This exlusive interview with the renowned architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, FAIA was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Washington, D.C. during March 2011
INTERVIEW WITH HUGH NEWELL JACOBSEN, FAIA
March 22, 2011
How would you describe your personal style? How has that impacted your design aesthetic?
I believe that the term, “style” was invented by critics when trying to describe the architect’s work. All architects try to make the site better with their endeavors. In addressing a site I determined at the beginning of my practice that the order of the street was more important than a strong architectural statement. “Good architecture, like a well mannered lady, never shouts at the neighbors.” However, with a rural site, the latter rule doesn’t apply.
Do any romantic feelings evolve during the process? And is it hard to leave it once completed?
Most of us are romantic. Working on a project can take from a year to as much as ten in some cases. This architect is very involved in the design, the construction documents, the interior furnishings, and the landscaping. To create a “sense of place” and order must be established. Architecture without order is not architecture. It is always difficult for me to leave a completed project. It reminds me of “Stella Dallas” in which she is standing outside the church, in the rain, peeking through a slit window, watching her daughter marry royalty (“just a bit romantic that”).
You have achieved the near impossible, your architecture is pure and the details so fine it is surely minimal yet essentially classical. How do you categorize your unique style?
The eloquence in the language of architecture is measured by how a building is put together. The joining of materials in a manner that retains the integrity of each part, while assigning a function compatible and advantageous to its nature, has always been a measure of "seriousness" in architecture.
"God is in the details" is a phrase attributed to Mies Van Der Rohe and revered by architects as we endeavor again and again to do the right thing. Architecture is order, and this order carries throughout the building down to the smallest corner. There is no back side to architecture any more than there is a detail that is unimportant. Detailing expresses the "how" of buildings and when done with great care and skill reinforces the "why." It can express the honesty not only of the architecture but of all those involved in the making of it. It is a slow process whose results are seldom noticed. It has been said that good detailing should never show the agony it took to produce it, but should appear as if it had not been detailed at all, as if it went together the way it wanted to go together--or as Kahn has said, "the way it wants to be."
My detailing is deliberately sparse and linear in order to enhance the spaces within and without. People look good in my buildings.
I try very hard in my work to listen to my client since it is the client's program, budget and site, which are the influences that will drive the design. I have found, however, that of these three the site is the dominant factor. The quality of the light upon that particular area of earth is always unique and determines the path the architecture will take. I endeavor to design buildings that belong, make the site look better and, hopefully, never shout. The order established by the program, the site and the budget produces architecture. Because of this, I have never designed two buildings alike.
You do have a favorite house that stands out in your mind? And why?
The house we are working on now – bringing 51 years of active practice. We do know how to build. With this knowledge, with concentration, we can move the envelope just a bit.
Do you have a dream project, one that is your mind but not yet reality?
I have always wanted to design a high-rise building. I have built a mid-rise office building in Athens of my design at fifteen stories, but a true high-rise has been denied so far.
The above interview with Hugh Newell Jacobsen 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.