Hi... What I like most about life? ...to be somewhere interfacing with the mountains. The air is so clear up here... it slides down the throat like liquid crystals. The sun is blinding white so don't forget your goggles or shades. As long as the body is moving and exploring and feeling the terrain under my feet I am in the element of full consciousness. Do you know what it is like to be that awake or that alive? If you let your mind go lethargic for even a few seconds --- you just cracked your skull against a tree man! If the wind and snow start coming in hard I cinch my hood down around my face and I am walking with the astronauts on the moon. When the visibility deteriorates I head into a thick stand of fir trees where the silence takes over and the terrain guides me to a creek bed choked with boulders and a game of pin ball madness. I'm dumped out at the resort where the crew gathers and all speed toward the nearest lift. We make some easy vertical and enjoy a moment of luxury. After being dumped off near treeline the lineup heads out the gate and across football fields of snow. The terrain is always white, yet always changing. Surfing through powder... over, around, through, between, off, beyond the boundaries placed before us. I love the city - it's magnetism... but the city will also turn you into a couch potato! So I live in a resort town where architecture has been replaced with styles and marketing and the job prospects have disappeared. The entire country was hurt by the real estate crash. The resorts out west were destroyed... too much luxury on loan. The architecture profession out here had it coming anyway. They weren’t really designing anything amazing – just a watered down, obnoxiously large version of Bavaria. Is architecture powerful enough to leave my skis behind and head back into the industrial paradise?
University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI, US, BArch, Architecture
Explain the style...
I am influenced by Detroit - the things that I was drawn into there which are all connected in some way. The underground parties held in abandoned warehouses had an early impact on breaking down the barriers of the popular culture which we are all expected to follow. Instead of making cars Detroit was now making music and the whole world was now listening. It was not about defining what was techno music because techno was right there in real time. It was a scene that was creating its own perceptions week by week through music and space and people. It wasn't just music sold and bought in stores - a product - marketing hype.
That's what I wanted for architecture.
Make Your Transition...
You can’t solve the problems of today with the thinking that created them… in other words… free your mind. The great divide in any architecture program begins with the substance vs. flash approach to design. Some professors fall entirely into one category or the other. The people who pursue flashy projects grind away at presentation and design, which are both necessary components of architecture. Much of my earlier efforts were spent building perfect models and drawings. I spent a lot of time in my father’s garage along with my brothers restoring cars and so it was natural to build things with my hands. Everyone in my family is a craftsman. I put together some models in Autocad and 3DS but I just couldn't stare at a computer screen that long without feeling like a couch potato. I just used my hands to build models because that is what I am good at – the human touch. After I had enough of the studio I went about my city trying to make some kind of sense out of it all. And now that I was exposed to the Jesuit trappings of theory, ethics, and philosophy and I couldn't just make light thinking out of the mess that was Detroit. It was difficult trying to move between what I read in print and what I saw on the streets. The suburbs weren’t utopia and the city wasn’t dead. The way I saw it the suburbs were sterile and it was the city that was an incubator for culture and advancement.
Barriers around us fall…
If you turn the pages of your monthly architecture magazine you see images of buildings but what you don't see is that all of the architects featured in that magazine have formed some kind of theory about architecture. One might succumb to the idea that the thing that separates the architects who are published and those who aren't is theory. Most architecture is image based because that is how people work, they see something and they like it, or they hate it. Architects as people are no different. We are taught in school that design is based in imagery - in flashy computer generated graphics and rendering techniques for presentations - style based design. As a student some of the first lessons that we are taught is how to perceive form and function. We are taught the history of architecture from a perspective of styles. This all becomes like a ball and chain… our projects from day one are wrapped up in the common, accepted image of good design, so design becomes based in imagery and mainstream acceptance.
Being in a Jesuit university is little different. You are taking some courses in ethics, morals, and philosophy. I wondered why architecture did not go as deep as those subjects. It was after my second year that I began to dig deeper into the books at the library, mostly out of the boredom of exhaustive form making in the studio. It wasn’t productive spending night after night drawing and redrawing - designing and redesigning - and picking the one that would be the most fun to present. All of my early projects were based on the gold standard of form and function and there was no theoretical requirement. My instincts however told me that architecture was not contained by the controlled environment of the studio. I did think that architecture could be conceived like music – live rather than programmed in the studio. There was more than enough overproduced pop for sale on the shelves.
Architecture was as much about being a part of the conception of life as it was based on tradition and knowledge. My time was split between book knowledge and street knowledge. The deeper I went into the writings of architects the more apparent it became that there was something more to their work, something beyond merely designing buildings. There were ideas and theories behind the design and I could see that was where the buildings became intelligent. The deeper I looked into the ideas of the architects that I liked the more I saw the common assertions of architecture and the ability to interface between the people, culture, site, and buildings. When I was working on the Starr Park Pavilion project I worked on a deeper level of perception - one where people went under this structure not because it was raining and this roof would keep them dry. I wanted them to find an unexpected experience. I wanted the design to posses some kind of magnetism that drew them into another dimension of the built environment. Check that project out if you get the chance.
I was having a difficult time trying to break down the barriers. If I went for it then my life would never be easy again. If I just went with the flow I would melt into the school of fish. It was the perfect time for a break from it all. This time I was on my way to Warsaw for the schools exchange program, and after seeing how much more advanced the European city was to the States I saw this urgency to break free from the chains of popular architecture. The most significant thing that I realized in this opposing environment was the effect of the separation of planning and architecture in the late 19th Century on our cities, of the very bland outcome of suburbanization and the sale of the culture to industry. After riding the tram day after day I was shocked that General Motors was able to nearly erase the public transportation systems of the United States without a sound.
So my work became more intense from those 5 months freewheeling in and around Europe. I wanted to recreate the purposeful, meaningful architecture that I experienced there. I started to dig into the history of Detroit because the auto industry was rooted there… and the root of all evil had launched from the motor city. I took a good, hard look at the suburbanization and consumerism of the culture after WWI, into the history of planning before its demise during the 20th century. I looked at planning and urbanity as an inseparable component of architecture. From the view atop the Packard Plant I also could see that the auto industry was inseparable from the downfall of the American city.
I became submerged in Detroit by uncovering miles and miles of unknown territory. I was working to pay for the next semester of school and a lot of that came from working at a club or party. If only architecture could bring that many people together in Detroit. I began work on the Metroplex project which did something to me as a student because I think that the school hated me from that point on. At first some of my drawings disappeared, later, my model. Even my files on the server were inadvertently erased. I never found out what happened to the bulk of my work from my last days in Detroit. Then I go robbed for the last time. The city had finally come down on me with a vengeance and I quietly headed out to the Vail Valley to work for an architect, but really I went to ski something huge and endless. I was over city life for a while. All that architecture is still locked up in a bottle with the genie.
“whoever find me is gonna get a finder’s fee”