Like many of the designers at McAlpine Tankersley, I come from a small place with very little in the way of design—and my colleagues will not let me forget it. But although my upbringing could not give me “architecture with a capital A,” it did engender a respect for frugality, a reverence for the ceremonies of the everyday, and the patience to uncover the uncanny trace of beauty, even where we least expect it.
The gift of my circumstances was a careful way of seeing. There is, after all, an art to noticing how a hundred years can italicize an empty barn. Along the way, I have sketched corncribs as elegant as the Farnsworth House, and watched kudzu swirl into pine stands like the last thin smear on a Rothko painting. Faulkner was right: there is something different about the light in August, though only a strong-willed southern spy could tell you so.
My early education in architecture sought the best in my humble surroundings by offering them time to reveal themselves. But as our attention spans spiral towards zero—particularly among my generation—it becomes difficult to linger. Our culture is distracted by the notion that the loudest voice has the most to say—or anything to say, for that matter. It seems that my lifelong prescription for slowness flies in the face of almost everything else.
So as I embarked on my professional path, there was only one place I could have this prescription filled: in the company of others whose reverence for their craft was unflappable. On my first day at McAlpine Tankersley, I remember asking if there was “an etiquette to swiping the eraser dust off my desk.” (Turns out, not really.) I must admit however, that since I like to consider myself a modernist, joining the office was not an obvious choice to everyone. After all, the only cutting edges here are the ones that sharpen pencils…
But that has always been beside the point. Whether in limestone or steel, the best of the work here seeks a richness that comes from working patiently and deliberately. The challenge, and duty, is to make places that get more interesting with time. Making modern space with traditional means, we seek architecture’s most illusive and harmonious qualities.
I count myself lucky to continue the search. One never tires of it. From time to time, I regale the office table with stories from a scholarly trek to some faraway place—sketchbook and camera in tow. With our insatiable knack for noticing, how can we not divulge the subtle, the secretive, and the silent?
I offer some of these findings here, because the care we take is contagious. And what results is an architecture that commands our attention without ever needing to shout: the house as a beautiful stranger, or the prettiest girl in the room. It takes both patience and practice to pull it off. And that is why I’m here: to practice. Like good posture, it is, somehow, its own reward.
And so—chin up, shoulders back, and pencil sharpened, I remain,
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