Title/Firm: Principal, Stephan Jaklitsch Architects, New York
Education: M-Arch, Princeton University; BS, Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology.
Notable Works: Marc Jacobs Paris, Palais Royal; New building in Tokyo on Omotesando; Shelly Steffee Boutique, Gansevoort Street, N.Y.; Marc Jacobs Los Angeles; Gambaccini Residence, Columbia County, N.Y.; Studio X/Y, Asheville, N.C.;Duffy Residence, Provincetown, Mass.
What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement?
Establishing a studio and building a trusting relationship with a client over 12 years is no easy thing. We just completed a book on our work from 1998 to 2008, which captured our way of thinking about architecture as a process and challenged us to think about how we would like to grow and change. Striving to constantly to absorb and process information, research, and learn is more critical to our future than any intermediate milestones. We are proud of what we have done, but are invested in the future.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Problem-solving during design phases, as well as seeing the design realized during construction. It’s powerful to see what you conceived realized in three dimensions—there is a tremendous responsibility involved. I also get a great deal of satisfaction teaching my staff and challenging them. When they respond to a challenge and surpass my expectations is the greatest thing.
What inspired your career choices?
I always have desired to be an architect and deal with the built environment. My earliest memories are of walking through a half-built addition to my family’s house as a child: The exterior walls went up while the old roof was still on, and later I was able to walk through the framed-out walls of the interior. I remember being fascinated by the sequence of construction, the layering of old and new, and the spatial aspects.
If you could have selected another career, what might you have been?
Architecture has been such a part of my life that it is somewhat inconceivable to imagine something else. The need for shelter is primal. As our lives have gotten more complex over the centuries, so have our buildings, but the basic need is still the same. The primal need of shelter mixed with its culturally meaningful artistic representation over time has a certain appeal to me.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing architects today?
Actually, it is a tremendous time to be an architect. There is a cultural awareness on the part of the public that seeks out quality architecture, while at the same time new materials, techniques and software allow an incredible amount of flexibility. The problem is to be relevant. Unlimited freedom can be a trap—it should not be an end in itself, but instead a means to a better built environment. Quality architecture can have a very real impact on its users as well the natural and built environment, and clients know this. Architects have a responsibility to harness the disparate resources we have available to us intelligently and to design quality spaces that are relevant in today’s world—socially, culturally, functionally, and environmentally relevant.
What is the best thing you've learned in the past 10 years?
Believe in what you do and what you stand for, and don’t try to conform to others’ expectations of what is relevant. Have a solid, steady stance, and don’t change simply because the winds of fashion change. However, maintain an openness and eagerness for new things that can enrich what you do and enhance your perspective. I eagerly embrace the notion that one learns constantly throughout life. I travel frequently and try to glean whatever I can from the buildings I see and the experiences I have.
What advice would you give to architecture students or those just starting out in the field?
Focus on the right things. Learn the basics as well as the big picture, and keep a perspective on how it all fits together. The media is interested in selling flashy images, but architecture is much more than that. Architecture deals with cultural and sociological issues, as well as material substance, space, light, gravity, and, not least, shedding water. It is dealing with the last few in the context of the first that can lead to significant and beautiful architecture that resonates with our time. The architects who have had the greatest impact on me—Lewerentz, Kahn, Schindler, Loos, Zumthor—are brilliant in their ability to merge the technical and the poetic.
What would you like to leave as your legacy?
Everything in the world is temporary—even our best-built monuments. But so much is disposable or of poor quality, and it all has an impact. It would be nice if I could leave an imprint on the built environment of quality and substance—both in thought and craft.