Turin Polytechnic.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
DG: I used to draw house plans and imagine what it would be like to live in them, when I was a kid, but becoming an architect came about by accident. I dropped out of university twice, economics then civil engineering. When I dropped out of Civil Engineering at Imperial College, I walked across London on a nice autumn day and by chance wandered in off the street and got an interview at the Bartlett.
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A selection of firms, websites and standards that David Galbraith co-founded
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
DG: Again, by accident. It looked like I might get stuck doing toilet details on an airport for 5 years, if I stayed working for Norman Foster, so I kept writing to Fisher Park, who did stadium rock set design for people such as the Rolling Stones. They eventually gave in and let me work there.
When they split up I setup a design practice doing exhibitions and trade shows, with Markham Darbyshire who tragically died last month. He was a great friend and colleague and we did a lot in a short time out of a tiny office above Mr Bongo records in Poland Street, London (we got it free by doing their interior).
My Dad was a scientist and I knew a bit about how to program, so when the web kicked off in 93, I started to do websites for our design clients. These got way too ambitious, such as an Intranet that linked dozens of hospitals in the UK, so we split the company up into a web one and a design one.
I ended up doing Internet stuff since then, in San Francisco then New York and have helped build 4 technology companies.
Describe your current profession.
DG: The truth is I don't have one. My last job title was 'Entrepreneur in Residence', which sound sounds so unbelievably pretentious that I still have to tell my gran I do 'Internet Stuff'. What I do is design and start Internet things, then if they become real companies, I get a stupid title like 'Chief Architect', which eventually means I have to leave so that the organizational chart doesn't look dumb. I actually wish someone would give me a proper job.
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
DG: Architecture is a faculty department at UCL, the idea that it is restricted largely to the design of bricks and mortar seems ridiculous. For it to be a faculty it should have a fundamental intellectual goal. For me that was learning to manage the relationship between scales. Apart from wearing gray, writing in full caps and always knowing which direction I am facing, architecture taught me to see the wood from the trees. To design a door frame and keep perspective on an entire building, requires zooming in and out. Not many people seem to have this skill and it seems that architecture teaches it.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
DG: Specifically, I recently taught on a class on interactive computing at NYU where they were doing some extremely interesting work with user interfaces generated by environmental conditions (using the Arduino hardware and excellent graphics language, Processing). I would love to mess around with some of this stuff and see what the architectural potentials are. I suspect that decoration returns to architecture not through Post-Modern split pediments, but through graphics, and the architectural potential created by ubiquitous cheap displays and data visualization offer some very interesting opportunities.
More generally, I am more interested in complex organic design such as cities and how they work, than signature buildings which are often about superficial shapes rather than underlying processes. The difference between the two is that organic things are the result of recipes rather than blueprints. In nature, DNA is a recipe not a blueprint, and I think this says something fundamental about design that has been overlooked.
This recipe-like complex iteration of simple rules can be created by a computer algorithm and people, such as Marc Fornes or Sean Hanna are doing interesting things in architecture using this approach, which are genuinely groundbreaking. This is where architecture meets computer science and I'd go back into architecture to work on that stuff.
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