Contemporary renovations and beautiful, modern residential architecture

Contemporary renovations and beautiful, modern residential architecture

Why teaching and practicing Architecture complement each other

Recently Michael Rotondi was awarded the Richard J. Neutra Medal in Los Angeles. He said some pithy, productive and incisive things in an interview with Sam Lubell in the Architects Newspaper. In particular, his comment on education resonated with me:

In the beginning education and practice are not so different because you have so much energy, and you use it in two directions. Eventually you begin to realize that it’s one practice in two venues and you’re really working with the same ideas; you’re just using them in different ways.

What does that mean? When I began teaching at Oakton Community College, I taught the introductory studio class. I had to simultaneously ask my students to embrace the task at hand with an open mind. Actually a tabula rasa is closer to what I asked of them. They needed it in order to be ready to engage the exercises and grow. For instance, we started sketching but wanted to look at line and shadow in a less obvious way.

My first design job was replacing a front porch. The client liked the off-white vinyl one across the street from his home. I had to ask them to reserve judgment until they saw some more examples. I chose examples, not for their geographic proximity, but because they related in terms of construction type, material and scale. Did the client understand this? No, but he looked to me to guide him as an expert would. With this trust, I was able to raise the level of the discussion to a much higher level and make it more productive.

You’re delivering architecture and you’re trying to trigger the imaginations of students and show them how to solve problems in a creative way. They both require that you’re very clear on what your worldview is, and you’re constantly working on your manual and intellectual skill sets. How do you convert all those ideas into architecture?

Both engagements asked the client to put aside their preconceived ideas of what a porch should look like (below left) or what and open themselves to new possibilities. We were able to introduce color, pattern and shadow and get it built! (Below right)

Warm up exercise for first year studio. Part of an analysis of Richard Meier's work.

Warm up exercise for first year studio. Part of an analysis of Richard Meier's work.

I tell my students that architects are paid seers. Not like clairvoyants, but we can look at a run-down building and see what it could be! Then we have the skills to present it to them. Nowadays they are digital but sketching and model-making are still part of the tool kit.

The idea on the left and the completed work on the right.

The idea on the left and the completed work on the right.

The porch (above) was our first project. The challenge was getting the client to see something that was intentional in its design and more appropriate for them. We introduced them to a larger palate than the vinyl contractor special across the street. We made a computer model. (Left) The plum-colored bricks (right) were solids (we will have a primer on cored and solid bricks in another post) from Endicott Bricks in Omaha. The cedar trellis lines up with the cored brick that were left over from a recent  Cook County Jail Addition.)

Here are two other transformations. The interior view is already in progress. The exterior is a before and after.

In progress on the left and finished waiting for dinner guests on the right.

In progress on the left and finished waiting for dinner guests on the right.


The asbestos-shingled balloon frame house on the left is like many in Chicago. What we created with our client is like no other!

The asbestos-shingled balloon frame house on the left is like many in Chicago. What we created with our client is like no other!