Gary Garvin

Gary Garvin

Portland, OR, US



I am a writer and college English instructor with a lifelong interest in art and architecture. Many of my essays and short stories have appeared in print and online. I am currently at work on a collection of essays and my third novel, which will be set in the future. One of the issues I want to consider is how our forward looking and futuristic buildings now might appear then, what will take their place.

Architecture, like music, the visual arts, and literature, reveals the thought and temper of the times, and I see many parallels and diversions. I have begun reading more about architecture as well as started making models of well known buildings, such as the Bauhaus at Dessau. The models give me close hand experience of a building’s form, structure, and expression as well as provide springboards for reflection. I have also made some tentative efforts at designing buildings myself and have written about my ideas in their construction.

My models along with description and thought can be found at Under Construction.

Stories, essays, and novels can be found at Fictions.

Building for Community

More and more, we need to think locally. 

Centering a Town: St. Johns/First Efforts

This post describes site and program and begins rough design ideas. It's a virtual project, a cultural center in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. As I argue in this post, the site has potential to make a significant esthetic and social impact on the neighborhood that might be applied elsewhere. I would like to encourage others to give it a shot. The post also has links to resources.

As a conceptual project we might learn something about how communities work and what sustains them, what makes them vital, especially in the face of the major economic changes we’ve endured the last decades. There seem to be only two possibilities now: either stagnation that saps our resources and resolve or rapid growth that leads to overdevelopment and social congestion. What is learned here may pay off elsewhere.

Other designs, over twenty, can be found here.

I'm an amateur, of course. I build these models really as a way of gathering ideas. The models help me see them in concrete form. Also they are a way of learning about architecture.



Alvar Aalto, Säynätsalo Town Hall

Louis Kahn, First Unitarian Church Rochester

Nonetheless, what guided me in construction and revision of the model, what still moves me as I continue to contemplate it on my table, is how much it engages, how well it sits. Composition is reserved, yet viscerally, subliminally energetic, ineffably poised and balanced.

Battersea Power Station/reflections

The building doesn’t represent or resemble anything other than itself. This is what gives the design its power, how much it doesn’t represent anything else even though we know what it is, that and how many questions it raises, how much it moves and unsettles us in uncertain ways. It is sublimely ambiguous.

Muzharul Islam, Bangladesh National Library

What unifies the four sides and makes the building coherent? It is defined by our expectation of order, plotted in the plan, but coherent wholly in its departures from that order, from the grid. We get four different answers to a question, suggesting there might be more. The library will not rest with any of them, with a set, pat answer. Unity comes from the bricks, the sun bearing down, the driving rain, the books, the people inside.

Archeground, Dhaka International University Administrative Building

Metropolitan Storage Warehouse: Fire Proof 

The warehouse still implies more, in its size and vast, open spaces, but also in its contained darkness is a place for doubts, the unknown, the unknowable, a sense of the tragic, of ominous possibilities nature, the world held in the past and might yet unleash, those and still something else.

Mies van der Rohe, an abstract model based on his early chalk drawings of Haus Esters

Mies van der Rohe, Haus Lange

Mies van der Rohe, Haus Esters

Ilya Golosov: Zuev Workers’ Club

For those who object to collectivist thought it’s worth remembering how workers were once viewed collectively as functional and necessary but passive and anonymous—and potentially a threat when they gathered outside factory walls. 

Giuseppe Terragni, Casa del Fascio

If we had seen this government center with that picture some ninety years ago, we would have, by association, formed one interpretation of it, a more favorable one for some of us, a lesser one for others. We might have said that architecturally it expresses how the monolithic mass of the state has been broken down into individual parts, these on a human scale, the independent parts brought together into coherent interdependence where everyone belongs in a structure that is open, light, and transparent. Walls have come down.

But Lenin was not the picture we got on the wall.

The Bauhaus at Dessau: S/M/L


Eisenman/House II

Heart of Darkness, a narrative visualization of Conrad's novel

Tschumi folie R4

Tschumi folie L6

Tschumi folie N8



Short Stories

"Portland," Numéro Cinq, July 2017. A story about a retired architect, with a side trip to Boullée’s cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton.

“In the Garden,” Numéro Cinq, Vol. VI, No. 3 (March 2015)

“Mikrokosmos,” Numéro Cinq, Vol. I, No. 6 (July 2010)

“Pillar of Salt,”  The South Carolina Review, 32, No. 2 (Spring 2000)

“Willy,” The Crescent Review, 16, No. 2

“Nocturne,” New Novel Review, 4.1 (Fall 1996)

“The Clinic,” Confrontation, 48/49 (Spring/summer 1992)

“At the Welfare Office,”  the minnesota review, 26 (Spring 1986)



"Winter, 2017," 3:AM, September 2019. This essay uses Peter Eisenman's House II as a central metaphor for a host of reflections.

"Bill," Numéro Cinq, August 2017

"Heart of Darkness," Numéro Cinq, January 2017

"Housing for the Rest of Us, A Non-Manifesto," Numéro Cinq, October 2016

"Completing the Mies van der Rohe Brick Country House, An Odyssey," Numéro Cinq, May 2016. A literary essay that centers on this house.

"Hamlet," TriQuarterly, Winter/Spring 2016 (Issue 149)

"Autumn Rhythm," Conjunctions, November 17 2015

"Paris in Black in White / 1973-74," Numéro Cinq, November 2015

“Above the Roofs of Paris, a Non-Memoir,” Fourth Genre, (17:1, Spring 2015)

“Ridin’ the Rail: On the Ending of Huckleberry Finn,” Numéro Cinq, Vol. II, No. 2 (February 2011)

“The View from the Masthead: Moby Dick Cut in Half,” Numéro Cinq, Vol. 1, No. 3 (April 2010)

“Man in the Holocene: Point of View/point of view/Max Frisch,” Numéro Cinq, Vol. 1, No. 7 (August 2010)

"Gloriously Pointless," Numéro Cinq, Vol. 1, No. 2 (March 2010)


Quick Takes

A series of blog posts on a variety of subjects, including architecture, that combine text and images, found here at Numéro Cinq.


Gary's Featured Articles on Archinect

Completing Mies van der Rohe's Brick Country House, Fri, Aug 7 '15

There are small problems that vex as much as they intrigue us, whose answers only lead to larger questions.

Completing Mies van der Rohe's Brick Country House


De Anza College, Cupertino, CA, US, English Instructor

Teach composition, reading, critical thinking and research, introduction to literature.

Apr 1998 - Apr 2016

Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, US, English Instructor

Taught composition, critical thinking and research, guided writing, studies in American Literature, introduction to fiction, introduction to fiction writing.

Sep 1987 - May 1999

Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, US, English Instructor

Taught composition and research.

Sep 1997 - Mar 1998

California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA, US, English Instructor

Taught composition.

Jan 1986 - Apr 1987

University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Santa Cruz, CA, US, Core Course Instructor

Taught general course on writing and the humanities.

Sep 1986 - Dec 1986

University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA, US, Museum Preparator

Worked on lighting and installation of contemporary art exhibitions.

Jan 1979 - Jun 1982


Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT, US, MFA

MFA in creative writing

Creative writing thesis: a book length collection of short stories and novellas. Critical thesis: point of view in Max Frisch’s novel Man in the Holocene.

Jan 1995 - Jul 1998

University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, US, Masters, English

Creative writing thesis: short stories and critical analysis. General literature. Concentrated in modern fiction and creative writing.

Sep 1980 - Jun 1983

Davidson College, Davidson, NC, US, Bachelors, English

Center for Honors Studies. Graduated cum laude. Majored in English, with concentrations in art, art studio, and philosophy.

Sep 1970 - Jun 1975

Areas of Specialization