2017 marks my 20th year as an architect and I feel as though I am rediscovering architecture for the first time. I feel a youthful and visceral excitement about architecture, just as I experienced in my 20’s when I first discovered architecture.
Boundless, at first, it seemed to me -- architecture was a library where I wanted to read all of the books, and a bakery where I wanted to make the dough, cook the bread, eat and share it, then start again to make something fresh and new.
Not long after entering the profession, my limitless delight in architecture was reduced to fleeting moments, punctuated by systematically ingrained constraints. I experienced compromise in design and execution of projects, and disempowerment by decision makers who did not understand or appreciate the value of my work. The profession of architecture, I found, did not align with the aspirations I knew architecture to have or the cultural definitions broadly assigned to architecture.
As John Lobell writes in Between Silence And Light, “The architect is directly engaged in building with materials and making history. The architect recognizes circumstantial changes in a culture and embodies that change in buildings.” The best ideas that flowed from my studio and from the studios of my architect colleagues remained in our studios, without embrace or execution by those with authority to build. Architects, in my experience and observation, were not granted and did not command authority. Did I have to accept such limits, I asked month after month and year after year as I labored to learn the trade. While I knew instinctively that I was not willing to accept the limits that I faced, I did not know how to overcome them.
By self-generating a project and tapping exceptionally talented professionals to work with me, we lifted one another up and achieved extraordinary results that no one of us could have achieved on our own.
I graduated from Yale Architecture School, then worked for an accomplished architect in New York City. Later, I started my own firm and built a practice which included small development projects in New Orleans, where I grew up. I founded a non-profit, had projects published in prominent publications and met interesting people along the way. Years went by and still I found only fleeting moments of satisfaction in a profession where the status quo prevailed. Architecture, in my experience, was reduced to a commodity and an assemblage of functions, stripped of its transcendent possibilities. I experienced defeat because of this time and time again with projects fundamentally compromised and controlled by others, and with fees that often fell short of covering project cost or at best yielded 10% - 20% profits following years of work.
After many shortcomings, missteps and downright despair, the answer I found was to reach beyond conventional bounds of architectural practice to embrace key disciplines and collaborations in ways that meaningfully elevate projects. The answer I found was Hudson Woods, a real estate development project I conceived and led in collaboration with a large team I formed. By self-generating a project and tapping exceptionally talented professionals to work with me, we lifted one another up and achieved extraordinary results that no one of us could have achieved on our own. The power of exceptional people working together resulted in an excitement about architecture that I had discovered years ago as an inkling and now realized as a sustained process resulting in a built project. It has now become the core belief system that informs how I work. This is how I came to ‘rediscover architecture’ for the first time.
While Hudson Woods endures as a significant place for residents, it also endures meaningfully for me and my collaborators as we continue building our relationships and uncovering new opportunities. Reproducing our success again feels inevitable and I long to share that success with the exceptional people I know. In fact, I want to share success with anyone who wants to experience the visceral excitement of architecture.