Interview: Frederic Schwartz (Spring 2006)

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“World Cultural Center” – World Trade Center Innovative Masterplan – Runnerup, Ground Zero, NY, 2003
By THINK Team: Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith, Rafael Vinoly

COMPETITIONS: When did you know that you wanted to become an architect?

Frederic Schwartz: I grew up just a couple of towns over from Levittown. When anybody got a washing machine or refrigerator, I would scour the neighborhood for the boxes and bring them home with the help of my dad. I would make things out of them, like tunnels or big buildings. Where I grew up, they were always building houses in the neighborhood, and I was always watching this construction. When I went to Berkeley, I had my first course with Joe Escherick as my professor, who was such a great teacher. He was the only architect I knew who won both the gold Medal for Firm of the Year and the teaching award. We remained very close through the rest of my career. In fact his wife gave me his shirt when he passed away. So when I was a freshman in college, I was already sure I wanted to become an architect. It wasn’t just Escherick, there were all these other great teachers, i.e., Roger Montgomery, J. B. Jackson, Richard Bender, Russ Ellis, and Marc Treib at Berkeley, and Jerzy Soltan at Harvard. This was already called the College of Environmental Design in the 60s; so you automatically approached architecture and urbanism recognizing those parameters. I agreed with their philosophy: the school was very much about the relationship of landscape to building.
COMPETITIONS: You have participated in many competitions, some entirely on your own—here I am thinking about the memorial competitions you have won more recently—and others where you were a team member. Santa Fe is an example of the latter. But early on you collaborated with Robert Venturi on two competitions here in New York City. From those, the Whitehall Ferry Terminal has been built. How do you decide with whom you may wish to collaborate?

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