Warren Schwartz on Anticipation, Maturity, and Happy Accidents

Saxon Henry Saxon Henry

Architizer continues to explore how architects experience the emotional realm during the process of creation — presenting the points of views of some of the profession’s most actualized practitioners. The work of Warren Schwartz, FAIA, came to Saxon Henry’s attention when he wrote an astute essay about Guy Peterson’s architecture in her book FOUR FLORIDA MODERNS. She has been an avid fan since. Today, the founding partner of Boston-based SCHWARTZ/SILVER ARCHITECTS shares his experience in the emotional realm during his process of creation.

Saxon Henry: I have emotional responses when I experience architecture. Are you aware of having emotional responses when creating it?

Warren Schwartz: Designing is an emotional endeavor. I don’t think an architect can fully anticipate or create the emotional response that you might have as a visitor. But, if I’m not creating “something,” I’d better start over!

Shaw Center for the Arts, Baton Rouge, La.

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

WS: I usually experience two emotions in turns — excitement and fear — excitement at the possibilities and fear that I won’t be able to create what excited me in the first place.

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?

WS: I can feel it, but I always wonder if there is something more I can do to heighten the architectural experience.

McCoy Federal Building, Jackson, Miss.

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?

WS: I think that, as one matures, age challenges the memory of “original” impulses, which don’t change and which, I believe, are the center of one’s architectural personality.

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

WS: At best, we try [to] always to be in charrette mode — i.e., ideas, ideas, and ideas — and the best ones will emerge, strengthen over time, and persist. I’m always testing them against office reaction.

The National Music Museum, Vermillion, S.D.; the New York Times recently dubbed the project “an Unlikely Eden.”

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?

WS: I’m usually surprised by, and hope for, “happy accidents” — things coming out better than expected. These are, normally, small epiphanies only an architect might notice. They’re usually personal and random and don’t have much to do with the overall arc of an idea except as they support it.

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?

WS: The first unassigned book I read at school was The Fountainhead. Politics aside, I hadn’t realized that architecture could elicit emotions as strong as the exhilaration, anguish, euphoria, and desperation felt by the main character.

T2, West Stockbridge, Mass.

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

WS: Houses — because they’re so personal. The give and take is so worthwhile and so dangerous.

For more projects by Schwartz/Silver Architects, check out their comprehensive firm profile on Architizer.