In addition to being an architect, Steven Holl is also a watercolorist who uses this medium to explore the possibilities of light. Above is a watercolor "sketch" of one of his studio's latest projects, the Nanajing Museum.
5. Can you tell us about the house you grew up in?
Steven: In the small town where I grew up, I wasn’t exposed to architecture. Things that we (my brother the sculptor and painter James Holl and I) did that were related to architecture were to build tree houses. We made clubhouses, sometimes two stories, three stories, complicated constructions and when I was seven or eight years old we had as many as three different buildings under construction at the same time: a two-story tree house, a three-story free-standing club house and an underground club house; which I remember had logs for a roof with old carpets laid on top. Earth and grass were put over the carpets. A children’s ‘mythological landscape’, it was like a small city with all these different constructions that we made. In my mind I was already an architect by 1959.
INHABITAT: How would you describe your signature style? As we all know, we’re in the era of the ‘iconic building’ and the ‘starchitect’. However facile this might be, the designs of public institutions are often offered to the biggest names, and the most ‘iconic’ architects. How do you feel about this trend, and how do you work in a system like this and continue to create thoughtful, meaningful architecture, when so many developers are looking for ‘the next Bilbao’?
Steven: I believe that architecture needs to be completely anchored in its program and site. Its meaning must be so deeply rooted in the conditions of its inception that it’s unfazed by fashion. My first book Anchoring describes the relation of a building to a site, to its culture and to its metaphysical origins. If architecture’s original concept can go deeper, rather than broader, it builds a meaning on the site. It fortifies a locus of thoughts and philosophical hopes, or even humor and stories, which are oblivious to whatever style it is.
INHABITAT: Are you concerned about environmental and social sustainability in your buildings? If so, what role does green building play into your work?
Steven: The 21st century presents us with one third of the earth already developed, much of it in sprawling waste. A fundamental change of attitude, a re-visioning of values must take place. We emphasize sustainable building and site development as fundamental to innovative and imaginative design.
In Shenzhen China, a city that went from 8,000 to a population of over 12 million, natural landscape has been rapidly obliterated. New strategies for cultivation of urban vegetation are crucial to maintain a balance of flora and fauna as well as natural aquifers and general climatic balance. Advanced structural technologies and construction techniques open up the potential for new flying architectures, horizontal skyscrapers and public function bridges developing new urban layers. Our multifunctional “horizontal skyscraper” in Shenzhen, China won the architectural competition due to the maximizing of public landscape while rising to the 35m height limit and maximizing distant ocean views from the living/working spaces. Due to sophisticated combinations of “cable-stay” bridge technology merged with a high strength concrete frame there are no trusses in this floating skyscraper. The lush tropical landscape below is be open to the public and will contain restaurants and cafés in vegetated mounds bracketed with pools and walkways.