Circumstance plays a huge role in shaping architectural projects, whether its people, nature, etc., according to Peter Q. Bohlin, FAIA, founding principal of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and winner of the 2010 Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In his recently published book, “The Nature of Circumstance,” Bohlin explores how these circumstances interact to shape the architecture around us. Here, he takes time to discuss with Contract magazine the inspirations behind the text, his career, and design beliefs.
You recently published “The Nature of Circumstance.” What were some inspirations for this book? And why is this topic important for A&D professionals to read?
We believe in shaping our architecture to the particular nature of circumstances surrounding each project—the nature of people, the nature of places—and the way these factors make for a sustainable world. An interest in the web of circumstances is at the root of our work with people and through our culture, including planning, architecture and interior design (which we consider all one). We pursue these interests with both intellect and intuition, via a soft “no holds barred” approach. The new book includes more recent residential work, as well as a range of non-residential projects.
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is known for its environmentally conscious approach. Could you speak about the role of nature in your previous design work?
We have loved and learned from nature since childhood; clearly this feeling for the range and emotional interaction of the natural world and people has had a great effect on our architecture, which extends from our houses and work in the national parks and environmental centers to civic buildings, such as Seattle’s City Hall and Ballard Library, to our Apple stores with their dualities of light and graceful movement.
Do you have a favorite structure or project that you've worked on? If so, what elements make it special?
I have many favorite projects that range from quite modest houses to much larger ones, as well as more complex assignments, including campus, civic, and private buildings in this country and overseas. I think our best work is both intellectually rigorous and intuitive, strong yet genuine, simple yet nuanced—a humanist modernism.
Could you share the greatest challenge you have experienced to date in your work, either in design or in writing? How did you overcome it?
Whether in making architecture or writing, the challenges are much the same: to divine the essence of what you are faced with, then to shape a solution that is intelligent, enlightening, and emotionally satisfying. That ability springs from curiosity, inventiveness, and rigor.
What/who are your design inspirations?
They surround us and are endlessly fascinating—the natural and manmade worlds of all ages, great and humble places, and the nature of people (how we think and feel, sense, move, and remember).
When you are designing a project that corresponds to a series, like the Apple stores you have designed, how do you make individual locations unique while adhering to a unified overall image?
Working with Apple is particularly satisfying, as together we shape Apple’s retail stores to be responsive to its needs and empathetic to its brand spirit. There are those intriguing aspects of anticipating change and growth, as well as placing Apple in very special urban and historic places and buildings. We consider how we might make the Apple market memorable, gathering spaces that fit each circumstance and maintain their precise rigor and lightness. This requires intellect and intuition from conception to the details.
What is your overall definition of design?
To get at the essence of each situation, to work within the web of each challenging circumstance, and to design useful things—whether campuses or urban places or buildings and their interiors—that respond to the nature of people while being technically rigorous and inventive. We are at the nexus of people, technology, and art.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new project or book in the works?
We will encourage our 180-person, multiple-office practice to be increasingly interactive among all of us, our consultants, and clients. We value sharing insights and searching for solutions together. We will continue to work on a great range of projects that challenge our ability to design at all scales, to make touching places and things that are intelligent, inventive, and sustainable. Our goal is to have an open-ended practice. We intend to continue teaching, lecturing, and writing. We search for a responsive, humane modernism.