Interview: John Ronan (Winter 2008/2009)

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Poetry Foundation, Chicago Photos: Hedrich-Blessing


COMPETITIONS: You received an undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan; but it was not purely in architecture. When did it become apparent to you that you wanted to become an architect?


JOHN RONAN: Third grade. I remember writing a paper in fifth grade about 'Why I wanted to be an architect.' So I knew pretty early on. I always played with those lego-type logs as a kid, and in grade school I was always drawing little plans of houses. In high school I took four years of mechanical drawing, two of those years being somewhat architecturally based. So by the time I went to college, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Michigan's architectural program is basically two years of liberal arts and two years of architectural with a Bachelor of Science degree. Then you go on to graduate school for your professional degree.

 



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Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago, IL

COMPETITIONS: As has been the case with many architects, you worked for a few years with large firms. When was the moment when you decided you could go off on your own?

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Interview: Andrzej Bulanda (Summer 2008)

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Wlodzimierz Mucha and Andrzej Bulanda
Bulanda Mucha Architects, Warsaw

COMPETITIONS: When did you decide you wanted to become an architect, and who were some of the main influences for you?

Andrzej Bulanda: I have been thinking about architecture for a long time, although I didn't start in architecture. There was some family history and I was always interested in this type of work. Also, in those days in Poland, it was the only profession in which you could frame your own (non-political) agenda, and not have to be part of a large office. You could do small competitions, small projects.

I spent one year at GSD as a Visiting Scholar and wrote a book which was an interview with professor Jerzy Sołtan concerning his personal history with Le Corbusier, everything related to architecture, and the roots of his own life. From GSD Harvard, I got my position at Penn State University, where i taught for a year. Then I came back to Europe, to France, where I was working with Groupe 6 in Grenoble for two years on projects related to health and culture. In 1991, I started the firm here in Poland with my partner — we had met at the university in Warsaw.

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BRE Bank, Bydgoszcz, Poland (Competition 1995, completion 1999)

COMPETITIONS: When you were working in France, those were the days when a lot of open competitions were being staged.

 

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Interview: Richard Francis-Jones (Spring 2009) with Michael Dulin

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COMPETITIONS: The new University of Sydney Law School competition, which you won, included a lot of high profile architects besides FJMT: Neilsen Neilsen & Neilsen (Denmark), Axel Shultzes (Berlin), Norman Foster (London), (Bligh Voller Neild (Sydney, Aus), and Donovan Hill & Wilson (Brisbane, Aus). I assume it was invited?

Richard Francis-Jones: The University of Sydney became quite ambitious around this time and implemented a campus planning program called 2010. It included three major new buildings, the largest being the law school. The law school is currently downtown, so the competition was part of bringing the law school back to campus. The law school has a very prestigious faculty and the new site on campus is very strategic. It’s right across from some of the older neo-gothic sandstone buildings, and there’s a sense that it’s very solid. The building was to include a variety of programs and quarters for the faculty, and it also incorporates a law library and lots of general teaching spaces. But the main component is the law school. As a big competition, they had advisors from the architectural side – and the jury included James Weirick, Chris Johnson, Tom Heneghan from U of Sydney (all professors). It was a completely open submission of interest, worldwide. It was reduced to just a few teams and we had to assemble a very detailed – but short – submission for the second phase. We were limited to a certain number of pages and it had to include an interpretive program and outline what we were thinking about the site.

 

 

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Faculty of Law, Library and Teaching Complex, University of Sydney

 

COMPETITIONS: Like a narrative of some sort?

RFJ: A narrative and a sketch – but only a few pages. Based on those submissions, they selected teams for the competitions (There were several competitions held simultaneously – the law school was just one). Then there was a full competition, and the interesting thing for me — and the unique aspect to this competition — was that we submitted our material, which included panels, a model, etc., and they were put on public display. The public could go have a look for about a month or so prior, and then we each made our design presentations to the jury. But it was also open to the public.

COMPETITIONS: So there was the proper jury but also the public?

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Interview: Peter Schaudt (Fall 2008)

 

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Peter Schaudt
Winner, Nathan Philips Square International Design Competition, 2007
Rome Prize Winner in Landscape Architecture (FAAR), American Academy in Rome Fellowship, 1990-1991
Third Place, Kent State May 4 Memorial National Design Competition, 1986
Citation of Merit, Innovations in Housing National Design Competition, 1986
Second Place, Copley Square National Design Competition (4 person team), 1984
Meritorious Award, Vietnam Veterans Memorial National Design Competition, 1981

 

COMPETITIONS: Environment often plays a role in what we choose to do with our lives. What was the determining factor that led you to become a landscape architect?

 

 

PETER SCHAUDT: My first goal was to become an architect. As I studied architecture here (in Chicago) at UIC, I was exposed to the great park system legacy of Chicago. We had many studios in the parks here. What actually led me to become a landscape architect was the Vietnam War Memorial Competition. I needed an art credit in architecture school, so rather than taking color theory or painting, and after seeing the poster, I approached the dean. He told me I could do it; ‘but you have to do it without an architect.’ So I teamed up with Charles Wilson, a wonderful sculptor at UIC, and I looked at that park through the eyes of a sculptor as opposed to an architect. The site in constitution gardens was a rolling site — very difficult because the competition site was half of an amoeba shape. That’s why Maya Lin’s project is so amazing. It’s because she was able to tie (her design) into the context.

 

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Shanghai Nature Museum and Plaza Competition - Winning entry (Rendering by Perkins + Will)

 

PS: I worked on it as an independent studio, made a couple of models and really elaborate drawings, and it led me to really pursue landscape more closely. Then I started reading more about Dan Kiley and his work here in Chicago at the Art Institute. I did win a merit award for my Vietnam Memorial design: there were over 1,400 entries, and they selected 46 merit award winners which I assume might have been the last day of judging and were on exhibit at the Octagon Building in Washington. As a senior in undergraduate school, that gave me an incredible amount of confidence.
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Vietnam Memorial Competition, Washington, DC - Meritorious Selection

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Interview: Jacques Ferrier (Fall 2009) with Olha Romaniuk

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Cite de la Voile Eric Tabarly, Lorient, France, 2007 - Winning competition entry (Photo: Luc Boegly)

COMPETITIONS: What inspired you to start your career in architecture?

Jacques Ferrier: First and foremost, I was fascinated with the way buildings were built, with their structure. Before I was trained as an architect, I was trained as an engineer - in science and mathematics - and then I pursued architecture. When I began my architectural studies in architecture, I realized the specificity of it, as compared to art or engineering. In a way architecture is less complex because there might be less calculation involved, but more complex because you work directly with people, with site contexts, etcetera.

COMPETITIONS: And what inspired you to start your own firm?

JF: I started a firm with a friend of mine who went to school with me. We started in 1990, as sort of a first run. I opened my own office in 1993, sixteen years ago now. We were lucky because it was the end of the golden age of public competitions in France and it was possible, even if you were a young architect, to be invited to participate in these competitions. When I started my practice, I managed to get invited to one such competition for a university laboratory building. With this building, I received a national prize, which was typically awarded for an architect’s first work. A few weeks after that, I won another competition for an industrial facility for the city of Paris – a water treatment plant. It was interesting because the brief for the building was very typical, but the lasting impact was on the site as a whole.

COMPETITIONS: Who were your mentors when you were receiving your education and who were your major influences along the way?

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Interview: Allison Williams (Summer 2009)

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August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Pittsburgh, PA (Competition 2003, competion 2009)
COMPETITIONS: When did you first decide you wanted to become an architect? Was it a sudden revelation?
ALLISON WILLIAMS: My undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley is in the practice of art. It would be wrong to say that I wanted to be an architect from the beginning; but frustration with the practice of art not really feeling that it was going to be a career-based thing for me. At the time, in the late 60s and early 70s, I was surrounded by some really promising artists. For me there was also the of what the art was going to be used for — how do you know exactly whether something is working or not, whether it’s interesting or not, whether it has a sort of bigger platform of use or service? I grew up in a home which was very visually based. My father was not an architect by the strict terms of the AIA; but he was an engineer-urban designer type—he built our house in Cleveland. So architecture was part of my life from the beginning. My mother, who was a journalist, was very artistic. So it came together, but rather as a graduate degree at Berkeley.
COMPETITIONS: I guess Yung-Ho Chang (previous Chair at MIT) wasn’t at Berkeley when you were there. But he was so good at rendering, that everyone sort of waited to see what he was doing before they got started.

 

AW: When I started there, I was the only one in my class of thirty who knew how to draw or knew how to express things. We had all kinds of backgrounds in the masters program at Berkeley, psychologists, structural engineers—you name it in terms of their background. They were very unfamiliar with the tools of architectural or life drawing.

 

COMPETITIONS: Was there a particular person or persons along the way who helped shape your ideas on architecture?

 

AW: Beyond my father, there were some inspirational people. People who really taught me the most are those who think of architecture as series of problems you need to solve. Gerry McCue, who later became the dean at Harvard was one. If I was going to identify the most inspirational architect, it would be Le Corbusier. I don’t know if it’s just a generational thing, or just total admiration. It probably has more to do with more time in Paris and France than any place other than places I have lived. I have probably visited almost every work by Corbusier.
During my time at Skidmore, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marc Goldstein, who was an incredible mentor. I benefitted in my experience and success at the office because of working with him. When he became ill, he looked to me to just take it and run.

 

COMPETITIONS: What was the first competition you ever entered? And the most memorable?

 

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Interview: Blostein/Overly Architects (Summer 2010)

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COMPETITIONS: What led both of you to architecture? Was it something that occurred early on, or was it more of an evolutionary process?

 

BETH BLOSTEIN: Our answers will be very different. My interest was pretty sudden. I randomly decided to take an architecture class at Ohio State, and once I got into it, it seemed to be such a natural fit—for a way of thinking and making things. Even though it wasn’t something I had considered before, it seemed pretty natural.

 


Beth Blostein and Bart Overly

 

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Franklinton Arts District, Live/Make Artist's Housing, Columbus, OH
COMPETITIONS: In these times it’s pretty unusual to be able to come in as a general studies student and take a studio course in architecture.
BETH BLOSTEIN: In those days, you took a studio course and then applied. I applied for the program after I had taken an introductory class, not really sure if I would get in. After I did get accepted to the program, it did turn out to seem like a natural fit/
BART OVERLY: I can very distinctly remember when I was in third grade, we got a Crate and Barrel catalogue at the house. Everything was crisp and clean and white and black and red. I just loved the stuff. I grew up in a house with two parents with very traditional tastes, and I asked my mom, ‘Who buys this stuff?’ And she said, ‘I think architects probably buy this stuff.’ I was always very interested in the arts as a young kid, and I liked how the profession merged with so many other disciplines to effect cultural change and all those kinds of issues. That’s why I think architects are still needed in our culture today.
COMPETITIONS: You both were students at about the same time at Ohio State. Was it clear early on that a professional partnership was a possibility in the future?

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Interview: Diana Balmori (Winter 2009/2010)

Diana  Balmori
COMPETITIONS: What brought you to landscape architecture in the first place. And whom did you first look to as a model?

Diana Balmori: When I got my Ph.D. in history, it was the study of public open spaces in cities. The experiences of landscape had to do more with the amount of time I spent in back country in northwest Argentina, north of Chile and south of Bolivia. My father was a linguist and was studying American Indian languages there. We spent a lot of time going out on horseback in deserted landscapes where the Indians lived. Those experiences were very powerful, just the feeling of space. That experience is not a direct one, but it’s always been an active ingredient in thinking about space. The other one was just the issue of the space inside cities.
As for model, I got into landscape because I started writing about Beatrix Farrand, and I encountered a cache of documents at the New York Historical Society about her correspondence with the architect Lawrence White, the son of the famous architect. It concerned this place in Washington. Nobody had any idea about how she had designed it and how she was involved. So here was this incredibly long correspondence about this. I wrote about how in fact all the decisions were being made about the design. She had been forgotten, and there was very little written about her. So after that I some digging on her work on her work at Princeton and her work at Yale, and at Princeton I also discovered a book at Princeton of the actual design and caring for the landscape for about twenty years there. I found it an incredibly wonderful document from which to learn. It was the basis of my learning and getting interested in landscape. After that I decided I wanted to do landscape (design) and not write about it.

 

Bilbao Jardin, Bilboa, Spain (click to enlarge)

 

COMPETITIONS: When one sees your body of work, which are significant for the number of competitions you have participated in, one might assume that you are located in Europe, rather than in this country. It would appear that much of your work has come as the result of competitions. How did you get so deeply involved in that area?

 

DB: At one level, it’s the only way for a person who comes in from the outside for getting jobs. You’re starting an office, so where do you go to? I didn’t have any connections to say, ‘Give me a job.’ So from the beginning I jumped into competitions from day one, and I have pursued them very actively. Now we get into invited competitions and more direct commissions.

COMPETITIONS: Along the way, you must have learned something from these competitions.

 

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Interview: Craig Dykers/Snøhetta (Fall 2006)

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COMPETITIONS: When did you decide you wanted to become an architect?

Craig Dykers: I started off wanting to work with fashion—women’s fashion and clothing seemed very interesting to me. I quickly learned that the world of fashion wasn’t what I had anticipated. It came to feel very superficial and calculating. I left that and was somehow accepted into medical school, perhaps because of an interest I had in the human body. My grades were not very high; but my notebooks were apparently impressive. In medical school your notebooks are reviewed as well as taking tests My ability to draw anatomical forms was very good and one of the professors recommended that instead of studying medicine I should enroll in the art school and become an anatomical illustrator.

 

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Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt (Competition 1989, completion 2001)
Surprisingly I was accepted into the art department and I soon found myself feeling very comfortable. I began to fall in love with everything; I was beginning to get commissions, drawing cartoons for a local paper, and doing editorial illustrations. I called up my father one day—with whom I had had a very good relationship, and told him I wanted to become an artist. This was met with silence. I didn’t understand that, because he had always taken me to museums, and he was very much a lover of art. He simply said, ‘Well son, you’re not going to get any help from me.’ A couple of weeks later I asked him why he had been so negative. He replied, ‘If you need to call up your father to get his approval for being an artist, then you will never be a good artist. You should have done it and not called me. Then I would have given you all the help you wanted.’

I was confused with what to do with this conundrum. He advised me further, ‘You like science and art; architecture seems like a good thing.' I admitted that I had no idea what that was all about. He said something like, “Architects make churches and things like that. I felt I could work with this, making places for people. The architecture school accepted me and I rolled right into it, staying up many nights to work on my studio assignments. The end result of that long story is that there is an interest in the human form and the notion of the human body as it relates to the things we create. I think that is still with me.

COMPETITIONS: Was Charles Moore already in Austin when you were a student there?

CD: He arrived as I was leaving and there was only one semester overlap. I remember asking him why the nice parts of cities often appear to be on the west or north sides. Not entirely true, but it’s pretty frequent.

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Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt (Competition 1989, completion 2001)

COMPETITIONS: Snøhetta’s origin began with the Alexandria competition. How did that come about?

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Interview: Peter Busby (Winter 2010)

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COMPETITIONS: What led you to become an architect?

PB: I studied philosophy at the University of Toronto as part of my arts undergrad. In studying philosophy you study good and evil, right and wrong, laws and ethics. In the long run I decided philosophy was too sedentary, so I looked for a profession where I could live out some of what I had come to believe about right and wrong and essentially be able to do good. Architecture appealed to me as a place where I could affect the lives and futures of people in a non-political way. I also worked in construction to pay for the university—I did drywall—and got to know architects through that rather circuitous route, and talked to a few of them and went and visited some of their offices, and I took some introductory architecture courses in my final year of philosophy.


COMPETITIONS: You must have had people who influenced you greatly along the way.

PB: I credit one of the professors at UBC, Dr. Ray Cole. for awakening me to the environmental aspects of architectural design. At that point he was a 23-year-old PhD, a new professor at UBC fresh off the boat from England, and he had all these wonderful things to say about environmental issues and foreshadowing what everybody knows today about global warming. As best friends, we have mentored each other over the last 35 years and worked on some projects together.

Brentwood Skytrain Station, Burnaby, BC

I took some of the knowledge from him and went off to Europe. At the time I graduated in 1977, work was pretty scarce in Canada due to a recession. So in 1979 I went to London, looked at Grimshaw’s work, Renzo’s work, and Foster’s work, and decided I wanted to work for Norman Foster, and spent three very great years at his office. He had a great effect on me. Of course he was interested in environmental issues at that time, and had just finished the Willis Faber, a very pioneering green building. Buckminster Fuller was in the office at that time doing some experimental work with Foster, and I got to meet and know him. Charles and Ray Eames were in and out of the office. It was a very interesting time to be there.

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Otremare Marine Theme Park, Riccione, Italy (Photo: courtesy Busby Perkins & Will)

COMPETITIONS: Foster must have been a lot smaller in those days.

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