Tag: Dr. Dickson Despommier

Pritzker Prize Winner Thom Mayne Explores the Source

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Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne last spoke at the Monterey Design Conference in 2009. Though he’s not speaking this year, we thought it would be interesting to check in with him. Here’s the first part of our conversation. (Don’t forget Jeanne Gang, Dr. Dickson Despommier, Tom Kundig, and the Office of Architecture in Barcelona’s Borja Ferrater speak this year) — Tibby Rothman

When I interview you, we always end up taking more about breakthroughs in other disciplines–the mapping of the human gnome or the early days of rap music, for instance—instead of architecture. Why is that?

“You could say the work that I did was kind of clumsy and searching…”

From early on I was part of a generation that started questioning what I saw as the somewhat introverted nature of architecture. I was not conscious of it at the time, I couldn’t verbalize what was taking place but really, what was happening, is that architecture was—it was the first signs of what we now call globalization. It was expanding and the interests, or the initiating acts, that stimulate architectural ideas were moving outside of the discipline.

In hindsight, you could say that the modern project was somewhat exhausted at that time and I had found Soriano and Gregory Ain and Pierre Koenig as they were, kind of, retiring. They were very important but also they were not particularly interesting to me at that point in my life—that being nineteen, twenty, twenty-one-years-old. What was happening was it was a very particular time in history, a particular time in the U.S., the sixties.

I was interested in the invention taking place in music and the films young people saw at the time were Godard and Truffaut and Fellini—amazing amazing people. And all of this somehow trumped the historical, the orthodoxy of the modern of that time. It was just far more interesting and it captivated you.

“…right away, we moved out [of Los Angeles] to get any serious work…”

There was also the political culture and what was triggered out of that, poetry and literature and all these other things—whether it was Allen Ginsberg or the reality of having a number from Vietnam. And, of course, the huge empowerment of students which was something that was unheard of. (Interestingly enough, we’ve been watching that happen in Egypt and Tunisia. Clearly that was the beginning of that—Paris in 1969.)

And there were these very specific things happening, which were really tangible just after my education. We’d started SciArc by now, so it was after ’72 and it was probably more like late ’70s. And I remember I was so blown away by a [James] Turrell installation that appeared to be a solid black painting but it was actually a [void]. This was a guy who focused on perception. And I was so blown away. And the next day I took my class, [and told them] “You know, architects just don’t do any really interesting primary research. You gotta go outside!” and [actually] I was talking about myself.

“…architects don’t do any really interesting primary research. You gotta go outside!”

Architecture was undergoing a rethinking—and it was clear that the third generation modernists, many of the best ones were right here in LA, the [projects] were somewhat exhausted. Parallel to this was—architecture was globalizing through the media. And I didn’t even quite understand it—it’s not like I just quickly got it. But our first project was probably ’79, ’80, it was 2-4-6-8 House, shows up in Domus and right after that, the issue on the LA School and Craig Hodgetts and Frank Gehry etc, and we were all put on the cover in Italy.

And then our first work in the early eighties was in Japan. And I was traveling twice a month to Tokyo. And okay, we get our first little projects, they’re local—I’m still proud of that—but right away, we moved out to get any serious work—no possibility of getting [large scale institutional] work here, in LA, neither did the generation in front of us. They were doing residences, very few big buildings.

[Ray] Kappe was one of my teachers at USC—he would say he came directly from Schindler and Neutra etc, the work was located there. This was an incredibly rich but a highly provincial regional place. And somehow none of us belonged to that. We just sensed it. And these are people I really admired. Ray and I have been friends for our whole lives. But you could separate a generation—there would be no question about it. We were just not interested in continuing that strand. It ended. Ray would be the last of that generation. It went someplace else.

I was so blown away by a [James] Turrell installation…”

So there was this intersection between a particular time in history when there was an immense amount of creative activity, and broad [activity in the arts and the political sphere] and a shift away from the regional.

You could probably see the multiplicity of influences in the work and it could be a criticism in that it lacks clarity. You could say the work that I did—a lot was kind of clumsy and searching. I would say—yeah, it should have been. I was young, in my thirties, I was searching for something and I knew that I had to go some place else and it takes a while to focus in—I’m still doing that.

The main discussion is: the source of architecture expanded radically in terms of the influences—and the interests that you had—that found its way into the work. And, the research, it was no longer within the discipline. And that is only expanding today.

Need continuing education credits? They’re a walk on the beach at the Monterey Design Conference.

How can fabricator Andreas Froech change your design possibilities. He’ll present breakthroughs from over two years of research for the first time at this year’s MDC.

Tom Kundig speaks at this year’s conference. You can read our interview with him, here.

Check out the video interview we grabbed with conference chair Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA on the roof of his home, the Solar Umbrella, here.

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MDC Registration Now Available – 6/8/11

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Join us for the 2011 Monterey Design Conference for presentations from extraordinary speakers, to engage in informal conversations with your colleagues that can only happen in the relaxing setting that is Asilomar.

The AIACC is pleased to present individuals whose stories and lives inspire those who imagine, design and create communities.

Come to Monterey as an opportunity to be a participant in the dialog about design.

Featured Speakers
Moderator, Ned Cramer, Assoc. AIA
Dr. Dickson Despommier, PhD
Jeanne Gang, FAIA, LEED AP
Tom Kundig, FAIA
Frank Barkow & Regina Leibinger
David Salmela, FAIA
Brigitte Shim, FAIA
Peter Walker, FASLA
Social Media Panel
Moderator, Cliff Pearson
Yosh Asato
Amanda Dameron
Cliff Pearson

For more details and information about the speakers, conference content, and continuing education details visit the conference page

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MDC Speakers

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Ned Cramer, Assoc. AIA,
Ned Cramer, Assoc. AIA, is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT magazine and editorial director of publisher Hanley Wood’s commercial design group of five media brands: Architect, Architectural Lighting, Eco-Structure, Metalmag, and Pro AV. In 2009, Architect was a National Magazine Awards finalist in the general excellence category for magazines with a circulation of less than 100,000. 

Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Mr. Cramer served as the first fulltime curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). During his four-year tenure there, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin commended Cramer for bringing “intellectual heft” to CAF’s exhibitions and public programs, and the initiatives under his direction received support from organizations such as Altria, the Boeing Corporation, Fannie Mae, the Graham Foundation, Sara Lee, the McCormick-Tribune Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Dickson Despommier, PhD
Dr. Despommier, is a full-time professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr. Despommier, is also the director of the Vertical Farm Project which addresses issues related to urban agriculture, environmental disturbance, and the restoration of damaged ecosystems. The project was started in 1999 as a classroom activity in Dr. Despommier’s Medical Ecology course. 

During the ten years that followed, numerous articles in the popular press (NY Science Times, Popular Science, New York Magazine, Time Magazine, Scientific American) and interviews on and radio and television shows (including the Colbert Report) have featured his concept of farming in buildings situated inside the city limits. So far, over 82 graduate students (mostly from the Mailman School of Public Health) have participated in generating a wealth of supportive studies that are posted on the vertical farm website.

Borja Ferrater
Between 1995 and 1999 Borja Ferrater studied biology at Temple University in Philadelphia and at the University of Navarre. In September 2005 he graduated with honors as an architect from the International University of Catalonia, his final project being “Skyscrapers in Athens.” He was a visiting student at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc, Los Angeles) and participated in the Alvar Aalto Symposium (2000) as well as in the “Days of Oris 2005” symposium in Zagreb, Croacia.
Jeanne Gang, FAIA, LEED AP
Jeanne Gang is founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects, a rising international practice whose work confronts pressing contemporary issues. The transformative potential of her work is exemplifed by such recent projects as Chicago’s 82-story Aqua Tower, the O2 high-rise in Hyderabad, India, and the Northerly Island framework plan. Published and exhibited widely, Jeanne’s work has been shown at the International Venice Biennale, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Building Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. She is also an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology where her studios have focused on megacities and material technologies.
Tom Kundig, FAIA
Tom Kundig is one of the most recognized architects in North America. He has received over thirty-seven AIA awards – four of them national Honor Awards – as well as some of our nation’s highest design awards, including a National Design Award in Architecture Design from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt and an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Tom Kundig: Houses is one of Princeton Architectural Press’s bestselling architecture books of all time, and they will publish a new book of his work, Tom Kundig Houses 2, this fall.
Michael Maltzan, FAIA
Michael Maltzan, FAIA, is the principal of Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan Architecture. Founded in 1995, the practice is focused on creating architecture that is a catalyst for new experience and an agent for change. Through a shared belief in architecture’s role in our cities, this work, from MoMA to Skid Row, creates new connections across a range of scales and programs. Michael Maltzan holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Architecture degree with a Letter of Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His work has been recognized with numerous accolades and has been featured in publications worldwide.
David Salmela, FAIA
Salmela has won 15 Minnesota Honor Awards, been elected to the AIA College of Fellows and won two AIA Honor Awards in 2005. David Salmela, FAIA, practices in Duluth, Minnesota. He has worked in architecture since 1969 and has lived in Minnesota all of his life. Projects which represent his broad assembly of work are Brandenburg’s Ravenwood Studio in Ely, MN, and the Emerson Sauna in rural Duluth, MN. They both won National AIA Honor Awards for architecture in 1998 and 2005, respectively. Also, a 2005 National AIA Honor Award winner for Regional and Urban Design was the Jackson Meadow Development in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. Overall, David has won 50 regional and national design awards. In 2005 the monograph, Salmela/Architect by University of Minnesota Dean of the College of Design, Thomas Fisher, was published. David’s work has been featured, nationally and internationally, in Abitare, Architectural Record, Architectural Review, Graphis, Architecture, ID, Monocle, Hauser and Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture. In 2007 David received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota.
Brigitte Shim, FAIA
Brigitte Shim is a principal of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects in Toronto, an architecture and design firm interested in the integration of furniture, architecture and landscape. Their built architectural work has been honoured with eight Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Governor-General’s Medals and Awards for Architecture along with AIA, American Wood Council, Canadian Wood Council, Architectural Record Interiors, and I.D. Magazine Design Review award. Their unbuilt projects have received a P/A Award Citation and a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence. Furniture designed by their firm has won awards and represented Canadian design in international exhibitions and her architectural designs have been published widely in the U.S., Europe and Eurasia. In 2002, Brigitte Shim and her partner Howard Sutcliffe were recipients of the Toronto Arts Award for Architecture and Design.
Peter Walker, FASLA
Peter Walker attended Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he received his masters in Landscape Architecture in 1957, and won the school’s Weidenman Prize that year. In 1983, he formed Peter Walker and Partners and has developed a world-class interdisciplinary firm that employs around thirty to forty landscape architects well trained in the field. Peter Walker was also a co-author of Invisible Gardens, which touches on the modernist movement in America and the comparison of other landscapes to those in Europe. Peter Walker and Partners has developed many beautiful and successful landscapes in the Americas as well as internationally. One of his team’s projects that is currently being worked on is the World Trade Center Memorial in New York, New York. Although it is not complete and cannot be deemed a successful project quite yet, his team did win the honor of first place in the contest of designers across the globe.
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