Monday, May 17, 2010

Southerners Need Not Apply Y'all....... A Case of Geographical Bias in the Awarding of Architectural Excellence

(March 2004)

“And This Year, The Winner Is……….Somebody Not from the South.” Conspiracy theorists shall remain silent but albeit unintentional or coincidental, the attitude of “Southerners Need not Apply” is all too prevalent within the context of national awards, recognition and individual architectural merit. This is not a recent phenomenon but actually a trend that has become all too familiar within architectural circles.

Mayberry, Gomer Pyle and Dukes of Hazzard were a popular culture celebration of a rural experience that still exists in some southern outposts; however it may be a stereotype still applied to the business and culture of the southeastern United States. It is apparent to this author there is a geographical preference, resulting in geographic prejudice, that has become de rigueur within the annals of national architectural publications, and various national organizations including the American Institute of Architects.

For example, there were 11recipients chosen for the 2003 AIA (American Institute of Architects) Honor Awards for Architecture within the United States; five projects were located in New York, three in California and two in Massachusetts. The only “wildcat” was an architectural project in Oklahoma. Similarly, there were 10 recipients chosen for the 2003 Contract Magazine Annual Interiors Awards. Of these 10 awards, four were projects in California, three in Toronto and one in Chicago. The 2003 ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Design Award Committee presented five awards to projects in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and the remaining three to locales in California. Of the entire lot of 2002 Business Week Architectural Record Awards, Texas was the only “southern” state represented among the winners.

This questionably prejudicial pattern is not relegated just to commercial projects. For example, the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) “Best in American Living Award” presented 11 awards in 2002 of which nine were in California.

The trend towards an exclusive northeastern and western coast presence has been growing over the previous decades. Ten years ago, the Olympics were coming to Atlanta and references to the “New South” were floating throughout cocktail parties and academic discussions alike. As a historical comparison, the annual awards issue of the now defunct Progressive Architecture magazine in January, 1994 featured ten continental U.S. projects, of which six were in California. One juror at the time declared these projects represented “in a cross section the objectives, sensibilities, and the priorities that the profession must adopt for the 1990’s.” Was this juror suggesting that the country’s architectural leadership rests predominantly in one state?

Similarly, a quantitative survey revealed that of the 122 features in Architectural Record in 1993, 51 were found in the Northeast. (For the purpose of this analysis, the Northeast “zone “composed of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.) Combined with the 19 projects featured in California, 51% of the work published came from only two distinct areas of the contiguous 48. Of the 149 projects featured in Progressive Architecture Magazine in 1993, these two regions and surrounding areas were represented by 112 projects. Finally, the AIA Honor awards distinguished 21 projects in 1993. Thirteen winners were in New York, California and Massachusetts. Looking back an additional 20 years, these same Northeast states and California possessed 53% of the projects that graced the pages of the professional journals in 1973.

The reader may now ask, “Why the concern for awards and media coverage?” In many circles of thought, especially academic and high profile architectural firms, national professional journals validate an architect’s work among his professional peers. Secondly, Weld Coxe said, “Publicity is always the result of success, never the cause of it.” It can be argued as to whether or not publicity gets commissions; it certainly helps a firm get in the door. Lastly, recognition by a third party not only begins to establish the architect (or the firm) as quality-oriented, but promotes a stronger image of the architectural community of which it is embedded.

The results of these observations may have several explanations regarding the lack of geographical balance. The 2004 Almanac of Architecture and Design listed the 26 architecture journals and magazines published in the United States. Ten of these publications are based in New York, four are in California, three are in Chicago and six are in Washington DC. The previously mentioned national design organizations (AIA, NAHB, ASLA) are also based in Washington DC. Since it is no secret that most major publishing houses are found in New York, Chicago and California, it does make one question the equitability of the work which is reviewed and ultimately brought to print. Are these jurors selecting work that is truly nationally represented or an amalgamation of several distinct regions?

Should one then propose that there needs to be an “Arkeetektral Rackord” based south of New Yoorrk Ceety ? No, because sheer volume of work could suggest another reason for the lack of southern representation. It is true that the total number of architecture firms based in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia barely equals the number of firms in New York and is only half the number of firms in California. This argument should not be as strong as one would think since the issue is recognition of excellence in design, not gross fee revenue. The argument of building type does appear offer any advantages by region either. For example, traffic circles aside, the only building type in the north that you will not find in the south are road salt storage sheds.

But what is "good" within the world of architecture? Every project program, site, building use and other multifarious design parameters conjoin to produce a superficially different product in every occurrence. The comparative judgment of aesthetic to determine good and bad in a pluralistic world is difficult, not unlike comparing apples and oranges. By assessing the quality (the built-in potential of an object valued by society), whether inferior or superior, one is able to judge the relative goodness or badness of all disparate objects. Perhaps it is the relative paradigm of the critic, of which he cannot be separated from, that determines the perceived merit. A regional jury would, in theory, select regional projects to be considered “good” based on his or her own point of reference.

Finally, perhaps it is the general values and mores of the individual that ultimately determine the architectural work that is created or accepted. It is certainly no secret that the northeast and California are typically more liberal in political leanings than their more conservative neighbors to the south. In fact, the state by state results of the 2000 presidential election paralleled the AIA, ASLA and NAHB Awards previously mentioned. A scientific correlation of these relationships is beyond the scope of this paper, but one could propose that the more liberal minded the voter, perhaps the more liberally accepting of cultural artifacts by the public. This would lead to the acceptance of a more adventurous or unconventional solution to an architectural project in the northeast and west than that found in the south.

There have been a number of “bright spots “on the southern landscape. Ten years ago, a new architectural journal was created with the initial run of Architecture South founded in 1995….but it folded when the editor relocated to take a new position….that was Robert Ivy with Architectural record A brief glimmer of hope of

The AIA National convention was hosted by Atlanta in 1995 and by Charlotte in 2002. TVSA (Thompson Ventulett Stainback & Associates) was the first Southeastern Company to win the coveted AIA Architecture Firm Award in 2002. Finally, Thom Penney, Principal with LS3P Ltd in Charleston and Charlotte just finished his tenure as AIA President. The late Sambo Mockbee, creator of the rural studio with Auburn University was awarded the 2004 AIA Gold Medal posthumously.

It is common knowledge that the design language of so many of the projects that grace the pages of design journals are perhaps analogous to the outrageous clothing seen on Fashion Show Runways: the product is rarely enjoyed or owned by the average citizen. But this does not recuse the national organizations from a failure to acknowledge individual and firm talent.

It is unlikely that the random establishment of a holistic design "vision" will happen without mass hypnosis or a synchronicitous epiphany because there is little that laws and ordinances can do to improve the situation. For example, building codes enforce a minimum standard of design specifically relating to public safety, health and welfare. Zoning ordinances are equally ineffective when determining the specific aesthetic outcome of a new project unless it is to be in municipalities like Hilton Head or Charleston. Besides, more laws are not necessary; only an increased individual desire and responsibility can achieve architectural excellence…with a little help from the public.

A practicing architect is painfully aware of the need for an educated client that truly understands the value of good architecture in order for unbridled creativity to flourish. The client is the puppeteer when testing the project’s design extremes. For developers and owners that are compromised in understanding the value of great architectural works, it will take more than just the rudimentary sandcastle competition to increase the public’s awareness of excellence in architecture and the true value of an architect.

Are there strategies that can be implemented by firms or message that can be absorbed by the public to begin this process of education? Yes. Many. For example, all too often the patrons of southern architecture appear to be looking backward when assessing the value of its architectural contribution. Bookstores are filled with publications paying homage to the ghosts of Christmas Past. This reverence for the South’s architectural history is to be celebrated without restraint. Unfortunately, it seems that the predominant architectural reputation of the south lies only in its architectural history. One can see that communities such as Eufala, Alabama, Jekyll Island Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina have as much charm and presence as Cape May, New Jersey, Bath, Maine or Suffield, Connecticut. Regardless of these treasures, it is the “New” that will catapult the south to a national stage. Publications or monologues of current architectural works in the south would help dispel this image.

The general public needs indoctrination to all things architectural in order to compensate for a lack of architectural appreciation and cultural education in general. For example, there are a number of Traveling Architecture Exhibits that can and should be retained for shows at local museums or galleries. For this to happen, museum curators and even librarians must become more proactive in this population re-education process.

Only a handful of southern communities have newspaper columnists that are devoted to writing about architecture. Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh and Charleston have permanent staff devoted to architecture writing and criticism. So where are the architectural journalists for Greenville, Savannah, Winston-Salem, Nashville, and other southern cities?

Walking tours in historic districts or even custom designed show homes can serve as a passive education strategy for greater architectural awareness. Hands-on discovery of exemplary residential architecture may be most effective when the homeowner, as client, can explain the benefits in relative terms such as quality of life, added home value and successful construction administration.

The effort to promote architecture to the general public is note relegated to the adult contingent. It must be implemented as an integral element of childhood education. Design education and design awareness programs can enhance any pre-k thru 12th grade school program. For example, local architects can supplement the first step by volunteering their time by interaction in local schools. Slide shows of world architecture can be one such simple project to initiate the youth.

Architectural awareness education can be tailored to children of any age and any interest. The exploration of colors, shapes, spaces, mathematics and even American history can be taught using architecture. Designing a Dream House, going on field trips or Neighborhood Walking Tours, studying structures or even exploring Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond will stress the importance of architecture, its role in the environment and its improvement to the performance of one’s daily rituals.

As discussed earlier, the south is, generally speaking, populated by a conservative lot. This can be most evident in reviewing the prolific number of architectural solutions in the south that are more contextual in response to the site as opposed to the well published “icons” in the landscape that grace the pages of the design journals. Only when we pull the monuments out of the everyday and elevate them do we get the false impression that there is an architectural superiority that is geographically based. In many cases, the glory of living in the south is augmented by the cohesive amalgamation of the local history, the indigenous archetypes, common materials and traditions. Maybe the architectural experience in the south, especially in rural studies, is bigger than that just the singular building but is a marriage to the life that it inhabits, the lives that it serves and the lifestyle around it.

Nevertheless, until the client base of the southern architect allows greater creative freedom, southern architects could promote the work within the context of the local paradigm and demonstrate the exemplary success of how the design project answers the client’s needs. Some may consider that an apples to oranges comparison, but in its purest definition, architects are first and foremost problem solvers.

With regards to strategies within the world of academia, the college curriculum must be modified to incorporate classes and workshops that explore the practical relationship between the public and the architect. A general understanding of public relations, design marketing strategies and architectural writing all too often take a backseat to the striking visual displays and abstract theses heralded in architectural schools. Needless to say, the design curriculum focus should not be compromised but there must be a better balance as to how future architects are being trained.

Public relations programs and commercials must be more relative to the general public’s interest than the recent 30 second national television spots of juggling clowns. The basic concept is that the general public typically thinks in terms of his or her pocketbook. Therefore the perceived value of good design must also be relayed in monetary terms. Once the appreciation of said enhanced value is acknowledged, the architect will be trusted and subsequently allowed to possess greater design freedom.

The conservative nature of southern clients as well as the “playing it safe” mentality of some architects all too often produces banal and non-descript buildings. For example, Georgian Colonial inspired two story office buildings are the most recent theme of choice in Greenville, South Carolina. This cloning approach to the built environment highlights two issues. One, most southern municipalities do not require an architect’s seal on business use buildings under 5,000 sf and less than three stories. Requiring an architect on these building types could prove to be an integral component to improving the design landscape. Second, repetition of product is efficient but shortsightedly allows the architect’s fees to be disproportionately low. The architect must begin to charge appropriate fees in order to allow adequate design time to be spent on each project. Low balling hurts the profession as a whole as well as stifles the south’s evolution toward a stronger architectural presence.

Finally, it is possible that the focus on a narrow definition of architectural excellence excludes work not normally considered at award time. In a world that is turning more to the past now that an appreciation and genuine understanding of historic preservation is taking hold, perhaps the celebration of restoration and renovation could be more pronounced. Greenville South Carolina, for example, was awarded the Great American Main Street Award last year.

It is irrefutable that the South has long been ignored or even shunned by the elitist and at times arrogant neighbors to the north and west. With the influx of “immigrants” from the north that are rapidly moving south, perhaps the word will resonate within the architectural cauldrons of Gotham and the West Coast that the South has much to offer in terms of architectural excellence.

The business leader and homeowner alike will continue to impact the architectural development of the south. It will take a devoted effort by community leaders, architects and architecture schools to educate the public as to the value of good design, as well as breaking down antiquated stereotypes and misconception of what the South has to offer to the world.

Therefore, the prime directive to architecture students, architects, columnists and business leaders is simple: promote Southern Architecture. Professionals and lay citizens may be locally aware of the “New South” but it will take extra effort by all professionals to send this message to the rest of the country.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Lighter Side of a Heavy Job

When first approached to publish a book of architectural cartoons, my initial excitement was immediately squelched by the thought of throngs of Braveheart influenced AIA colleagues rushing the doors of my office, screaming “Blasphemy! Infidel! How dare you insult the legacy of Vitruvius, King Solomon, Palladio, and Mike Brady!!!” It is true that unless you are an imagineer for Disney, it is not a good thing to have people laughing at your work so the idea of writing a cartoon book about the craft I hold near and dear to my heart did not come easy. I was concerned about the screams of outrage bellowing from the ivory towers but like the Flying Elvi, Spinal Tap, and the Colbert Report, what better way to honor the world’s grandest and most exclusive profession then with parody, satire and perhaps a little political commentary thrown in?

My very first cartoon was influenced by Chaucer’s 14th century proverb: Men who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Now imagine Mies and Phillip Johnson in a rock throwing fight. So architectural humor may not be ready for primetime stand-up on Comedy Central, but we, the edified, the exulted, the elite…. “get it”.

For example, think of your joy when first introduced to the stretch command in AutoCAD way back when. Oh, the creative possibilities! And if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, consider watching Howard Roark dynamite the Courtland Building over and over again. Good stuff.

Like Andy Warhol’s celebration of the Tomato Soup Can, there are everyday events and people, anonymous to our awareness, that when celebrated become bigger than life. My cartoons are usually based on these everyday people and memories with a slight twist added. Re-presented reality can be good humor and good medicine. For example, just about every large firm has an “old man” that can run rings around any underling when it comes to putting a building together. He may cuss like a sailor but can draw like Da Vinci. The tragedy is that he would rather gouge out his eye with a protractor than right-click a mouse. Cartooning gave me the opportunity to honor just such a mentor of mine who would now be a sideshow exhibit at the State Fair...”Step right up, see the architect that still draws by hand !”

Subsequently, the creation of Archi-toons became my professional therapy to combat the ills and frustrations of an artist forced to exist in a contractor’s world. For example I could finally have my revenge on the builder that once told me if I rely on Means Construction Cost data, then I better go git (sic) Mr. Means to build it too! In my Cartoonland, I could brazenly walk up to a design principal and say: “Your work looks familiar-what are your influences? Is it Rizzoli, Record, Wiley, McGraw Hill?” In real life I would have been fired quicker than I could stipple a shadow or stack a pinbar but this was now an alternate universe where architecture is religion and contractors and developers alike humbly worship at the altar of design.

It is only natural that television game shows such as Name That Keynote have replaced Wheel of Fortune. Developers restore the original beauty of the landscape if their strip mall fails. The predominant language is littered with design school jargon. (You remember some of them: entrance experience, transition space, positive negative relationship, duality, essence of being, sense of place…) But like a prudent designer, there are limits and one must know when to stop. Imagine the conversation at punchlist time: “C’mon, I was just kidding, I didn’t think you would really build it like that! It was a joke!”

What we do is not easy. We are heroes when a job is within budget, surgeons when it is over budget and expected to be a magicians when given an impossible budget. It is a stressful existence and humor is the antidote. With apologies to The Godfather, only family can lampoon family.

I believe that an inadequate education in the arts has prevented many Americans from understanding the great value of an Architect. Rather than wait for the culture to catch up with us, perhaps we should reach out to the masses. We can preserve the image of our noble profession through the work we produce, but through humor remain accessible to our clients. That is the message of Archi-toons: architects really do make the world a better place, one house addition or tenant upfit at a time. And most important of all, we do it with a smile.

Antoine and the Kids. Antoine Predock meets Greenville’s Kids in Architecture Program.

”Hello. My name is Antoine, a French name. It ‘s the same as Antonio in Spanish, Anton in German or Anthony in England….” And with that humble greeting, Antoine Predock, FAIA, greets a group of first graders at Summit Drive Elementary School in Greenville, SC. Wait a minute……Antoine Predock…. First graders…..South Carolina…..How is this scenario possible? Simple. The Kids in Architecture Program.

The Kids in Architecture program was developed as a themed program for elementary schools to rival the attraction (no pun intended) of magnet schools. Summit Drive Elementary School in Greenville, SC has adopted architecture as its school-wide theme. Designed to serve as the central “hub” with other elementary schools in the area serving as the “spokes, ” these first through fifth graders are regularly exposed to architectural related topics such as shapes, materials and buildings. Clay Gandy AIA, an architect with Batson Architects, has developed a partnering association between Clemson University’s School of Architecture, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and Summit Drive Elementary. Mr. Gandy’s resourcefulness, adamant persistence and AIA Greenville sponsorships have promoted the KIA program to a national audience.

It is also Gandy’s idealism, and “never say never” attitude that has created today’s scenario, bringing Antoine Predock from New Mexico to South Carolina. Perhaps these six year olds will one day find themselves on their own lifelong journey of architectural exploration, not unlike the seasoned designer from New Mexico now standing before them.

“Do you guys know how to go to websites ? As a chorus of “yeahs” resonates off of the CMU classroom walls, Predock moves towards the dry erase board. “It’s www, dot, predock, …….what do you think next ?” The chorus of cherubs shrill in unison, “dot com! “ “I can see you know a little bit about computers…..Well, you can see a picture of my doggie on my website, Aiko. That’s a Japanese word that means ‘little loved one’. You can see a picture of my grandchildren too.”
Prompting the casually dressed guest, Mrs. Shaw asked, “ Have you designed a building that we may have heard of?” “ Well,” paused Predock, “I have done buildings made of dirt, or earth. It is called adobe which is a Spanish word.” The idea of building with dirt brought the neophytes to attention. “You make mud blocks with a special clay mixed up with sand and water. Then you make a wooden box and pour the mud into it and let it dry. This becomes a brick made of mud. And then you take thousands of those mud bricks and stick them together, with mortar. You can make a huge wall with it.”

“I have also used shiny blue metal on a building in Tampa. (The Tampa Museum of Science and Industry) Since the color of the water is blue, I made a big blue ball, which is also called a sphere. …And inside the big blue ball is a movie theater, called an OmniMax. I also designed a ballpark for the San Diego Padres Baseball Team.” An alto chorus of “Oh wow” lurches forward from the six year olds. “It was fun designing a baseball park for 44,000 people. Now, you are probably Atlanta Braves fans here. Well we took care of the Braves one year but that was about it. (referring to the 1998 championship series.) “
Redirecting the crowd of six year olds to the front of the classroom, Predock motions towards the large map of the United States that has now been unfurled in front of the blackboard. “I have a picture of my motorcycle on my website too. I rode it across Europe. I then put it on a big ship, a freighter, that brought it to Canada where I rode it from Montreal, down through the Carolinas, over to Dallas and on to the Southwest.” Having also seen the photograph of Predock screaming across the desert on his 1951 Vincent Black Shadow, one of the students asks unabashedly; “Did you ride your motorcycle to our school?”
Although the eyes reveal what may have been his true desire, Predock relents. “No, I came on a plane. My office is mainly in Albuquerque where we make architecture and design our buildings. I also live in California sometimes, in Los Angeles. But did you know you could also drive across the country? How many of you have heard of the legends of Highway 66?” Some of the students look at each other, maybe not to ponder the essence of the possible journey on such a road, but perhaps to strategize the next big trade of Pokemon cards with their neighbors. Realizing the attention span limit of these first graders may have been breached; it was time to move on.

Roving the hallways of this 1950’s school building, Predock’s focus was directed toward the seemingly endless murals, painted by a local artist, that embellished the formerly zolatone coated hallways. By devouring the local color and culture in order to formulate a specific region’s poetic diagram, or “Roadcut”, Predock’s work is able to express the unique duality of being tied to a place without being grounded in a time. But during this excursion, Predock is not gathering information for his next design charette or trying to make a good impression on a design jury. He is sincere and honest in his love for the vernacular, even if it is as simply illustrated as peach orchards, the Blue Ridge Mountains or the downtown skyline. Working his way down the hall, he stops to poke his head into Mrs. Ando’s second grade class. “Do you know of a Tadao Ando?” politely infusing his presence to the stranger. Predock still expresses humility and unbridled enthusiasm in his voice when recanting the tale when Ando actually showed up, albeit unannounced, at his studio.

Later that morning, Predock continues to deliver his gospel of architecture to several classes of fourth graders. Occupying a small auditorium on a local college campus, the second presentation of the day begins with an inspiring speech. The leather coat is now gone and the slender man in a dark purple turtleneck strides up to the stage. Turning to the audience he pulls up a chair and leans forward toward the students.
“You know, you can have a job in life, where you go to work, and say ‘I can’t wait to get home tonight, say my job is over, and watch TV.’ Or…… your work can be your life…… where you are so excited about it that you don’t say ‘I’ve got a job’……. You can say that your work is your life, ‘ This is my life!’ What you do can be something you love so much that it doesn’t feel like a job. That is the way I feel about architecture.”
The sermon continues. “You can love what you do. Think of what you can do now, that are your favorite things, things that you do that you love. That can be your work. It doesn’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer, it can be anything. Your dream can come true…… mine did. I can’t wait to do my work.”

Whether the kids were thoughtfully pondering his words, or thinking about what was for lunch, the silence is shattered when a strange, almost alien form flashes onto the projection screen. “I love airplanes, and I am just fascinated by the stealth fighter.” Talking over the spontaneous laughter, Predock continued.” This is a Stealth Doghouse…… for a Stealth Poodle, in a book called Barkitecture. It was for an auction to help a group of people. Anything can be architecture. You know, Architecture to me is when you go to a building, and you feel something special, that is architecture. Like making films, painting or writing poetry, it is an art. And that is the way I like to do my architecture, it is always an art. But remember, it has to function. I learned that from one client, if you put a light bulb 30 feet in the air you still have to be able to change it if it goes out. I told him I would levitate up and take it out. I was joking but I knew I was accountable for that.”

Another slide appears on the screen. It is a simple geometric mass, characteristic of Predock’s strong use of form and shape. “Another project I designed was called the Spectral Slug. It’s a play unit for kids. Inside this tunnel there are 200 racquetballs on a floor. You go up a ramp and you see colors of the spectrum, like a rainbow. A fan is blowing at you down a tunnel. You then crawl across a platform over a plastic bowl full of goldfish and then slide through this curtain. (“Cool” and “awesome” are now being whispered throughout the room.) “Does anybody know what a symbol is?” quizzed Predock.

One student quickly responds, “ A symbol is a design that represents something.”

“That’s right, so what does this symbolize?”

“ A slug,” was the only response heard.

Sheepishly smiling upon realizing architectural theory may still be a few years away for these students, Predock grinned in defeat and said, “ Well, it actually symbolizes a journey across the landscape.”

“Is it already made?”

“Yes, it’s in Des Moines Iowa…”

Undaunted, the bold ones were quick to follow with; “Can we try it?”

“Well yes, if you go to Des Moines Iowa.”

Moving through the slides of various projects, built and unbuilt, Predock pauses at the photographs of the US Pavilion for the World Expo 92 in Seville Spain. “This is a pavilion for a competition that I won for an idea that was called America the Beautiful. Do we know the song? (Syncopated nodding infects the crowd.) Pointing to a conical mass, “Here is a purple mountain majesty…what are some of the other things in the song?” quizzed Predock.

“What about a Fruited Plain?” Shouts Ashley.

“Yes, these are apple trees, a fruited plane…..” responded Predock , pointing to the foreground.

“Spacious skies?” Blurts Emma.

“Yes, these are spacious skies. They are projected onto theatrical scrims. It’s a film that I can project onto that also provides shade for the building.”

“Alabaster cities…. ?” came from an anonymous voice in the back. Predock freezes in thought…… “Oh that is one of the other lyrics…… no I didn’t remember that one……..”

“Amber Waves of grain?” says Ryan, getting the distinguished guest back on track.

”Yes, Ok, this is a wheat field over an exhibition space below. You go to the theater and it raises up.” It was evident that he had now captivated the young crowd. A mixed chorus of “awesome” and “ohhhhhh” fill the auditorium.

Clicking through the images Predock pauses to discuss the Dance Studio facility at the University of California-San Diego, built in 1996. “Have you studied dance? To me I think some of the greatest athletes in the world, even like Michael Jordan, are dancers that can jump and move their bodies in amazing ways.”
Predock glides through the photographic images like a grandfather proudly showing off wallet pictures of his grandchildren. Pausing at The American Heritage Center and Art Museum in Laramie Wyoming, he explains: “I wanted to make it like a mountain. Buildings do not always have to be horizontal. Sometimes they can be shaped, in any shape you want. There is a famous building in Bilbao Spain by a famous architect named Frank Gehry, that is a very sculptural building. Architecture can be sculpture but it still has to work internally, it has to function.”
When a photograph of The Stanford Center for Integrated Systems Extension at Stanford University materializes on the front wall, Predock decides not to burden the fourth grade audience with the stylistic conflicts he encountered with the Richardsonian Romanesque precedent. Instead, he simplifies his basic theory; “I didn’t want to copy the old way, with a lot of stone vaults and arches. I wanted to use a copper vault. I guess I like metals because I love airplanes. My first job before architecture was gassing airplanes; and I later got a job working on the F4.”

Images of The San Diego Padres Ballpark, the Classroom/Laboratory/Administration Building at California Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, flash before their eyes. The resounding chants of “Ahh, Cool” were being rhythmically repeated with the change of each slide, fourth graders saying out loud what many licensed architects privately think.
As the show comes to a close, Brandon interjects: “Did you build all of these buildings?” With a sly grin, Predock responds; “Well that is why I have all of this white hair, because I work pretty hard. Really follow your dreams, and I really mean that, and you can be anything you want. Don’t settle for anything less than what you love when you do your work. You can see when I think of architecture, I try to dream.” Although these 10 year olds may not remember his name, they will have been subconsciously influenced by his overtly infectious passion for architecture. “ I mentioned earlier to follow your dreams and many of you might become architects, since the theme of your school is architecture. I want you to drop me an email one day if you become an architect and let me know how you are doing.”

The afternoon is approaching, and after a brief tour of the newly completed SC Governor’s School and a lunch break at 65 mph, Predock finds himself, once again before an audience at Clemson University. This time, it is familiar territory. Having served as the inaugural Robert Mills Distinguished Professor in 1995, he greets the crowd with “It’s old home week here.” The audience is mixed with undergraduate and graduate level architecture students as well as the high school age students from the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

Modest yet self-confident, the introduction is classic tongue in cheek. The audience is greeted with the Vidal Sassoon purchased Stealth doghouse. “ Ever since I worked in Nevada, I have had a fixation on stealth geometries. You can go to my, website, you can see my Pantheon wristwatch. I am not doing shoes yet, but there is a Stealth Cookie Jar available now, it’s a gasketed lid, so it is very quiet, very stealthy……..”
Once again, the Spectral Slug appears on the screen but the monologue for these students has become more sophisticated. “Architecture is about journey, about a choreographic imperative. It has always been in my system. I was married to a dancer for a long time……Jennifer and I had a dance company in the 1970’s, and actually taught joint workshops for dance students and architecture students at University of New Mexico. It has always been in my picture in terms of thinking of the body and space. So much can be learned from dance because Architecture is potentially so cross-disciplinary.”

As a finalist in the immense Palm Bay Resort & Congress Center Competition in Agadir, Morocco, Predock proceeds to give a few words of encouragement to the students. “When I was at Clemson before, I spoke of my spiritual savings account. It is a kind of Sargasso Sea of unbuilt competition projects. The energy that goes into making any work, even if it is doesn’t come to realization in physical form, that energy that goes into it, does not evaporate. That energy stays within us.” Speaking consolingly, he continues: “Consider this a pep talk to any architecture students that are doing charettes right now, that wonder how crazy they are, to be pulling all-nighters, you get paid back years later from your spiritual savings account.”

After several self-deprecating references to himself as Mr. Adobe, Predock takes the students on a tour of images that he calls “oldies but goodies.” The Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts, the Social Science & Humanities Building at UC Davis, the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center and City Hall, the Turtle Creek House in Dallas, and the Flint River Center in Albany Georgia display the breadth of work and thought that this gentleman architect has created. The intensity of the moment is broken, however when a wireless microphone from elsewhere on campus mysteriously transmits a simultaneous conversation into the auditorium speaker system. Unflappable, and obviously influenced by ‘Area 51’ humor, Predock interjects: “ Just follow what they are saying…(playfully shaking the laser pointer)….. You know what it is……..aliens ! You thought you were safe in this cozy part of South Carolina but they follow me around.”

The San Diego Ballpark design sketches and models are an appropriate place for Predock to explain his methods of research. “ These collages are very important to me. They are my research pieces. That is why I think programming, you know, the ‘P’ word, is such a deadly experience, it is often about number crunching, function, mere proximities, relationships, square footages, but I really like to spice that up with intangibles that are associated with making buildings…… “

As the houselights go up, Predock plugs his wares one more time. “You can visit my website to see a picture of my grandchildren and my doggie…….……” Although he is comically quick to correct the host upon being mislabeled a Harley Davidson enthusiast (his real love are Ducatis) the mood turns serious when it comes to questions from the audience about architecture. One student asks if greater effort should be made to preserve or restore Highway 66?
“Well, Highway 66 was a cultural first in this country, for example, that had a shelf life, had a time span. It had a power, an authenticity about it but the more you worry about it, you tend to save things that perhaps should die a natural death …….……It really depends in which spirit you approach it. I don’t believe historic preservation, for the sake of saving buildings that are usually Euro-centrist models that we didn’t want in the first place, is a good thing. It is an evil thing. Cornice lines that have to match this and that. They are usually ugly buildings that come from a Euro-centrist bias that had nothing to do with the people who were here originally. Highway 66 is just a vanishing icon in the southwest. You can’t get nostalgic about it and try to protect it in a way where you make it seem silly.”

No longer the first to quiz the master, a parade of hands begin to shoot up into the air. “Is ‘place’ grounded more in the realm of the individual or in terms of the society?” Asks an audience member.
“Well, it boils down to the smile on somebody’s face or how they feel. That’s individual. But the cultural strata that I talked about in the roadcut , or the collages, is absorbed in the people, it exists within the cultural strata. I think it’s ok to look at the ephemeral, the cultural manifestation, but realize it is not the thing to prioritize, necessarily, when you are looking at the huge picture, the geologic depth, the power of place, this intangible that transcends stylistic response in architecture. As I work my way up thru the roadcut , the individual is important, but it is most fulfilling when someone says something touched them about my buildings, something has moved them in a way that they can’t explain. I get a few comments like that. It’s great. ………..well, that is the end of my diatribe.”

And then it was over. A whirlwind odyssey that began with first graders at 9:00 a.m., graduating to fourth graders by noon, and in a surreal sense, growing up and finishing college by 4:30 p.m. that same day. After dropping Predock at the airport, Louis Batson, a principal of Batson Architects, Inc. in Greenville, asked me “Well , How did it go ?” I was tempted to launch into a monologue describing Predock’s theoretical constructs, his foray into new geographic regions or even deliberating the essence of place….but less really is more since all I could muster was an exuberant, fourth grader inspired response: “Awww, It was cool !…”

Antoine Predock may not be a self-proclaimed ambassador of architecture, but he should accept the title by default. Few in this business will attain the stature that he has, and even fewer can remain grounded in humility while powered by simple self-confidence and honesty to one’s own message. Even still, Predock may stand alone among peers in his willingness to take the time to pass the message on to future disciples. It is hoped that the Kids in Architecture Program, with Clay Gandy’s persistence and spirit of volunteerism by the community, will continue to foster the environment necessary to educate our children about architecture and its intrinsic value.

Dear Diary: Today I rode around with Antoine Predock

The annoying staccato rhythm emanating from the telephone brought me out of a panic driven daydream. I don’t know how long the handset had been locked in the vise-grip of my left hand. I don’t know how long I had been blankly staring at the wall in my office. All I knew was that Antoine Predock, FAIA, was coming to town and I had been invited to accompany him all day. Never mind the office, never mind the deadlines, never mind the anxiety. This was a very, very good thing.

Now somewhere between the realm of idolatry and obsession lies sincere, unabated hero worship. I had revered Predock’s work from afar since he first visited Clemson University while I was a graduate student twelve years ago. Since that time, he has escaped his southwestern regionalist moniker and was now competing for work on a world-wide scale against the likes of Gehry, Pelli, Stern and Mayne. To be granted a semi-private conversation with the great American Architects, past or present, is either the stuff of dreams or hirings and firings. But unlike Frank Lloyd Wright and his Taliesin apprentices, I did not have to pay “tuition” to obtain an audience with this talented architect. This “joyride” was actually a very fortuitous byproduct of the Kids in Architecture Program.

The Kids in Architecture program was developed as a themed program for elementary schools to rival the attraction (no pun intended) of magnet schools. Summit Drive Elementary School in Greenville, SC has adopted architecture as its school-wide theme. Designed to serve as the central “hub” with other elementary schools in the area serving as the “spokes, ” these first through fifth graders are regularly exposed to architectural related topics such as shapes, materials and buildings. Clay Gandy AIA, an architect with Batson Architects, has developed a partnering association between Clemson University’s School of Architecture, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and Summit Drive Elementary. Mr. Gandy’s resourcefulness, adamant persistence and AIA Greenville sponsorships have created today’s scenario, bringing Antoine Predock from New Mexico to South Carolina.
His resume speaks volumes about his academic credentials. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1962, won the Rome Prize in 1985, became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1981, a visiting critic at SCI-ARC and Harvard and was the first Robert Mills Distinguished Professor at Clemson University in 1995.

Until his meteoric rise to national prominence in the late 1980’s, he may have been the southwest’s best-kept secret, but he was hardly the overnight success that some might believe. Predock opened his own practice in Albuquerque in 1967, and has been winning local, state or national AIA awards since 1970. He has been in the Record Houses issue of Architectural Record seven times since 1970 and over 45 books on architecture have featured his work. He has also been featured in 35 articles in Architectural Record since 1970 as well as 25 articles in the now defunct Progressive Architecture between 1974 and 1995.

The more I thought about it, the more difficult it was to not become intimidated. What should I ask him? Should I speak to Predock the designer, or Predock the philosopher? No, I’ll start with the basics. Besides, I was not going to try to pretend to be an architectural critic. This author had no sycophantic intentions, just sincere admiration for Predock’s work. His concept of the "roadcut," the summation of the intangible qualities of place that are explored through a multi-disciplinary investigation of the literature, art, culture, geology and history of the site are very intriguing as a programming or research tool. I am a fellow practitioner and would like to better understand the elements of Antoine Predock’s “roadcut.” So I decided to start at the beginning.
“Did you always want to be an architect?” I asked. (Ok, so the question was more Mike Brady than Ada Louise Huxtable.) Soft spoken with a very calming demeanor, he addressed this question as diligently as any other. “I had no clue, no idea. I didn’t know until I was 21. I did all of the hard courses so when I went through architecture it was a piece of cake; I had engineering, the calculus, physics, and chemistry all behind me. I had a professor that showed me that ‘life is work’ is true, it is possible. I was an engineering student, and he was an architect, farmed out from a program that was still formative. Somehow it got through to me, so I tried architecture when I was floundering around trying to decide what to do with my life. I didn’t have any aptitude. I thought it sounded good, like a doctor or lawyer, but I had no clue.”

Predock opened his studio in Albuquerque in 1967, followed by a second studio in Los Angeles in 1988. It was refreshing to find, in his first book by Rizzoli, he had given recognition, by name, to his employees over the previous 30 years. This selfless act documents his ability to recognize the talents of the collective, acknowledging that he has worked with “a lot of gifted and talented people.”

This reliance on good people may be one of the keys to his strength as an architectural powerhouse. His time is now split evenly between Los Angeles, Albuquerque and the airlines. He had come to the upstate, leaving his office during a rigorous charette for a new design competition. Never out of touch with his staff for more than two hours at any given time, regular phone calls were made throughout the day to check the design progress. Losing a design competition is something he takes to heart. Although Predock regularly makes short lists for architect selection, he is careful not to staff up just for one project. He instead prefers to form associations with firms for additional manpower when needed.

The influences of Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and Jose Luis Sert on Predock’s career are well documented, however one cannot help acknowledge the corresponding reverence for light and shadow in his work and that of Tadao Ando. “He is an architect that I totally admire. One day I was in Albuquerque. My house is next to my studio. I was told there was a Japanese architect that was at my office and wanted to visit…..No one had called or anything, they just showed up. So I said Oh, OK…and it was Tadao Ando! So he and I became friends.”
One surprise revelation was in discovering a “non-influence.” It seemed too obvious, in light of Predock’s celebration of earth and sky, that he would have been a long time patron of the writings of Martin Heidegger and the fourfold (earth and sky, divinities and mortals). Not so. “Did you see my book by Academy editions, by Geoffrey Baker?” replied Predock when quizzed. “Geoffrey Baker was a Heideggerian, and he made this Heideggerian extrapolation to my work. I had never studied Heidegger at all. Through Baker I got the message of the fourfold. I kind of buy into his interpretations but I never, never would have done anything conscious because I didn’t know that much about him. Pretty fascinating because a lot of it is dead-on.”

Resisting the temptation to retreat to Chris Farley style questioning (e.g., Do you remember that time when you designed that building…. that was great….), there was an unanswered issue that had been addressed when I first met Predock 12 years earlier at Clemson University. Since by trade and education, architects are party to the highbrow or elite culture, and yet Predock had masterfully designed buildings that were either part of or respectful to popular culture. He has even been known to cite references to the writings of Marshall McLuhan. Can this duality be an undeniable struggle on a philosophical battlefield?

“One difficulty is the temporality of the populist….. but it is the strength of the architecture that I want to tap into. The ephemeral interests me very much but at the same time the architecture I create has a deeper mandate. That is why I like to talk about the highway roadcut. John McPhee the author from Princeton, understood this cultural stratigraphy. You look at a highway roadcut, the pre-Cambrian granite and the sedimentary strata in relation to the cultural episode, which is just a thin film, it’s nothing. So what I can’t stand is when someone says, ‘why can’t your building look like the building next door’, well so what? It’s just a temporary thing. I like to look at that deep thing, that power, rather than a mental style. It is just an obsession with me, I am really interested in the underpinning. I am a movie freak. I love weird things that are happening in neighborhoods. I let the cultural thing come through. It’s not like I prioritize it, but it’s there.”
“The Santa Fe Hotel was an internal struggle since I was working with Disney. They typically just want to give people one-liners but I wanted to investigate something deeper. Look at (the 1984 film) Paris Texas or any of Wim Wender’s work. That is a way of seeing the west and Michael Eisner let me explore it with the Santa Fe hotel (Hotel Santa Fe Euro Disney, Paris, 1992).”

His popular culture interests are about as varied as his building types. Although a quasi-celebrity himself, he is unable to hide the excitement in discussing the 1998 film Gattaca. Not just because his Classroom/Laboratory/Administration Building at Cal Poly in Pomona California, shared the silver screen with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center in this science fiction thriller, but that screen siren UmaThurman was “cruising around” his building. He gets equally enthusiastic upon learning of the presence of the cable channel Speed-vision for the opportunity to view re-runs of the black and white documentary based on Hunter S. Thompson's 1966 non-fiction novel, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

This affinity with cinema is not to suggest Predock has “gone Hollywood.” Not in the least. He did open a studio in Los Angeles in 1988, which he maintains with a staff of four. One of his first projects out of that office was the Venice House. Initially unassuming in program, this 30’ x 90’ shotgun house is one of three of his projects featured in the Whitney Guide to 20th Century American Architecture, as well as gracing THE book jacket in living color. The house is located, literally, at ground zero of the “cultural zoo” of Venice Beach, California. But rather than succumb to the all too common gravitational pull towards hipness, Predock chose to design a structure that was timeless.

Predock reminisces: “…. I got to live in it for a month as part of the contract. Now, here is this huge red 13’ high pivot window……I opened it one Sunday morning, and there were these rubberneckers out there always looking in and they applauded! It was like the act of opening a window was theater….. Eric Saarinen, (Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s grandson and Eero Saarinen’s son) lives there now with his wife ……it’s in good hands.”

His intensity can be daunting. A snapshot of the day’s events that best expresses this quality shows Predock in the front passenger seat of a sedan traveling 70 mph towards Clemson University, furiously rearranging two carousels of slides, simultaneously, while eating a sandwich and carrying on a conversation with Virginia Uldrick, President of the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

But how does a visionary talent such as this mystic man of New Mexico, who frequently espouses commentary such as “Architecture is a fascinating journey toward the unexpected,” relate to the rest of the architectural profession where ordinary individuals are busy drafting flashing details or calculating egress width requirements ?

“I have been in the trenches, I worked my way through school doing full projects as a junior….By myself……. I mean it wasn’t anything huge, but I just had that ethic from the very beginning.” Conversational tidbits throughout the day substantiate his claim. He spoke of the “ancient” talent of rolling a Number 2 pencil in order to keep the point sharp while drafting, the perils of ink blobs falling out of a ruling pen attached to a beam compass or the frustrating experience of shirt sleeve buttons being captured in a “spi-roll.” We even developed a bond by discovering our mutual hatred for plastic lead on mylar and the awful smell of eradicator fluid on sepias. Louis Batson AIA, a principal with Batson Architects, also helped fuel the nostalgic moment as the two seasoned principals recanted tales of T-squares, eraser powder bags, ruling pens and sandpaper pencil pointers.
He laughs about the fact, almost self mockingly, that the last time he visited Clemson he did not know how to turn a computer on. Losing his computer virginity only a month ago, he now proudly flaunts cyber buzz words, promotes his URL address ( and unabashedly pedals his on-line wares (The Pantheon wrist watch, the Vincent Black Lightning Wall Clock, and the soon to be released Stealth Cookie Jar) to the audiences at his three KIA presentations throughout the day. He has even found the World Wide Web to be a double edge sword for a self-proclaimed information junkie that devours everything in sight. “ I am now cruising websites” he admits, “but I can’t tell where the boundaries are…. I don’t know where to stop finding stuff out.”

The computer generated renderings of his Gateway Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota are testimony that he has come to embrace the machine as an asset to his practice for production, presentations and competitions, but he has one major ax to grind: an unabashed aversion for computer fonts that mimic hand lettering. Faithful to his craft, study models, brush pen and pastels will always be prevalent in his repertoire.

Perhaps it is the summary essence of sensitive artist, talented craftsman, and cultural observer that is the “roadcut” of Antoine Predock. A seven hour visit revealed how multifariously complex his interests and personality can be. For example, he does get disappointed when he does not win a competition. He is proud of the work of his sons. He is eager to discuss his two grandchildren and “doggie” (of which he has emblazoned on his website). He is amazed at the size of Palmetto bugs (someone had mailed him one from Charleston.) His first question upon arriving at the newly opened SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities was “what is the cost per square foot?” He is a Stan Musial bred but San Diego Padre born again baseball fan. He is humble. And perhaps the most telling of all: He sacrificed a day away from his office during a design charette in order to help the Kids in Architecture Program………..