Open Mic at the District Architecture Center

First to clarify “Architect-Musician”, if there is any doubt, there are Itzhak Perlmans (Musicians) and there are Daniel Libeskinds (Architects).



Now this is fascinating: the violinist virtuoso and…the accordionist architect. Tel Aviv, 1959.

Daniel Libeskind on Being a Musician Before an Architect

From the Village Voice, “Libeskind’s a child-prodigy accordion player, a little moxie machine, pudgy fingers banging on the keys, boggling spectators with the sight, as one reviewer recalled, of “the strange, small accordionist onstage, hidden, except for his feet, by his bright red Sorrento, with its silver registers and ivory and ebony keys, the zigzagging folds of its bellows delineated with black and white stripes.” Daniel Libeskind, the architect-about-town who has overseen the hole in the middle of Lower Manhattan, was some kind of dervish, channeling strange spirits into that sleek squeeze box. Libeskind, he’s our hurdy-gurdy man.”

Now, why architecture is my day job, is why I wonder…why Architect-Musicians came out of the woodwork for the Open Mic at the District Architecture Center in Washington, DC. Is it possibly a left brain-right brain thing? A love of music and pattern and structure? Or a love of the musical instrument itself – the beauty in an object’s utility?


There is certainly a camaraderie, a team effort, a sum greater than the parts. Like in our work. And an opportunity to express yourself creatively, like in our work, making something, form-space, sound-silence.

There is also a certain satisfaction in serving our client-audience a little something more manageable and digestible, expressing ourselves and our ideas in just a few minutes time, than say the months and years it takes to serve up a whole building.

Here’s our take on a bluegrass standard, “Mountain Dew” at the Open Mic Night for would be Architect-Musicians. I hope you enjoy it. We did.



New Heights, Tahiti

Watching too much bodyboarding footage lately but I’m just blown away by how far (and high!) this piece of foam has been taken, at once just a toy for any beachgoing tourist, young and old to frolick in the shorebreak…to the deepest depths, and as if to thumb their noses at the ocean’s awesome power, soaring high above the heaviest waves in the world…








New Heights, El Fronton

Watching too much bodyboarding footage lately but I’m just blown away by how far (and high!) this piece of foam has been taken, at once just a toy for any beachgoing tourist, young and old to frolick in the shorebreak…to the deepest depths, and as if to thumb their noses at the ocean’s awesome power, soaring high above the heaviest waves in the world…











Frank Tashiro – Tashiro Hardware since 1885

Frank Tashiro, Fall 2010

Quintessential Old World/Old School: Frank Tashiro is Seatle’s own  national treasure. Andy Vanags  would send everyone in Gould Hall to Frank Tashiro for Japanese pull saws. I had to return, 19 years later, to replace my own set of saws, since gifted away in North Carolina to a colleague for allowing me access to his stand of bamboo on his property outside Chapel Hill.

I read an Oregon woodworker’s guild account that captured Mr. Tashiro’s spirit and hint at the wealth of knowledge he possesses.

For me, to PULL rather than to PUSH in itself embodies a philosphy to live by.    

Thoughts on diversity, diversity of thought

I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity lately while involved in an ambitious project to capture the thoughts and ideas of members of our local section of the AIA in an archive that celebrates the profession in the region and its strides toward a more diverse membership. Those that first came to mind for this series of ongoing interviews certainly are our thought leaders and trailblazers, though they spoke of those that came before them, and before them.

I am at once struck by how timely it is that the national conversation, spurned by the President himself, is also ours now, in the spotlight in our own profession. But perhaps it is instead only the next generation along the continuum of struggle and opportunity, that we find ourselves poised to shape the national character yet again, and maybe too the culture of our profession with ideas that come with the diversity of thought.

I realized in the process of collecting our interviews just how starved I was for the inspiration, encouragement and sentiments from our colleagues from the generation, or even the graduating class before us. How often are you urged to ‘keep moving forward’, ‘hone your skills, be prepared’, ‘be bold’, or hear ‘your time is now’? Words to live by. And coupled with the motivation to contribute, this is the WE not the ME, to this continuum of our practice-profession, through mentorship and leadership and the true spirit of giving back for those to come. I am enlightened and charged with renewed purpose. Real role models, real proof, that yes we can.

Building Buildings & Building Relationships

I’ve been reflecting alot lately on building buildings & building relationships along the way. Any endeavor really, without good human interaction to show for it is well, just another building. Another day, another dollar.

Putting a human face on the architectural design process is achieved through many hours of face-to-face user programming, collaboration and compromise. Communication is key.  Even then, the best illustrations and renderings are still just pictures on paper. But it seems only when that one-time, full-scale mock-up of the building, the building itself,  is complete, do you witness just how far the designer endeavored to hear AND to listen, understand AND embody, interpret AND execute, the wants and desires of the client’s hopes and dreams. It takes a genuine empathy and a kind of initmacy with these hopes and dreams, reserved maybe only for the oldest friends and dearest family. Perhaps there are friends to be made in of our sometimes too adversarial profession.

A client recently produced a beautiful campaign, The New Face of Cancer Care, that for me puts a human face on the endeavor of cancer care as much as the architecture that embodies this noble endeavor.

Our buildings are better when we’re reminded of these faces along the way. And as we build buildings, we build relationships and add to the story of our own endeavor. 

joe wilson

The Presdient spoke last night of basic human decency and kindnesses and the acrimony eroding our national character. Whether it Healthcare Reform or the building of Hospitals, we endeavor to do our best with eyes and arms wide open.

I am awe-inspired by the depth of human endeavor, to pile up millions of pounds of construction materials and with millions of (hu)man-hours laboring away to design and construct a building that endeavors to treat and cure cancer…

…no lie.

Architect as Cultural Broker.

It does not seem a big leap for architects, since we engage in the service of our client’s unique needs on a routine basis, to overlay the lens of architecture and begin to surmise, the role of Architect as Cultural Broker. There are blogs already written on What is a Cultural Broker? and Cultural Brokerage.

As we consider our own profession and practice, do our standards for corporate responsibility espouse the People-part of the Triple Bottom Line’s People, Planet and Profit which is so well established in the everyday-lexicon, in the same regard as say Planet (sustainability) as recent green-washing trends project? Post-Katrina New Orleans comes to mind as having had the most potential and success for bringing out the very best in us and our profession, Profit aside, for the moment.


And when is our work in such diverse regions and locales and with clients from the full-spectrum of backgrounds, not to mention our work overseas or for that matter, work for the State Department for a certain few, a true cultural brokerage, or is our neglect (or reaction to real threats/global hysteria) just another form of cultural imperialism?

It was quoted in a recent Washington Post article entitled Hardened U.S. Embassies Symbolic of Old Fears, Critics Say that embassy design post 9/11 had experienced “the dark ages as far as the design culture was concerned.” Are they referring to New Embassy Compounds like the NEC in Turkey?

NEC Turkey
Fortified: NEC Turkey

It also mentions SOM’s celebrated Embassy in Beijing. But does it epitomize cultural brokerage when SOM states:

“Responding to the building’s diplomatic role, SOM created a secure space that is both welcoming and respectful of local traditions. To mitigate its scale, and create a light aesthetic, the complex was broken up into “neighborhoods” based on security and functional requirements. Simple architectural geometries, coupled with gardens and courtyards, symbolically fuse eastern and western traditions.”
NEC Beijing
NEC Beijing: “a light aesthetic?”
Back on the ground, Post-Katrina responses like Make it Right make cultural brokers out of architects. Small gestures (single-family homes in the Lower 9th Ward), one house at a time, reaching individual lives, families, whole neighborhoods, the city, with a kind of diplomacy of the heart, if you will. Compare this to the old State Department memo on Standard Embassy Design? What will be this Administration’s Standard for Diplomacy and Design abroad and what will be the role of the Architect as Cultural Broker? Jane C. Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies, has given the matter considerable thought. She blogs more recently in Jane C. Loeffler: Building Hope Abroad and suggests a cultural shift afoot. And somewhere between Brad Pitt and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is an army of architects ready to make a career, making it right.