Architects have it tough. We are trained to believe that our exploration and experimentation, our search for new ways of interpreting the world through design, and our contributions to moving culture and society forward all have tremendous value. Then we graduate from architecture school.
The real world, the profession, and the business of architecture hit us like a Mack truck. Clients, budgets, codes, deadlines, not to mention bosses, firm politics, technical limitations and other delimiting parameters rear their emphatic heads. Before we know it, for many, the wind is stolen from our sails. If we manage to salvage our curiosity and our creativity, and continue to exercise them, it is not without a concerted and constantly renewed struggle. Others retreat to the comfort of academia, where the issues and concerns that we associated with our chosen calling are valued and given the room and conditions to be actively pursued. And for some, myself included, we attempt to keep the flame alive by combining teaching with practice, and by writing and lecturing when we can carve out the required time and space to do so.
It was with these perennial (and frustrating ) conditions in mind that we founded the Architecture Program at Art Omi International. Having been offered a designated 60 acres as part of the larger sculpture park, we began to explore the intersection of art, architecture and landscape. We convened panel discussions at significant venues in New York City and began to solicit proposals for architect-designed installations for presentation in the fields. We mounted exhibitions in Art Omi’s Visitor Center and invited the public and the profession to events up at the site. And we gradually began to realize our vision for a “laboratory of architecture” – a place where working (and non-working) architects could resume the spirit of inquiry, and intellectual and artistic experimentation, that was nurtured in their schooling and that is critical to the effective fulfillment of their role as designers and planners of the built environment. We soon came to realize that, for all the positive attributes and impacts of these various programs, we still had not tackled a fundamental obstacle to the opportunity for free-thinking and inquiry that practicing architects lack – unfettered time. The solution would be something that is still extremely rare: an architectural residency. How curious that all of the other artistic disciplines have the benefit of residencies and retreats, when in truth their work is often largely non-commercial to begin with and they can work in their studios without the distractions of keeping the real-world exigencies of construction projects and their own businesses running smoothly. Why shouldn’t architects be afforded the same chance to open their minds and spread their creative wings?
This year, we finally did it. We initiated a unique program that provides a group of architects with a two-week residency up at the Art Omi campus. We blasted out a request for submissions, received proposals from a diverse range of practitioners, and subjected them to a juried evaluation. We wound up with eight selected proposals.
The residents are given room and board, workspace, and facilitation and input by Architecture Omi Board members and staff. The rest is up to them.
The first year’s trial was a resounding success. We had a great group of people – committed, thoughtful, serious, grateful and congenial. They were so pleased to have the time and space to pursue their individual interests. From the kick off dinner and proposal presentations the first weekend to the final project presentations and farewell dinner on the closing day, the spirit of exploration and the air of community more than fulfilled our hopes and aspirations for the program. And we found profound gratification and justification in the proof that architects can, and will, continue to grow in their creativity and their intellectual curiosity if given the open and supportive environment that this work requires.