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Interview with:

Stephen Alexander Lesser [sal5867] 

What is your specialization in architecture?
Residential, but that does nor adequately reflect my work or experience.
Is there a web page or blog where one could see something of your work?
What is it for you a good architectural design?
Architectural Design that transcends an ordinary solution to the problem.
What era of architecture most fascinates you?
The first half of the 20th Century.
List the name of a famous building which you don't care for.
Philip Johnson's AT&T.
What hardware and software do you use that you deem as indispensable?
Windows and your mind. We design the old fashioned way.
In which city do you live or work and why?
Eastern Long Island. (New York City region.)
Do you work with other architects? How is the team set up?
Sole proprietor. Some consultant specialists including architects. Web site - given before - is www.stephenalesserarchitect.com.
What do you think of competitions? What types of competitions do you normally compete in?
I think I have learned to think of uncompensated competitions as vehicles for taking advantage of the profession. There is no other analogous practice in any other profession.
Mantaining the signature of a building, how is the identity of the surroundings respected?
All design is contextual, no matter how a designer chooses to relate to it. The Statue of Liberty, the Guggenheim, Seagram's require certain elements of their sites for their success. So do the Folk Art Museum, the Morgan Library and the NYTimes. But the response to site is very different in the latter from the former, yet in no case without - should we say - a modicum of success when it comes to 'signature'.
Which architects, past or present, do you admire?
LeCorbusier, Aalto, Mies, Chareau, Wright, Olmsted, Michelangelo, Palladio, Nash, Brown, Stirling, Piano, Hawksmoor, Schindler, Kahn, and so on.
In your professional philosophy, what comes first, function or form?
Neither comes first. The greatness of architecture is that it is a compromised art.
What will the single-family home of 2050 be like?
It will be the same as it is now - because of the persistence of culture - but it will incorporate many new variations in the way it is made and it operates which are a consequence of the need to make it energy efficient and environmentally respective.
For you, which new materials provoke the most interest?
I like materials which have been tested (by time) and proven, but if newness (and not naturalness) is the issue, then - replacements for wood stud framing.
Bioclimactic architecture, domotic systems...do you think we are approaching a profound revolution in architecture?
Technique, technology, systems, the means change - but what makes architecture will never change. It should be a priority to integrate 'green' technologies in building; what you do using them is what makes architecture. 'Green' technologies should be commonsense. Architecture is sense but uncommon. 'Green' technologies should be reflexive; architecture is anything but.
In the development of a project, do you feel closer to the client or to the public as a whole who will use the final product?
It depends on the nature of the client. Residential architecture - custom residential architecture - is an exercise in satisfying a particular client. Raised to a high level, it is the finest architectural art. But in any case, satisfying the public demand, for instance, for an energy efficient dwelling should be assumed in any design. The public value does not eclipse the private one, nor should the reverse.
The pharahons built pyramids, and bankers skyscrapers: will architecture always be a symbol of power?
I refer you to an earlier answer. Some buildings are monuments and some are not. Architecture is not only about monuments, and some sites wont tolerate them. Architecture is often - if not always in some way - symbolic. Power is sometimes a basis of that symbolism, and sometimes fidelity to the source produces an unflattering result. Witness the difference between two of Eero Saarinen's buildings: the American Embassy in London (a giant dollar bill) and CBS in New York (one of the finest minimal designs, a proportioned granite monolith).
Imagine your ideal house. Where would it be? What would it be like?
20th Century. Modern. Romantic and heroic. Elevated, touching the ground lightly. Open to the air and the breezes. Bright. Sunny. Flowing circulation. Spiritually uplifting, positive. Not a cave. Perhaps a bit Cubist. Hopefully art.
Can one copy and still be original?
A copy of a whole is a copy. Artists copying paintings change the size from the original. Integrating copied parts of a whole is less a copy but still an academic exercise, like writing a college paper full of quotes. In any case, attribution is required. Obviously, honest or dishonest, a copy cannot be original. But some are very valuable - e.g., the 'Pavilion du Temps Nouveau' in Bologna.
Where is the balance between deeply-rooted architecture and that which responds to its particular era?
The best architecture is both, at the same time.
Spectacular architecture: do you believe that buildings are becoming more and more media phenomena?
The computer age - try as it will to supplant the two dimensional screen with three-dimensionality - still renders architecture graphically. To the extent that architectural design suffers from this facility, computer-generated images are likely to be deceptively two-dimensional, and thus a phenomenon of their medium, graphic like a billboard. What the media do with images is always their game; it is our obligation to choose architecture over hype.
What motto would you like to see inscribed at the entrance of the university's department of architecture?
Here begins an endless quest.
What would be your dream project at this moment?
Haven't you asked that question already? Same answer, but another building type. Any building type. Any problem.
Who is your favourite artist?
Which websites about architecture do you frequently visit?
AIA news.

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Stephen Alexander Lesser
East Hampton, New York

[sal5867] Stephen Alexander Lesser

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