Political Space

Just five years prior to 1995, Prague was still living in it's protective shell. The Czech Socialist government retreat in the late fall of 1989 still seemed so close to my summer in Prague; that summer in 1995. This was evident in a hush of silence and secrecy surrounding parts of the city and Czech life, even though my perceptional experience at the time seemed far more liberating than much of my life back in the States.

Politics can preserve a city and in the case of Prague, nearly forty-five years of self containment promoted a documentation of urban history in the making. Prague was fortunate to have escaped most of the early 20th century wars that decimated other European cities. Communism went a step further to petrify the city, keeping in tact its vibrant history while allowing selective insertions of socialist 'modern' buildings. The beauty of Prague lies in tolerance, or so it seems an acceptance of side-by-side discontinuity. Time cuts through Prague in sharp contrast. Five hundred year old villas stand next to modern department stores in casual dialogue.

Much of what Communism did in Prague, looked beyond it's central history. Rings of development creating 'accessible' housing were common at the urban fringe. Whether intentional or by virtue of available land space, development skirted the historic city center in non-invasive ways. Where new development did occur, it was selectively inserted, and as a result, preservation prevailed. The old historic city in large part remains intact. Clearly though, communism failed to successfully promote quality public space, even going so far as neglect in certain instances. Parks, monuments and streets often fell in decayed misuse and neglect under the socialist government.

Our urban planning and design class spent the summer of '95 looking at the derelict city. Unused and forgotten behind factory walls and overgrown vegetation, we imagined masterplanned scenarios for reintegration. It was a summer when boundaries dissolved.

San Francisco

It has been a record for me to be stationary in one city for nearly five years. My life, through youth, my twenties and early thirties, has been based on constant change and new places to call 'home'. There have been times when restlessness has gotten the best of me and I felt the only thing to do was try someplace new. San Francisco is now home.... although at times I feel that restless urge again to be some place else; some place new. This is a great city by many accounts and I continually ask myself why I feel the urge to leave. Nearly a decade ago I discovered and became intrigued by it's secrets and diverse districts.

San Francisco is a story stalling to be re-written. There are histories of many stories here both literal, penned and those that are more obscure however, like many American cities San Francisco yearns for more. Reading Jack Kerouac's essay 'October in the Railroad Earth' to me is one of the more poignant accounts of San Francisco in term's of a social and physical divide; while bringing to light the marginal places of the city. The essay is a poetic 'behind the scenes' glimpse of San Francisco's working class and SOMA industrial district that propelled the city through industrialization. Kerouac wrote this essay through first hand experience; indulging as much as possible South of Markets shadowy seam. His experiential visions from a foggy night bar visit fade to suppressing grey work mornings, commuting through the social layers of a divided city and relay a story often overlooked in bourgeoisie culture.

The image of avenues from Kerouac's essay have hardly changed in parts of SOMA, (San Francisco's South of Market district). Desperation of passage; a fast transitional state to someplace else. Even today as you walk down Hyde street at Mission, form and function give way to the quickest way out. Wide auto dominated streets leave a barren place for someone out of car, and feeling out of place. It is the down-and-out population who brave it on foot to make it from one block to the next.

I see San Francisco's marginalized neighborhoods daily as I walk through the city streets. Chain linked lots bordered by a relentless flow of fast moving cars is an all too common experience. There is a clear distinction between what is 'front' and what is the derelict 'back' side of the city. Arguably, this aptly applies in most American cities. A willful separation of urban space that dis joins a continuum of experience physically and socially. The interstitial disjunction survives only as transitional and forgotten space. Our cities here in the US, even San Francisco, unfortunately expose this segregated function and social reality.

2x_way of Berkeley

Lancelot Coar (left) Eric Reeder (right)

In 1999 I had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most intellectually gifted people that I will ever know. It was my first semester at the University of California at Berkeley in the Masters program for Architecture. As part of the Architectural education course requirements the studio options that first semester were diverse and selecting my first core studio class seemed a daunting task. In the end I chose a studio taught by visiting instructors. They were a group of well known practitioners from Los Angeles who proposed to take turns rotationally visiting our studio in Berkeley. The other non-conforming aspect to the studio was the requirement to be paired in a team. At first this seemed to challenge the very solo spirit that architecture schools always promote but I took to it quickly and soon realized the fortunate situation I had chosen to take part in.

My partner, Lancelot Coar, and I immediately made a connection in thought and dialogue. Our work evolved complimentary through disparate yet common languages of art, perception and an eagerness to explore the world around us. I was immediately inspired by his commitment to place making through use of found things- reconstructed - to challenge the way we look at the world around us. I was always one to be tied to the drawing board, or at least feeling like I needed to be. It was Lancelot who was eager to explore around us and seek out the unexpected. It brought a uniqueness to our project that semester and frankly what I saw as reverence from our peers and instructors alike.That first semester at Berkeley will always be a pivotal moment in history for me. As we move forward, foundation can mean everything and can always be a place to return to.

Rural House

Architectural design for me has come to represent everything learned prior to any design at all. In other words, the act of design cannot truly begin until thorough observation of what exists on site-(potentially a past, present, and projected future), in addition how the site is to be used by the owner/ inhabitant, and ultimately a relationship within the greater environment has been critically examined.

Prior to the onset of design for a rural South Korean residence, I spent days observing how the owner's currently live on site (fortunately for me). The importance of outdoor activities in the landscape, even beyond what normally transpires within their existing house, provided a foundational organization for a new house proposal. Each space in the new residence is planned with reference to the outside landscape, even if only through visual connection or the admittance of natural light in clerestory configurations.

A central indoor-outdoor space marks entry and delineates between the 'public' and more 'private' spaces of the home. It's function, symbolically beyond entry, will certainly come to be a place of central gathering for eating, resting and entertaining. This mediating space interstitially divides between a painting gallery and dwelling space. How does one account for years of history and and cultural traditions without repeating an expected architectural language? It was the design intent of this project to balance significant historical 'memory' while maintaining an interpretation of momentary life today.


A space for all uses: in search of the smallWhen space is truly a commodity, flexibility is central. I remember a street side vendor in Seoul that I passed daily on my way to work. A small portable 'capsule' with built-in cooler and freezer. It was the smallest of multi-use spaces, by my estimates, measuring no more than 10 square feet on the inside. The public face of it was dressed in glass exposing many small items for sale; gum, cigarettes, various snack foods. On the front also, a narrow transaction counter below a small window opening for brief conversations and the exchange of Korean Won for goods. The vendor, who I saw daily, was a small elderly woman perched inside on a raised floor. I determined this raised surface to provide either additional storage space below or space for a heater during the winter months. No space waisted, not even the tightest of corners.

On many day's I would pass and notice small children on the inside with the shop owner or sometimes outside playing. From a miniature storefront to a place of family care it was the most versatile of small. While I never stopped to make a purchase myself, this small shop became a curious urban 'object' that I examined daily. I paced its edges, measuring by foot the distance around it's sides. I photographed, drafted and painted it, in hopes of gaining insight to how the space functioned inside and out. It was nothing short of pure efficiency.

Inspiration presents itself in many forms. I'm constantly inspired by uncanny combinations and overlaps of function and use. Particularly those of polemic identity and position. The act of thriving in minimal accommodation with multiple uses is sustainable on many levels. To make such concessions is clearly one of the few logical actions in dense urban environments.