a conversation with Lisa Iwamoto…
KD: we are with a publication with Georgia Tech School of Architecture called gray_matter(s) and, umm, we just have some short questions that get to know you. We want to get to know you as a person. We understand that you’re an architect, or else you wouldn’t be here, right? So we’re just going to go through them.
KD: some of them might seem a little silly but… they’re fun.
KD: where are you from originally?
LI: Berkeley, California
KD: what was your master’s thesis project? And do you still like it and think it’s relevant?
LI: I don’t think it’s still relevant, but I still like it. It was on orthographic representation; that was the metatopic. The program itself was a design for a Chinese medical center; but umm, what I wanted to do, and this is all hand-drawn, FYI. This is when we were all hand-drawing, so. What I did is I looked at methods of representation in western medical practice, which is very similar to architecture representation. The cut. It is about the section and the plan, the axon, the, you know, the perspective kind of view of the elbow or something, versus the way non- western medical practices represented the body, which is through systems. Like lines of chi. As a network; your body was a network. So I wanted to look at how to rethink architectural representation in the same ways.
KD: sounds very intense, actually.
LI: it was a lot of drawing.
KD: was that a personal choice to pursue that? Or what is a part of a research platform?
LI: no, but it’s funny because, you know when you’re a student, I could never describe it like that. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Now I know, now I know…
PA: that always happens
KD: you’ve had time to think about it.
LI: But I mean got it together by the very end.
KD: what is your favorite thing about teaching? Why do you teach?
LI: I think it keeps ideas fresh and interesting. I like the conversation. I love sitting on reviews.
KD: does it keep your ideas in practice contemporary?
LI: uhuh, yes.
KD: is that the real reason?
LI: I think they inform each other. I think the practice informs the teaching, and that informs the practice. I don’t think I need to teach to have ideas, you know, but I like having conversations with colleagues and with students. I don’t like when students don’t work very hard.
KD: it keeps you always thinking fresh and open, right?
KD: what about your firm excites you the most?
LI: Right now, I think we’re in a transitional moment. And that’s exciting. Stressful, but it’s exciting, too. It’s like, how do we get the next level, basically. Bigger scale works. And in fact, the other part that is stressful is: how to we actually make it a viable business model. Probably less interesting, in a way. Well less interesting to me, which is why we never think about it. We probably should start thinking about it. And I think really, having to think about that, I’ve tried to think about why should architecture be more important to people than it is. And that is a really big question that we all face. Architecture comes last, in terms of what someone is going to spend money on, in a way. When really it should come first or second. We don’t go to cities because they look crappy; we don’t go to Florence because it’s some generic place. It matters. So, I’ve been thinking more about that. And I’ve been thinking more about, not just what that is to our practice, but just. Architects think about it a lot, usually, because it’s tied to the economy and their firm. But because my partner and I do other platforms with the teaching, we’re thinking about it more now and how that can be translated, maybe.
KD: how does your partnership work? Does he take on different roles than you? Or is it total collaboration?
LI: it’s totally a free for all. We’ve been going out for 25 years this year. We are solid. So we can argue. We don’t have to agree about everything. We can really, just kind of, you know. It works really well. And we know each other so well, by this time I met him before I was an architect.
… He did not influence me. We overlapped the GSD. But we were actually going out before then.
PA: I would say, if so, he was a bad boyfriend.
KD: Can you sum up the image of your firm in 5 words?
LI: umm, ::counts on fingers:: … I’m going to make it a sentence. We’re “trying to do things well.”
KD: what is your favorite music to relax to, if you have time to relax?
LI: I don’t really listen to music. I know that sounds really weird. Craig, however, listens to music. So I’m listening to whatever is listening to, which are all bands that I’ve never heard of. He plays Pitchfork a lot. He’s just like a music guy. I listen to NPR. I love Terry Gross’s voice, just humming in the background. And the Hourglass.
KD: what is your favorite accessory?
LI: I want to get a really cute dog.
PA: what would you name it?
LI: Shorty. I don’t have one yet. I have one halftime, because I take care of my dad’s and he has a little dog named Fluffy. And when I’m taking care of her, she’s my accessory.
KD: will you bring her to the office with you?
LI: I have. I have brought her there. And to the school. And public transportation.
KD: Okay, Bonus question: What do you not like to see in architecture?
LI: there is way more bad architecture than good architecture. I don’t like those architects. Way more. Look at buildings. Most of them are bad. Architects have a hand. There doing something. There is an architect; they’re just not concentrating on design. I’m talking about buildings. I don’t like the architects that work on bad buildings. There are a lot of ugly buildings ugly buildings out there.
PA: And that is it.
LI: That was fun! I like those questions.
This interview has be edited slightly to maintain clarity.
Interview conducted by Kelly Darby [KD], Patricia André [PA], and Kelly Heyer [KH].
[ 2012 spring lecture series, digital fabrication, future practice, Lisa Iwamoto ]