Richard Leon Thornton [talliyamachusee]
What is your specialization in architecture?
Living in the Georgia Mountains, I will accept a broad range of commissions in order to put food on the table. However, the projects I have received national or regional recognition on involve either Urban Design, Downtown Revitalization, Historic Preservation or Studies of Native American Architecture. I am a Creek Indian and a architectural history consultant to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.
Is there a web page or blog where one could see something of your work?
The Architecture Network in the UK has web pages on my virtual reality computer images. There is a website in Sweden, which features my studies, books and drawings of Native American communities. Lulu Publishing markets my books at www.lulu.com. The Perdido Bay Creek Tribe has photographs of my models and drawings in their web site www.perdidobaytribe.org. Also, quite a few examples of my creative work is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Creek Nation's Capitol Building in Okmulgee, OK.
What is it for you a good architectural design?
Being anchored in the perspective of urban design, I tend to look at the environmental setting of the project. Of course, all buildings should ideally enhance the landscape, but they should also be visually and functionally compatible with their surroundings. This standard includes optimum energy efficiency. All this is meaningless, however, unless the building also meets the Client's needs.
What era of architecture most fascinates you?
From the days of a fellowship to Mexico while a student at Georgia Tech, until the present, I have always been fascinated by Mesoamerican and Southeastern USA Indigenous Architecture. Guess you might expect that since I am Creek Indian. However, I also love the Colonial and Federal Period in the Eastern United States. I formerly lived on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, in which the house was built in 1770 and later the site of a Civil War battle. It was an incredible experience to be immersed in such real American history.
List the name of a famous building which you don't care for.
I have always despised the pyramidal glass addition to the Louvre Museum in Paris.
What hardware and software do you use that you deem as indispensable?
I use an Hewlett Packard custom built CADD platform for all my work. All of my other hardware is also HP made. I use BricsCAD for my Cadd software and Artlantes for my virtual reality models.
In which city do you live or work and why?
I live in Jasper, GA which is on the northern edge of the Metropolitan Atlanta Area, but actually situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I moved here because the road system gave me equal access to Central Atlanta and also to Western North Carolina, where I still have projects from time to time. Guess the most important reason is that I am outdoorsy and love being able to hike, canoe or ski everyday in the mountains.
Do you work with other architects? How is the team set up?
I am a one man practice. I typically collaborate with engineering or archaeological firms on larger projects. I also go after public monuments with a Creek sculptor from Texas.
What do you think of competitions? What types of competitions do you normally compete in?
Design competitions are an excellent way to breath life into the architectural profession. The only competitions I have entered in recent years involve joint creation of public sculptures and urban design improvements such as plazas.
Mantaining the signature of a building, how is the identity of the surroundings respected?
The answer to that question varies so much with specific locations, I can not answer it with a sentence or two. Identification of a common visual vocabulary can tie old and new together, but then sometimes the ideal solution is a dominant landmark, which causes the historical building fabric to become the background of a stage.
Which architects, past or present, do you admire?
Don't laugh, but I love the buildings designed by Thomas Jefferson. I generally like the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and any of the architects, who followed him in the Talliesan Tradition. There is something about John Portman's buildings . . . close up they don't seem that innovative, but they do stimulate the urban environment.
In your professional philosophy, what comes first, function or form?
Oh definitely function. A good architect can make any function beautiful.
Do you view suburban sprawl as an ecological threat and a waste of resources? Do you advocate for more vertical and denser town planning?
My urban design work is generally horizontal, then I punctuate it with vertical landmarks such as towers.
What will the single-family home of 2050 be like?
Look at the houses built in 1958. There is not a whole lot of visual difference between then and now. My guess is that the external appearance of typical single family houses in 2050 will not be radically different than the range of appearances today. However, there will be revolutionary differences in the materials and the construction methods four decades from now.
For you, which new materials provoke the most interest?
I am primarily interested in new materials that come from the earth and readily sustainable. They should not require large amounts of energy to be manufactured. Any materials derived from petroleum products should be phased out.
Bioclimactic architecture, domotic systems...do you think we are approaching a profound revolution in architecture?
Yes, we are approaching a revolution in architectural systems, but I foresee the current economic conditions to become quite severe and therefore, technical progress will be retarded for several years. The revolution will be in response to the many mistakes that we built into our infrastructure over the past seventy years.
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?
Most of my major projects are public ones, or else adaptive reuse apartments or village shopping centers. In such cases, the public is my primary client, even if the check has someone's name on it. Most of my private sector clients realize that if the public does not want to live or shop in their project, it will be a financial failure.
The pharahons built pyramids, and bankers skyscrapers: will architecture always be a symbol of power?
Yes, but whose power the architecture represents will evolve over time.
Imagine your ideal house. Where would it be? What would it be like?
An ideal house for me probably would not be an ideal house for the general public! I would love to be back on the farm, but would live in an open plan house that produced most of the energy it needed, supplemented by wood fire heat in the winter. Like many of the houses I designed in North Carolina and Virginia, the house would be supported by a massive fireplace - chimney - mechanical column which efficiently maintained the comfort and heated water for the house.
Can one copy and still be original?
That is an oxymoron. If you are copying, then you are not being original.
Where is the balance between deeply-rooted architecture and that which responds to its particular era?
Duh-h-h, all architecture was once a new way of doing things. which responded to its particular era. However, some architectural traditions have almost universal application to other eras.
Spectacular architecture: do you believe that buildings are becoming more and more media phenomena?
Not around Atlanta. The resurgence of conservative politics in Georgia has been followed by conservative, immitative esthetics being forced down the throats of architects. Our buildings here have become increasingly ugly and unimaginative as the corporate mindset gained control of the design process.
What motto would you like to see inscribed at the entrance of the university's department of architecture?
Design for others, not yourselves
What would be your dream project at this moment?
One that would pay my mortgage, car payment, utilities, food bills. and gasoline, plus make the world a better place.
Who is your favourite artist?
I really do not have a favorite artist. I am also a professional ceramic sculptor, so much of my work is in the folk art spirit of my Creek ancestors.
Which websites about architecture do you frequently visit?
Most of my web site visits involve research into specific questions about the functions of specific types of buildings or building materials. There is no site that I visit more often, with the exception of ARCAT for specification research.
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
Gosh, I guess my first books was one of those Dick, Jane and Sally books when I was five. I first wrote professionally in high school. I wrote a weekly column on teenage happenings for an Atlanta newspaper. So the first time the general public read my writing would have been when I was 16.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
My favorite genre is non-fiction. You can access information about my books on Native American culture and most recently, American History at www.lulu.com. I have written over a hundred planning and historic preservation documents. I am editor for a bi-monthly online newsletter for scholars of Creek Indian ancestry, called the People of One Fire Newsletter. You can obtain copies of the People of One Fire by sending an email to PeopleOfOneFire@aol.com Some examples of my writing can also be seen on my tribe's web site www.perdidobaytribe.org
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Generally, a book follows a spritual experience while visiting one of my ancestral Native American town sites. In the case of my last book, however, I happened to run across color slides of an adventure I had while in college. Two fraternity brothers and I were stranded on an island off the coast of Georgia by a tropical storm. We had to live off the land for 10 days until rescued. I always pray to the Master of Life for guidance prior to writing a book on Native American culture.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
None of my books have been inspired by reading other books or magazines.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
The plot should reflect the ambiguous complexity that makes up human life.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Most of my books are in the first person, but while dealing with technical matters they typically do not include the word "I".
What well known writers do you admire most?
There is not a particularly writer that I try to immitate. In general, I prefer writers whose prose is clear and easy to understand, but reflects exposure to multiple points of view. I came to enjoy Thomas Wolfe, while living in Asheville, NC. His books make the most sense, if you are walking in the places he walks. Other favorites are Margaret Mitchell, James Mitchner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Jones, and Charles Dickens. YES, I am eclectic in my reading!
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
I only write non-fiction, so my characters are all real people.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Oh yes! My writing is a direct result of my Creek Indian oral saga tradition. In fact, my readers all comment that my books are like having a conversation with me. Most people don't know that the Uncle Remus Tales were originally morality stories told to Creek children, which African slaves living near by picked up.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
My Native American brothers and sisters, plus future generations of Native Americans.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
They might be a form of therapy to compensate for the extreme anti-intellectual social environment of the State of Georgia these days, but there are no internal conflicts involved. My motivation comes from a desire to share what I have seen with others.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes, I always preview my books with several readers of diverse backgrounds.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I have never participated in any competitions, nor have received any book awards. Several of my planning documents have received national or international awards, however.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes, this is standard operating procedure. I would not call them rough drafts however. Those who I share manuscripts with, will see most of the illustrations and a polished lay-out.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I have always had "my voice" since the days of reporting on teenage activities for an Atlanta newspaper, while in high school. However, my vocabulary and control of words certainly improve with each book.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I don't. However, by nature I am a self-disciplined professional. I generally write when I don't have architecture work, or the weather is such that I can't go up into the mountains to hike, camp and canoe.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Nothing - remember I am an Architect. We had to learn self-discipline in college in order to graduate.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
All my work is done on computer, since my books are extensively illustrated with either virtual reality computer images I created or digital photos I made. I seldom print out my work, because I have a very large monitor designed for architectural drawings and images. I try to make use of computer aided spelling and grammatical checking as much as possible.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I am editor of the People of One Fire Newsletter. I am also a frequent visitor to the Creek-Southeast message board, where Creek scholars from around the nation can share information.
What has been your experience with publishers?
There is something going on in the publishing houses of the United States these days that has nothing to do with the quality of one's work. I strongly suspect that politics and the occult is involved. I don't waste my time with them anymore. I self publish in the United States and my work is published in the UK and Scandinavia by European publishers.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a three volume comprehensive study of the Southern Highlands of the United States. Part One has just been printed. This is the result of a life time ofliving, hiking, camping, and studying archaeological sites in the Southern Highlands. The findings are going to really shake up the world of anthropology.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Look at them again with a fresh perspective. Do they still make sense? Are you a wiser person now, who would say things differently. Some of my old stuff is really good. Some of it seems naive. The fact is, however, in my case, I am constantly learning and growing. So books I wrote four years ago, are now obsolete.
Richard Leon Thornton
Jasper - Georgia - USA