Guy Peterson's Florida Modernism
Another thing that I think is very important in my work, which is more noticeable in my current work, is minimalism. Ten years ago or so, I began thinking about a minimalist approach with a greater simplicity and honesty to it. I like to create a space and then take things away from it so that I'm left with just the pure form.
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There are architects, like John Pawson in England, who do this so well. I think he's one of the superior minds in minimalism when it comes to architecture.
Claudio Silvestrin and Alberto Campo Baeza also have similar attitudes of simplifying, which means they end up with these spaces and forms that are defined by light. They create spaces that are devoid of ornament and the detail is in the minimalist nature of them — the way the floor meets the wall or the way the ceiling floats out into space with glass that slices through it. Spaces with these attributes look as if they would be easier to create, but they are in fact more difficult.
SH: Why is that?
GP: When there are fewer layers, architects have to be more analytical about how they are designing, because fewer things are covered over. Detailing is really important in our work, but it's not just about the space and the form that we are creating; at the end of the day it's about standing in the space — touching it and seeing it up close. At that point, designing is like hitting the head of a pin: it only works if we get it right.
SH: Would you say that your creative process slowly simmers, or do you normally have an immediate "Aha!" when designing a project?
GP: There are eureka moments, but I usually let things simmer for quite a while, though I'm not always conscious of the fact that I'm thinking about projects. I swim every day and I'm in the water for 45 minutes. I will sometimes have inspired ideas come to me when I'm swimming.
This is likely the result of the fact that no one is talking to me, the phone is not ringing, and bubbles are all I hear. I also think it's because I'm relaxed and my mind is relaxed.
The Revere Quality House, 2007, Siesta Key, Florida
The Revere Quality House presented Guy Peterson with the opportunity to renovate and design an addition to a Paul Rudolph/ Ralph Twitchell building. "It was emotional," he recalls. "I tried to think about how Rudolph would reinterpret the project."
The original house, the low-slung, one-story building, was in dire shape when Peterson's client bought the property. Because of his respect for Rudolph's work, the architect convinced the homeowner to restore the original building and to gain the additional space he desired with a new addition.
The Florida AIA recognized Peterson's firm with an Unbuilt Award and the Gulf Coast Chapter a Merit Award for this renovation and addition.
If I'm working on something and I'm trying to develop a concept, before the solution occurs to me there has been quite a bit of unconscious preparation. Once I gather all of the information on a project, it goes into the blender.
I consider the owner's program — for instance, what they don't like is more important to me than what they do like; the site and the different issues related to the context in which they are building; and if a project is on the water, the slew of jurisdictional and coastal requirements that we have to deal with.
I don't begin a project by merely looking at the property; I start with the approach to the site. The first thing I usually do is to ask myself how I am going to physically approach the site. When someone drives up, how are they going to enter the property? My design process begins with this coming toward the site.
Once I understand the site and how someone will be entering it, I begin working with a diagram of the site to see how the house will interplay with the site influences. Maybe in my mind I'm already blocking out programmatic functions, but I'm concentrating on the physical aspects of the site.
SH: Do you draw these early approaches or do you use a computer?
GP: Everything I design is with a pencil and tracing paper. I don't design a plan and then try to extrude it to see how it looks.
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Saxon Henry has written for a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Interior Design, Traditional Home, Modernism Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Coastal Living. She is a frequent contributor to the Home & Design section of The Miami Herald and is a contributing editor to Modern Luxury's MIAMI and Manhattan magazines. Henry is the coauthor of Big Home, Big Challenge: Design Solutions for Larger Spaces, and also produces an ezine, Design Commotion.
This article is excerpted from Four Florida Moderns by Saxon Henry, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton.