PHLF Lecture: Naked Architecture

“Pittsburgh History and Landmarks” lecture, delivered on June 21, 2016: “Naked Architecture: Addition through Subtraction”


Thanks to Karamagi Rujumba, Loise Sturgess, and to the folks at my Fisher ARCHitecture studio, without whom this talk would not have been possible. Just this morning in our weekly studio presentation, we were all inspired by Jiayu Qin, who presented her elegant, minimal bookbinding projects to the group.




You’ve been listening to music from the British electronic music band, SBTRKT. The artist, Aaron Jerome, who wears tribal masks as he performs to hide his identity, has suggested that the project name represents his goal to subtract his ego from the music creation process. The title remains legible even though he has deliberately misspelled it and subtracted all the vowels.


Today I will be talking about the way subtraction affects architectural FORM. If you’ve read the lecture description, paid your five dollars, and are sitting here, you don’t have to be familiar with my work to know what you are going to get. So I need make no apologies in advance. That being said, many people believe that architects are overconcerned with form, which keeps them from thinking about more important concerns like program, function, and location.


I believe that’s total nonsense. It’s like saying doctors shouldn’t be concerned with ethics, or window installers with glass. Architects control the way the built environment looks. Certainly they need to think about it. My opinion is that buildings should respond intimately to the complete history of their surroundings which includes both physical and cultural elements. As the critic Alberto Perez-Gomez has written, “History is our full inheritence…Because (it contains) authentic knowledge…it demands that we take a position.”


This will not be an “I designed this, I designed that” sort of talk, although I will use a couple of my buildings as examples. Instead you are going to hear some thoughts that have been on my mind lately as I have been designing. These are the edits of my lecture description. I subtracted seventeen words from the original text without affecting its meaning at all.


Architects can not resist the urge to peel away unnecessary clutter because that is the way we design our projects. Even Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t always get it right the first time. The concepts expressed in our drawings start out unresolved but are clarified and simplified over time. The urge to subtract drives our process. Because, inevitably we all become what we do, architects apply the principals we learn to every aspect of our lives. My education in design has even changed the way I write…


Click here to download an illustrated PDF of the rest of this talk.

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