From the First Sketch: Michael Brady on Elation, Visualization and Energy

Saxon Henry Saxon Henry

IN OUR CONTINUED EXPLORATION OF how architects experience the emotional realm during the process of creation, Michael Brady — founder of architecture, engineering and interiors firm MICHAEL BRADY, INC. — discusses how his emotions ebb and flow during design development with Saxon Henry, the author of Four Florida Moderns.

Saxon Henry: I have emotional responses when I experience architecture and I’m curious to know if you are aware of having emotional responses when creating it.

Michael Brady: Absolutely! It’s like going into another zone, or I would compare it to a runner’s high. It is all about emotion as I start sketching, and it often becomes frantic as the design comes together and ideas start flowing. It’s emotionally elating and draining at the same time.

Marek Residence, Chattanooga, Tenn.

SH: Do you have a normal emotional starting point once you know you are going to take on a project?

MB: I’m often scared because at that time, I have no idea what I am going to do or where I am going to go with the design. For me, it’s important to experience the site, develop a sense of how people will interact with the building and identify which emotions the design will generate for the users — to create a sense of the heart, mind and soul of the project.

SH: Do you know when you’ve “got it,” meaning you know emotionally when you have the best design for a building you can possibly create at any given time?

MB: I know when I have an excellent design, but sometimes there are multiple solutions. I always know which one I prefer, though I have made the mistake at times of offering my clients alternatives due to the conservative region in which my practice is located. Looking back, I regret offering alternative solutions since they usually selected the more traditional design. The UT Federal Credit Union is a good example.

Marek Residence, Chattanooga, Tenn.

SH: Do you feel that as an architect matures, different emotions come into play, or do you feel temperament is a set piece of the personality?

MB: I found I became more and more willing to expose and share my emotions, but I didn’t really change.

SH: Do you do active charrettes in your studios with your teams and, if so, how does emotionality come into play during that process?

MB: I don’t. I create the concept and design but only involve others as the project moves into design development. This is when other architects contribute to the various elements of the project. I’ve heard that a camel was probably [a] horse designed by committee — a testament to why I don’t feel the best design can come from a group!

Bennett Residence, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

SH: Do you experience different emotions when you are walking through your built projects that surprise you in any way, and can you give me an example?

MB: I’m rarely surprised by how the building turns out, as I have a good visualization of its attributes when I design it. The response of the users is what is emotional to observe, especially in churches and schools. I have designed churches where everyone in the congregation rededicated themselves to Christ — there were tears from almost everyone. I have seen students in schools come alive with energy. We designed an alternative school that inspired a student to express he had finally found a place he felt he belonged. He went on to graduate.

Lakeview Christian Church, New Orleans, La.

SH: Do you remember from architecture school if the emotionality of what you were reading and/or studying took you to a new plane of thinking or feeling in any way?

MB: Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp was an awakening for me. I felt it was one of the most creative things I had ever seen. Visiting a couple of years ago, I found it is still my favorite building.

SH: Do you find any one type of project more emotionally challenging than any other?

MB: Churches are very emotional. Clients and contractors are the challenging part of architecture.

+