This exclusive interview with Eric Watson was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Tampa, Florida during May 2011
Classical Talks – Interviews with members of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art America
Interview with Eric Watson
What inspired you to become an architect? And have a focus on traditional Classic design?
I was seven when my family built a traditional house and I became interested in architecture and especially houses. From the numerous site visits during construction, I gained an awareness of design, detail, and the general process. Our house was one of the first in a neighborhood of traditional houses in a variety of styles. My favorite after school activity was to tromp through the nearby houses under construction. I endlessly studied their details, floor plans, how bricks were laid, proportions of dormers, roof pitches, and window and shutter configurations. Learning from these houses, I developed an awareness of their distinct style characteristics. I recall spending countless hours drawing and recreating my personal versions of what fascinated me.
Years later, while studying at Yale, a design studio changed the way I thought about architecture and buildings in general. Instead of seeing buildings as objects in the landscape - as architects almost always do, I learned that in many cases, a good traditional building is a well designed neighbor that contributes collectively with other buildings to enhance the streetscape and urban experience.
How would you describe your personal style?
Living in South Florida where summer lasts six months, whatever I wear, it’s got to be comfortable. Florida is just too hot to fuss over endless outfits and complicated clothing options. I keep my clothes simple. Natural fabrics in solid colors and small prints are flexible to dress up or down with – nothing too trendy. If clothing is well made with quality materials in a classic style, I’ll usually like it. Nice shoes and belts are always important.
If you could do any building in any city what type would it be? And where would it be?
Since I’ve only designed houses so far, I think I’d like to design a town hall, or a public library. The building would be on a specifically designated civic site in a small southern town designed by one of the great town planners – perhaps Nolen, Olmstead, or Duany. Like all good pre-war traditional architecture, the building would be built with durable, authentic materials appropriate to its style and location. The building and its interior would be splendidly detailed.
You have to single out one particular house and an icon of inspiration which would it be? And why?
Reynolda House - designed by the underappreciated American architect Charles Barton Keen. What strikes me about this early twentieth century country house is how inventive the design is. Although the house is large and spacious, the unconventional floor plan feels surprisingly informal and comfortable. The bold massing is a clever response to the architectural program and the site conditions. The material and detail expression is exceptional for its restraint and efficiency. The house is a refreshing interpretation of the Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts styles.
With my own work, I’m not interested in creating the perfect representation of a particular historical style. My design approach has always been how any style can be interpreted by the synthesis of the regional context, the architectural program, and the building form.
If you weren’t an architect what do you think you would be doing today?
If I weren’t an architect, this interview would be about my life as an actor on the big screen!
The above interview with Eric Watson 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.