Ted Flato: Exploring smarter, better, easier, cheaper at Design Forum XVI

What is the future of practical technologies that make design easier, as well as the future of how architecture is made? Can large language models (LLMs) transform materials specification for the better? For the greener? Does empathy differentiate humans from machines? Does it matter? How will future technologies change the studio culture of firms? What does craft mean these days, anyway? These and other questions are up for debate this year at Design Forum XVI (Apr. 5-6, in Richmond) under the banner of “[Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier.” 

Ted Flato, FAIA, of Lake|Flato, the 2024 AIA Gold Medal recipients, has a few answers to those questions—and more. ”The topic of this year’s Design Forum is great,” he says, “and for me, it’s about making buildings, and the camaraderie that architecture and craft can create. Some of these speakers are great friends.” Here’s a preview of some of the things he’ll raise at Design Forum XVI. 

Inform: How do you frame technology and craft as mutually beneficial dimensions of design?

TF: Architecture is a technological field and it’s forever trying to leverage science to elevate what we do. For David Lake and I, that began when we worked at an architect’s office in San Antonio, and that’s where craft began for us. O’Neil Ford was the guy in Texas who, early on, established a brand of modernism rooted in regionalism. Our first projects as a firm, Lake Flato, were in the country—and we like to say that style took a back seat. We really had to focus on materials and what we call “ranch technology,” or building with fewer things and adapting to dramatic changes in weather. Remote locations meant you couldn’t afford to ignore local craft. 

Inform: How did that dual pursuit between regionalism and technology help you scale up as a firm?

TF: We were able to hone the science of what was intuitive environmentalism, and we became more purposeful about it—going deeper in our analyses, and we wanted our buildings to perform well. We’d always be asking about new opportunities—and building systems became a focus for us, too, as we established our firm. Now, today, for us—we’re still looking at systems like mass timber or prefabricated systems. 

Inform: What are you working on now with mass timber?

TF: One of the more recent mass timber projects we’ve done—and we’ve done them in hotels and office buildings and university buildings—but the latest one that was joyful for me, personally, was working on O’Neil Ford’s Trinity University. He did it in a modern method or style in the beginning because it was less expensive, and as the campus evolved—and it’s a kind of Louis Kahn modernism, as brick buildings—we renovated a couple of his original buildings, and added a new one to the campus. They were “lift-slab” rather than “tilt-wall” and it means you could free-up the corners, which was a wonderful opportunity for us. So, mass timber made the most amount of sense. 

Inform: How did working in that margin between technology and craft influence your residential portfolio? 

TF: Smarter, better, easier, cheaper—those were the things we’ve been trying to explore in our residential portfolio. We started something called the “porch house,” or projects in remote locations designed as a series of rooms, creating less conditioned indoor space and more opportunities to be outdoors, and we developed a prefabricated system that allowed us to do that—ordering some bedrooms and some living rooms and connecting them using these “porches.” 

Flato has a lot more to say, so don’t miss out! Join him and a blue-ribbon group of panelists including Billie Tsien, AIA, of Tod Willams Billie Tsien Architects; Rick Joy of Studio Rick Joy; and Dwayne Oyler, co-founder of Oyler Wu Collaborative at this year’s Design Forum XVI (Apr. 5-6) focused on “[Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier” at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in Richmond. Register now

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine. 

Op-Ed: CODE Charlottesville improves an unloved corner of Halprin’s masterpiece

The LEED Platinum Center of Developing Entrepreneurs, known as the CODE Building, opened in Charlottesville in 2022 to acclaim, both as a work of interdisciplinary design and as a sensitive intervention in the downtown pedestrian mall—sacred ground to be sure. Designed by EskewDumezRipple+ working with Charlottesville’s Wolf Ackerman, the CODE Building is a multi-use coworking, office, and retail complex that clocks-in at 215,000 square feet with a show-stopping public plaza designed by Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects. There is no shortage of metaphors to describe CODE’s role in the Lawrence Halprin-designed cityscape positioned, as it is, at the western end adjacent to the Omni Hotel—anchor, gateway, hub, and wedge all come to mind. But, it’s the design team’s responsiveness to a symbolic site and a higher bar for sustainability than most locales that set it apart. 

Halprin’s plan for the mall is legendary—the culmination of three years of public workshops titled “Take Part” and design iterations for the handful of blocks that defined the city’s original main street. Coming off the urban renewal years of the 1950s and 1960s that saw, among other bad ideas, the destruction of the nearby Vinegar Hill neighborhood, Charlottesville needed something for the win column to resuscitate its municipal core. Amid the pedestrian mall boom years between the 1950s and the 1980s, Halprin’s scheme that elevated the pedestrianization strategy to an art form. It’s also one of few in the country that have remained standing. As an economic gambit, the 1976 downtown mall eventually proved successful, and as a social experiment, it proved transformational. Later additions eked out another few blocks to create its current footprint. 

EskewDumezRipple+ and Wolf Ackerman’s contribution to that history is laudable. Replacing an old skating rink, the design team fought two related battles: one in massing and elevation between the dramatically shifting urban scales from Water Street to East Main, and one in plan to reimagine a rather unceremonious entrance to the mall between a skating rink and a hotel’s glass canyon wall. The new arrangement is finally the entrance the mall sorely needed, not because of a deficiency in Halprin’s plan, but because it had become underutilized for so long. Entering at Water Street behind the Federal Court Building, CODE steps down in height to bring us down to the pedestrian scale, offering an esplanade rather than an access road. If you’re headed the other direction and planning to exit the mall, CODE’s public plaza tucked underneath CODE invites us in—a fitting rejoinder to the mall, and also not a bad strategy if the point of the building is to entice workers and shoppers. 

Section courtesy EDR+ and Wolf Ackerman

The LEED Platinum project possesses all of the qualities you’d expect, from green roof terraces to decisions about site, orientation, and massing that drive down energy consumption to ventilation that doubles the usual flow of fresh air to water conservation and reuse systems. Operable windows and a 40 percent window-to-wall ratio also offer the optimal balance between light and energy efficiency. It’s part of the upper echelon of green buildings in and around Charlottesville that offer a test-bed for any number of strategies from Cradle to Cradle to mass timber to passive house. But, that’s all architecture nerd-speak. To the eyes of the mall dwellers in Charlottesville—somewhere between central casting for a Steely Dan song and central Virginia’s Horse & Hound set—CODE is a handsome building that appeals to the eye and seems, inarguably, just right. 

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine. In 2005, he wrote “On Architecture,” a weekly column for Charlottesville’s free paper The Hook.

Architects and planners push code change study to boost affordability

Bills for both the Virginia House and Senate to study the capabilities of “point access block” construction and push for an amendment in the Virginia Construction Code are making their way through the legislative review process this month. HB 368 and SB 195 were sent to the House Committee on Rules on Jan. 6 and the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Jan. 8.

SB 195 passed with a unanimous vote (with one abstention) at press time. 

The code amendment was raised by Charlottesville-area architects and planners in 2021, which encourages the development of multi-unit buildings higher than three stories to be connected by a single staircase and access point—a building type often seen in older apartment buildings, but now outlawed in new construction today. The current requirement for multifamily buildings taller than three stories is to have two staircases lead to a series of double-loaded corridors, which often result in large floor plates and large units on either side of the corridor that, when priced competitively, exclude many Virginians living on modest budgets. 

Advocates of HB 368 / SB 195 believe that, if passed, would offer the chance to consider greater flexibility for designers and owners to create a range of housing types and, as a result, counteract some of the effects of gentrification and improve the economic, social, and racial diversity of neighborhoods and communities. 

Inform sat down with William Abrahamson, AIA, a senior associate at Grimm + Parker, and Gillian Pressman, a managing director of the nonprofit YIMBY Action, to find out about why this legislative action matters and what architects and planners around the Commonwealth can do to support it.

Q: Where’s the common ground between architects and YIMBY Action?

GP: YIMBY Action is a network of local groups of community members who want to see more housing in their communities, and that’s largely because they’ve been harmed by the affordability crisis, the environmental crisis, and the housing scarcity crisis. We include architects and developers who have personal and professional interests in this, but we’re mostly neighbors who want to see more affordable housing in our communities. We value our architects and all of the folks in the building industry. We show up on building sites. We address systems change like legislation. We have four chapters in Virginia, and we formed the Commonwealth Housing Coalition, which includes the National Association of Homebuilders, AARP, various faith-based groups, people along the entire political spectrum, people working to end poverty. 

Q: If I’m one of the thousands of architects who works (or has worked) on multifamily projects in Virginia, what will this allow me to do for future clients and their residents? 

WA: This really expands the toolbox architects can use to unlock the value of infill sites to increase density.  It also helps to increase unit and demographic diversity.  Removing long, dark double-loaded corridors will expand opportunities for family-oriented units with more bedrooms in stacked flats.  Point access blocks facilitate more double-aspect units with greater daylight and opportunities for cross-ventilation.  These will also help us create more mixing zones and unprogrammed “third-places” where residents can meet, enjoy light and greenspaces, and develop new practices of community. Current codes, construction costs, and zoning ordinances drive most urban affordable housing developments toward overly large, four or five-over-one boxes. Aside from luxury townhomes, high-rises, or retrofits, there are very few alternatives.  Most families looking for somewhere to live close to jobs and entertainment are seeing the same thing over and over, and it often is not a good fit.

GP: I think the ability to influence the state legislation process as one person is way higher than you would expect. Not many people actually contact their legislators. Getting a bill that has community members who have called in about it, makes it really stand out. You can have a powerful impact. 

WA: On the radio this morning, state representatives were describing dropping school enrollments and that families are leaving Virginia. It is inefficient and expensive to build three-bedroom apartment flats. It’s expensive to build townhomes. In these double-loaded corridors, you have narrower apartments, fewer bedrooms, less daylight, worse ventilation—because of high construction and financing costs. That’s where the square footage efficiency of point access blocks stands out—it’s much higher.

Q: We know how gentrification can boost the tax bases of cities, but we also know that it comes at a much higher cost than land acquisition and construction. Is this enough to counteract outpricing and the erosion of neighborhoods and communities? Or is this code change better paired with other strategies?

WA: Unit mix is a dry term, but right now in a typical development, it might be 80-,  90-  percent of a single unit type. With taller point-access blocks, you can have one-, two-, three-, or even more bedrooms in efficient configurations.  This allows a growing family, a retiree, a middle-aged couple, or a single person to all find appropriate homes in a building AND to stay in their communities when they need a change in housing. It is a way of addressing the stratification of society, by blending all these types of life stages under one roof.

GP: When people talk about gentrification, most of the time they are talking about displacement; which is people of color living in urban cores losing their homes as richer people come in and outbid them.. YIMBY Action is vehemently against displacement. Our solution to displacement is to build more housing! YIMBY Action believes that the entire region needs to build, not just specific sections of the urban core. We have made it so that the only place to add development is in urban cores, so a lot of the area in the city are low density or suburban areas—we have made it impossible and illegal to build generous amounts of housing there. So, then what happens, only the sections of the urban core with disenfranchised populations can be developed—which is driving gentrification. Where there IS building in urban cores, it cannot and should not be displacement housing. It’s fine to get rid of old buildings that pose a health risk. But, we cannot displace people when that happens. Our ideal is that exclusionary suburbs that make up a region also share the housing burden that cities are asked to bear. 

WA: It’s a question of scale, too. The bill allows up to six stories, which sounds high compared to most single-family zoned units, but the alternative is a mega-block. This bill allows the kind of density that’s productive and flexible.

Q: Advocates of this strategy cite European cities as offering a healthy and diverse mix of residents because they are zoned differently. What sort of ripple effect would this create beyond Virginia in the United States if it’s successful?

WA:   Virginia is held up as one of the top building code adaptation processes in the country—we have some of the most rigorous standards of public engagement, feedback, and engagement with code officials. So, if a measure passes here, it carries a lot of weight. There’s a second stepping-stone to this issue, which is elevator codes. Point access blocks would benefit from the smaller, cheaper elevators found everywhere except the U.S.  The U.S. requires unique testing requirements and safety testing requirements, so any vendor selling here must pay gobs of money to participate in the market. However, if you look at safety testing, there’s no loss — it’s not as if other countries have any higher rates of elevator failures. But what it means is our elevators are much more expensive to implement, maintain, and operate. This presents a hurdle to market adoption.

GP: The biggest thing is that this is scalable. This isn’t a code problem or a design problem. It’s a political problem. We think communities can be and should be more diverse and walkable and vibrant, but people are scared of that. There’s a culture in planning schools and local governments  about deferring to what they think local constituents  want. But, the constituents that planners and local governments have historically heard from are NOT representative. The people that show up to public meetings are neighbors who don’t want something to happen because of noise, nuisance, or a change that will affect their private property. People who are angry are motivated to come out to these meetings, and the voices of “no” drown out any positive philosophies of “yes” that could be present. We have to be representative in our politics and organize people to come out and be the voices of “yes.” We also have to encourage planners and local government leaders to engage in more representative community-wide planning processes that take the true views of local neighbors into account; instead of being swayed by an unrepresentative group of the angriest neighbors. 

WA: Adding to that, if someone doesn’t feel they have agency, they tune-out changes, good or bad, in the built environment. Public officials may have low literacy when it comes to community development principles. So who is going to take the time and energy to look at this issue?  Opening up this aspect of building form allows the professionals and the market to present new ways of building and living.

Interested in learning more and participating? Check out the Commonwealth Housing Coalition to find out how you can help.

Design Forum reveals tech’s future for architecture’s craft

Is architecture’s craft threatened by technology? That was the question 30 years ago when CAD software was adopted widely by small and large firms alike, even if the technology had been around for a couple of decades already. Not everyone was gnashing their teeth over that question—and the opportunity that CAD represented far outweighed the existential threat to hand drawing. Schools of architecture boosted their technology budgets and invested heavily in machines, licenses, servers, and staff, and a sea of monitors flooded studios, flushing out maylines. 

Today, architects still draw—sometimes. 

Today, the craft of architecture is still a potent pursuit, nobley. 

Detailing is still evidence of craft, inarguably. 

Materials still matter, universally. 

So, why is everyone worried about technology again? 

That’s one of the big questions that this year’s Design Forum XVI asks (Apr. 5-6, in Richmond) under the banner of “[Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier.” Over two days, attendees will be treated to probing discussions about the future of practical technologies that make design easier, as well as the future of how architecture is made. Can large language models (LLMs) transform materials specification for the better? For the greener? Does empathy differentiate humans from machines? Does it matter? How will future technologies change the studio culture of firms? 

The event’s blue ribbon panel of speakers includes three champions of craft in design—Ted Flato, FAIA, of Lake|Flato; Billie Tsien, AIA, of Tod Willams Billie Tsien Architects; Rick Joy of Studio Rick Joy; and Dwayne Oyler, co-founder of Oyler Wu Collaborative, who will set the stage during the event’s two days by asking what’s certain and uncertain at this frontier of artificial intelligence, ever-more adaptive digital learning models, the ethics of design, and the leadership role architects represent. 

The last biannual Design Forum in 2022, “South is Up!” featured visionary Latin American designers that explored questions of urbanism, ecology, and identity including Chilean architect Cazú Zegers and Colombian architect Viviana Peña. Since 1994, the biannual Virginia Design Forum matches urgent topics with speakers who have challenged and advanced those topics, including Samuel Mockbee, Tod Williams, Kai-Uwe Bergman, Anne Fougeron, Glenn Murcutt, Doris Kim Sung, and many more. 
Please join us for the upcoming 2024 Design Forum XVI on Friday, April 5-Saturday, April 6, 2024 at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in Richmond. Register now!

Q+A: Amanda Reeser Lawrence on the myths that shroud the real genius of architecture

Amanda Reeser Lawrence’s new book, The Architecture of Influence, casts aside the easy explanation of architecture as a stylistic evolution—the Romanesque begat the Gothic begat the Renaissance, and so on. By looking at replicas, copies, revivals, and other categories we use to describe architecture, Lawrence, an architectural historian and Associate Professor of Architecture at Northeastern University, helps us connect the dots on architectural production in two different ways—first by focusing on production, itself—the evidence of building rather than the intention of invention—and, second, by looking at the vocabulary we use to talk about that evidence. If you think this is a purely academic argument, you’d be wrong. This book is about the creative process and how  influence is courted, leveraged, and considered in the work of architects of every stripe—from the academy to practice.  “After 15 years of teaching and being part of reviews, if students deliberately elide this question of influence,” she says, “it creates a strange disjunction where others see the influence of their work even if they don’t.”

The subtitle of this book about the “myth of originality” in architecture is maybe more telling than the title. What is this myth and why are we, as a culture, so content to believe it?

This is a good question—why do we hold on to the myth of originality? I think it connects to the concept of “genius” and the desire for the new. I’m trying to debunk the idea that every architectural work has to be understood only as “new,” and claim instead that every work is also indebted to what’s “old.” Every work is both singular, which is to say unique, and connected to what’s come before. That comes across most clearly in the chapter on “replicas” because replicas are, seemingly, the least original type of architecture. The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, is a replica of the well-known structure in Athens, but it is no less a unique work of architecture than the original on the Acropolis. The architects of the Nashville Parthenon had to make decisions about structure and siting and materials and construction. So, the “myth” of originality is that only seemingly novel works are original.

There’s an arc of influence that was particularly potent for a recent generation of architects: Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc are both reconsidered heavily in the 1970s and 1980s, and a decade later, there is an obsession with the architectural palimpsest. Why do we find the work that Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc represents, and the palimpsest so compelling—still to this day?

Because it gives meaning to the work. It’s about making connections. There’s a lot of discussion around plagiarism right now in the world, and that is an interesting development as we contemplate this idea of drawing from the past. All architecture is plagiarism to some degree. But what I find more interesting is to consider how architecture borrows from the past. The past informs the present, of course, but we also understand and redefine the past through the present. In the work of Kahn or Venturi, for example, we find embedded references to fundamental architectural ideas like “pyramid” or “house,” but we then see pyramids and houses differently through their work. We realize that architectural ideas aren’t fixed things, but open to reinterpretation. 

I was very careful in the book not to focus on architects’ intentions. The critic and the historian have a place to offer their interpretation, regardless of claims made by the architects in question. 

I think the critique of genius is important, too. For that reason, I focus the book on works of architecture rather than the architects themselves—on the building as the site of inquiry. But this doesn’t mean that we do away with the figure of the architect altogether. In the chapter on “emulations” I address this specifically—for example, when Schindler is working in Wright’s office while Wright is away in Tokyo, Schindler struggles with this question of how much of himself to put into a “Wright” work.

When you talk about the Renaissance, there’s a developed conversation about copies—but we’ve forgotten how to talk about it. Why?

It’s a postmodern hangover. After that era, we stopped talking about influence, at least explicitly. My first book was about James Stirling—a postmodernist who refused the term postmodernism, but who, I argue, was explicitly “revisioning” the work of others.

Even now, I think many in the field are reluctant to talk about ideas like influence and unoriginality. In fact, this book, The Architecture of Influence, had a bumpy road to publication, as a number of readers who looked at the proposal were uncomfortable that I juxtaposed people and ideas from across different historical periods and styles, or even that I used the term “influence” at all. So, at the beginning of every chapter, I spend time defining terms—words like replica, copy, imitation, and emulation—to show the reader what they mean in architectural culture, but also how they’ve developed historically. As a professor of architectural history, I teach a lot of architecture students, and it was important for me to help them discover a vocabulary through which to talk about these ideas in architecture. 

Words like contemporary versus traditional and new versus old—these are words that a lot of people use to describe the things they see in the world. How did you think about these simple, everyday terms?

I obsessed and gnashed my teeth over over those words! Binary concepts such as new/old or modern/traditional are embedded in our consciousness, and there is an assumption that traditional architecture looks to the past, while contemporary or modern architecture does not. In the book I try to break down those distinctions, and talk about how the past is referenced and reimagined in all types of architecture. In the chapter on “revivals,” for example, I intentionally look at two examples that exist at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum. One is a dormitory that “traditionalist” Demetri Porphyrios built at Princeton in 2007, where you feel like you’re in a time warp, transported back to the 12th century (with air conditioning!) The other is the “modernist” work of Peter Eisenman, who was teaching at Princeton when Porphyrios’s building was completed, and found it incredibly problematic. But, the argument I make is that work of Eisenman and the rest of the New York Five, which references Corbusian modernism of the 1920s, is conceptually no different than Porphyrios’s reference to twelfth-century Gothic. Both were riffing on earlier ideas. Neither references a specific building—instead they bring earlier stylistic languages back to life.    

What about the myth of the architect?

Throughout the book, but especially in the last chapter, I look at the work of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Mies van der Rohe, and Zaha Hadid through the lens of repetition. There is undoubtedly a signature attached to the work of these architects, which we can understand as a type of self-influence, and also as a rebuke to the ideas of “originality” and “genius.” Mies speaks most eloquently about this—he famously said that you can’t make a new architecture every Monday morning. I understand that remark as a form of resistance to a capitalist imperative for the “new,” but it is also, of course, an embrace of unoriginality. Interestingly, Frank Gehry has a different perspective on this idea of self-repetition—he says something to the effect of “I could never face my children if they thought I didn’t have any new ideas.” And yet, there is a self-sameness to his work. For me, self-repetition is a yet another way to challenge our ideas about so-called “genius” and the myth of originality.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Architecture of Influence: The Myth of Originality in the Twentieth Century, by Amanda Reeser Lawrence, University of Virginia Press, 2024

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Fuller/Overby redefines the lakeside respite with a courtyard house in cabin country

By William Richards

Designing a home for one’s parents is a complicated proposition—and this sort of commission might very well be the truest test of a designer’s mettle. Mom and Dad aren’t part of a “user group,” after all. Yet, it’s an act that’s part of architecture’s lore over the past century and the fact is you’d need a lot of hands to count the number of times an architect has designed a home for their parents. Charles Gwathmey did it. Robert Venturi did it. Arquitectonica’s Laurinda Spear and Bernardo Fort-Brescia did it. Ditto for Frank Lloyd Wright, George Howe, and Le Corbusier. 

Allure editor-at-large Joan Kron once wrote a brief piece for The New York Times in 1981 covering this small but notable corner of architectural production. In it, Steven Izenour, who was designing a home for his parents at the time, cautioned against the act in no uncertain terms. “It forces you to deal with things you didn’t resolve when growing up,” he said. “Never design a house for your parents.”

But, that’s just what Michael Overby did for his parents, working with his partner Emma Fuller—the two forming the nucleus of the New York firm Fuller/Overby, which they started in 2019. The team designed Nebo House, a 2,750 square-foot lakeside home in North Carolina for Kathi and Ken Overby that splits the architectural atom, creating both a sophisticated design and an obviously functional response to the brief: make an easy to navigate, easy to maintain home for entertaining. 

“It was their first time working with an architect—and the first time building a house,” says Overby of his client-parents, “and so that leaves such a wide field of possibilities.”

Photography Copyright © Paul Warchol Photography. Plans courtesy Fuller/Overby.

The conversations about needs and design were iterative. It started when they helped the Overbys scout land in an area where they’d had their honeymoon, long before any talk of retirement. They showed the Overbys arrays of other projects they admired, and tried to focus their attention on certain details like corners or materials. They did a lot of physical modeling to work out some of their ideas to, say, reduce the overall height of the house by rearranging the program, and its forms—ending with the courtyard house typology that’s unique for North Carolina, but certainly a time-honored approach.

“One has to make an educated choice to balance everything,” says Fuller, grabbing an early model of the project next to her, “and, in this case, this version was embedded less-so in the land, and it was more vertical—with a garage like the typical American home they had been accustomed to, and a bedroom on top of that.” 

Copyright © Paul Warchol Photography

Suddenly, the home that might have looked more like a woodsy ranger station reaching for the treetops became a much more contextual, low-slung home that took advantage of the landscape while also showcasing Fuller and Overby’s Cooper Union credentials. Nebo House received a 2023 Award of Merit from AIA Virginia in its annual Design Awards program.

Tucked into the hillside, the home possesses a natural insulation strategy that makes it seem like a couple of different houses, depending on your standpoint. On one hand—and because of the fact that half of it abuts earth—the house almost functions as a passive house, “without a lot of the investment passive house builders make,” says Fuller. Overby notes their decisiveness about window placement to take advantage of the breezes off the lake, and the aperture sizes to draw in that cool air have rendered barely-there energy bills, too. Since completing the house, Overby and Fuller have had several chances to return, and report that the favorable energy use intensity measurements are precisely what they expected them to be.

On the other hand, and from a design perspective, it’s not just a borrowed vernacular cabin form. From the road looking down on the site, some have called it a “village of small pavilions” (in the words of Cliff Pearson writing for Architectural Record). Feeling less committal, Kate Mazade called them “pavilion-like volumes,” writing for Dezeen. You don’t have to squint very hard to see their point, but it seems as if there’s more to be said about the whole, itself, at Nebo House, rather than the parts—and in this respect Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker’s work at Sea Ranch come to mind, not to mention Marcel Breuer’s own Cape Cod house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

“We looked at a wide range of houses, and there was an educational aspect to this for us and for my parents, too” says Overby, “so we put together a bunch of references of things we liked in other projects, and we walked them through it.”

Material choices define the life of Nebo House, too, notably the cypress cladding on the exterior. There’s also a generous amount of rift sawn white oak millwork in certain parts of the house that creates a ribbon of warmth as a counterpoint to the 1920s steamship lines that call to mind the Maison La Roche or Villa Savoye in their spareness. That ribbon is functional, concealing storage or lighting or kitchen hood ventilation, as well as formal, announcing a change in program for an otherwise open plan. 

As a courtyard house, though, the focus is really what client Kathi Overby once called “the second living room,” or the courtyard, itself, which is the best place in autumn to understand the indoor-outdoor connection most acutely—when the surrounding canopy has a honey yellow glow, much like the stained millwork inside.

“The courtyard, the use of oak—it was a good way to take the conversation away from style for the clients and toward things like context,” says Fuller, “and a relationship to the landscape.”

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Project credits:

  • Architect: Fuller/Overby
  • Structural Engineer: Nat Oppenheimer, Silman
  • Mechanical Engineer: Mark Cambria, Fusion Systems
  • General Contractor: Cottonwood Development
  • Roofing: Rhenizink, Natural Metal Associates
  • Cladding: Nakamoto Forestry
  • Cabinetry: Southfork Millwork
  • Stonework: Hammerhead Stoneworks
  • Lighting Supply: Tony DeLaurentis, International Lights

Op-Ed: Connecting architecture and landscape architecture

By Arnaldo D. Cardona

The term “landscape architecture” can be associated with many fields like construction, design, horticulture, and so on, and finding books about architecture and landscape architecture in college libraries that have programs in both disciplines (or even engineering) will be the most logical place to find them. But, can you find books related to architecture or landscape architecture in college libraries related to medicine, journalism, law, business, pharmacology, human resources or education? How can architecture and landscape architecture be in places where it was not before?

Let me share my personal experience. I had the joy of writing two books: K-12 Landscape Architecture Education (2021) and K-12 Architecture Education (2022), which are interdisciplinary STEAM curriculum guides that put landscape architecture at the center of curricula. Beyond presenting landscape architecture as a design profession, it presents our profession as:

1- a problem-solving method
2- an ideal theme for interdisciplinary curriculum design
3- an educational term defining Architecture and Landscape

With these books now part of Teachers College Library, Columbia University, educators will be able to see landscape architecture as an ideal medium for curriculum design and instruction. Currently, there is a big trend in the pedagogical field in the areas of design education, STEAM education and environmental education; now, K-12 educators will have a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum to develop these educational programs.

On Oct. 13, 2023, Teachers College, Columbia University invited me to share my journey in publishing books I previously presented. I had the opportunity to highlight the importance of landscape architecture to the educational world. I shared how these interdisciplinary K-12 STEAM curricula put architecture and landscape architecture at the center of the curricula. I also presented pedagogical definitions of educational terms not identified before, wherein architecture and landscape architecture are
defined not just as professions but as problem-solving methods as well.

On Sep. 15, 2022, Jennifer Govan, Director of Teachers College Library, invited me to do a talk about both books. During this book talk I found out from some attendees that the books are currently being
implemented from Dubai to Hong Kong, in other parts of the nation and close to home (Chesterfield County, Virginia). My mission with these books is to inspire the next generation of architects and landscape architects. I felt honored that the terms “architecture and landscape architecture” are now present in the educational field.

Attempts to reach K-12 audiences have been done but as project-based activities; now with my books, architecture and landscape architecture can be seen as fields of study that promote interdisciplinary, critical thinking STEAM and high-order cognitive skills.

I am a believer in diversifying the profession. That is why, even though I hold a pre-professional degree in architecture and a bachelors in landscape architecture, I am proud to have won graduate scholarships in
the fields of art education and special education. I am always trying to support the importance of scholars seeing architecture and landscape architecture as art disciplines. Doing this opens up the possibility for grants to promote STEAM and K-12 programs in design education. It is my hope that my contribution to the fields of architecture and landscape architecture can be remembered, besides designing built and natural environments, as designing landscapes of learning, and curricula that connect architecture and landscape architecture with the educational field.

Arnaldo Cardona is a retired landscape architect, art and special education teacher, staff developer and college professor. A graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, with a degree in Art Education, he also holds degrees in Landscape Architecture and Education from City College of New York.

A version of this op-ed appeared in ASLA’s blog The Field under the title “Bringing Landscape Architecture to New Places.” The views expressed here are the author’s own.