My creative scholarship grows out of two primary facets: the act of making and the observation and creation of place. These two lines of thought are inter-related at their empirical roots. They emphasize first hand experience and response to…a need, a medium, a process, a wall, a building, a community.
I seek out these so-called first hand experiences in most of my own work. This results in a grounded perspective of creation, design, and production. These types of experiences are the ones that have most affected my practice and belief system over the years. Few things are more satisfying than seeing a project you’ve worked on come into being, and then see people respond, interact, and use it. The first thing that might come to mind after this description is a completed building. The subject here is, after all, architecture. However, if one limits themselves solely to the creation and construction of edifices, they will wait a long time for that complete educational experience and satisfaction. One solution to this is to identify and create other ways to inform and affect our shared environment. I loosely call these “ways” E.A.P.’s—Extracurricular Architectural Pursuits (I emphasize loose because some may gravitate more towards Art than literal Architecture). These E.A.P.’s become rewarding and educational ways to fill the gap.
The following projects will touch on fabrication, mural painting, and photography as they related the above-mentioned facets of making and place.
“Making is Thinking” – Richard Sennett
This value originates out of my experience of being a steel fabricator, sculptor, and furniture maker. More than literal research, it is about the learning process that occurs when one embarks upon the conception of an idea, and then the birthing of it into the real world.
When I first took up welding at the local community college, I was scared. Up until then, the mediums I used for making things were paper, pencils, acrylic paint, and Adobe Photoshop—all had a very low physical and financial risk. So now, in a metal shop atmosphere, I was intimidated by the presence of explosive gases under pressure, the pulsing electrical currents used to melt and fuse pieces of metal together, and all the loud brazen cutting and grinding tools. But the motivation of what one could make with the resulting skills was too great. I persevered with the class, and eventually found a job as a steel fabricator/architect* at a local design build firm in Austin, Tx. *I use the term architect next to steel fabricator because I still had a desk in the office where I did relevant code research, designed, and drafted up details and shop drawings.
Early on, with every new task that I had to embark upon, there continued to be a lot of fear. But the more projects I completed, the more comfortable I began to feel with the process, the more I felt I began to understand the reality and capability of the material, and equally important, the reality and capability of the tools at my disposal. The more I made, the more I learned.
Along with the physical processes involved in making, came a new appreciation of the (shop) drawing. I bring this up because the art of documentation is another important part of my practice and student’s architectural education. I create and build from my own shop drawings. If I make an incorrect assumption or a decision that was not well thought out, and build something incorrectly, I have no one to blame but myself. Having to cut and reattach a piece of steel, or de-install and recreate a piece from scratch, is a hard lesson. With this there is an increased sense of accountability. This accountability makes a better product and speaks to the importance a drawing well done.
“To know a place, one must not just only observe, but truly inhabit it” –Ann Armstrong
I value the idea of first observing, then investing and engaging in: place. Specifically the places in our midst--where we exist and what we call home. The study of architecture and the process of design do not exist in a vacuum, meaning the built environment that surrounds us is a shared resource and experience. It has social, spatial, economic and environmental ramifications. I believe taking these lessons and making observations about our own backyards has more relevancy than things studied from afar. Using the surrounding city as a lab in which to explore, we observe and respond. The following current projects exhibit different ways I myself attempt to engage with place.
One of my ongoing projects in this realm is the Austin Sidewalks blog (www.austinsidewalks.blogspot.com). Dating back to 2007, this project evolved out of my love of walking and the value I place on pedestrian arteries. Before I moved to Austin, I took sidewalks for granted. I spent most of my life in San Francisco where walk-able neighborhoods and wide sidewalks were commonplace. This is not the case in central Texas. Sidewalks are fewer and far between, or if they do exist, they are often cracking and falling apart. Along with compromised walking surfaces, there is also a lack of a consistent urban fabric, with longer distances between destinations. All these things conspire to promote use of the car, which is unfortunate as sidewalks and walking allow for a much more intimate experience of place and space. They also allow for more community and connection, as well as self-sufficiency.
That being said, the Sidewalks blog is a collection of pedestrian moments that could be described as rarities. This rarity helps fuel my desire to document them. The blog’s content is made up of a growing compendium of my own photos (from Austin and beyond), as well as related posts about sidewalks, street art, and walking art in general. The project sees these surfaces as an ever-changing palimpsest that registers human use, individual expression, consumption, the elements, and other varied natural and man-made phenomenon. Beyond the blog, Austin Sidewalks has had work exhibited at Facing East, and annual juried art show that show cases East Austin photography, as well as the People’s Gallery, an annual juried year long show of local artists work that is displayed in Austin’s city hall.
Another personal project relevant to the topic of place is Placing Routes (www.placingroutes.org). Placing Routes is a non-profit art initiative began in 2009 that aims to produce (more) “public” art. To do this it attempts to pair local artists with local business owners. Simply put, the business owner has a wall/space and the artist has an idea/concept--the desired result being more art in the public sphere.
This project evolved out of a few different motivations worth mentioning. One is the desire to create more stimulating pedestrian environments. Two, create a stronger more unique sense of place. Three, to foster place based relationships among community members (artists, local business owners, neighbors). Fourth, the project is reaction to the lengthy process that often impedes publicly or privately funded art on public property.
The nature of these mural projects puts me out in public space. First: to observe and experience the wall, as well as it’s context, and nearby inhabitants. Second: to create the piece, over time, on site. I enjoy the initial design process immensely, but just as much, if not more, I enjoy the interactions that take place through the course of the making of the mural. This entails: simple conversations with the anonymous passer-by, old friends who just happened to be passing, people who’ve lived in or around there their whole life, as well as the reaction from any and all. This reaction is key, it allows you to begin to see how other people live in and experience this place and this piece of art in particular.
To date, Placing Routes has 3 completed projects. The most recently finished resides on a wall in Austin’s City Hall. Placing Routes also recently received funding from the Downtown Austin Alliance. This will be our largest scale project yet, and will be located in central downtown Austin.
The above E.A.P.’s are still alive and in motion. They are a vital and living part of my practice and praxis. They shape and expand my view of our environment, and teach me new things as they move forward and evolve.