It has been ten years since I returned from my travels on the SOM fellowship. From September 1985 to the summer of 1986 I focused on the “Single Building as Urban Intervention.” Specifically, I examined the relationship of nine public institutional buildings in eight cities (mostly in Western Europe) to their physical and cultural contexts. These buildings are recognized historic monuments representing widely different historical periods. My intention was to learn how these structures defined relationships between themselves and the city, while addressing the specific requirements of the program. I remained in each city for approximately one month, during which time I made multiple visits to the building, to other buildings by the same architect or to the work of contemporary architects to document the physical qualities of each. I also studied the history of the place and experienced how the buildings of the cities had transformed over time to their present condition. Perhaps most important, regular and lengthy observations allowed me to understand the buildings not simply as historical artifacts but as vital elements of the present.
I returned to complete my graduate education inspired and informed that architecture was more than an intellectual exercise, formal exploration or technical process but a social act bound up in its time and place. I strove to emulate the directness with which I had experienced architecture as a product of culture during my travels. The way I began to represent my work changed-- I used pencil to emphasize how material and light added detail and scale to a building. It was important to “build” each project by drawing every material joint and layering gradations of shadow upon the paper. The content of my work changed-- my thesis project was a public elementary school in my hometown of Albany, New York. The project, a bridge between postwar low-income housing towers and a nineteenth century neighborhood, was an opportunity to test what I had explored on the SOM fellowship.
Upon graduating, I wanted to be as closely and directly involved in building as possible. I chose to work in a small architecture office so that I could “learn the ropes” and gain first hand knowledge. Following this, I worked for Steven Holl for four years as a project architect on several different projects. One of these was the Stretto House which won a national AIA Honor Award in 1992. At Holl’s office, the emphasis on the perceptual aspects of architecture reinforced what I had experienced while on the SOM fellowship.
I left Holl’s office in 1992 to assume a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan. Subsequently, I taught at the University of Virginia and Yale University. The inspiration and content for my teaching again had its foundation in the SOM fellowship. I developed studio projects that required students to work within difficult urban or suburban contexts to develop small scale public buildings. The basic intention was that students understand buildings not as objects but as participants in urban relationships. I also created a seminar course called “Ideas and Practices of Detail” which proposed (through both historical readings from treatises and from actual construction projects) the integral connection between issues of construction and design intentions.
Currently I am a principal in my own architectural practice which I founded in 1993 with two partners (Architecture Research Office). During the past two and one half years, I have worked with my partners and our staff to realize a diverse body of work. My desire is to continue to develop as an architect through the process of practicing architecture. One recent project for which I was responsible is a fence on the corner of Thompson and Broome Streets in Manhattan. Here, with an economy of means determined by function and budget, I sought to make an urban intervention. In many respects, the influence of the SOM fellowship is evident in this simple and modest fence.
The SOM fellowship enabled me to experience architecture directly and to realize that architecture is a participant in culture. It also reinforced my interests in materials and methods of construction. Especially today, when so much of our understanding about architecture is filtered through written interpretation and graphic representation, the memories of my travels remain a touchstone. My conviction in practicing architecture is to make a contribution beyond the limits of a particular circumstance-- to define relationships that connect each project to a larger context. This fundamental basis of my design approach was nurtured by the SOM fellowship.
- Adam Yarinksy
From a letter dated June 1996