Architecture is not just a matter of delivering buildings. It’s a way of thinking. As such, architectural training lends itself to a range of applications. We sat down with four professionals who have gone beyond the building, extending their practices into other domains. From children’s furniture to metalwork, preservation to politics, the projects demand a strong critical eye and an expertise in problem-solving. In short, regardless of the work, they act as architects.
One year into his second four-year term on the Salt Lake City City Council, Soren Simonsen, AIA, sees his career as a placemaker. He accomplishes this by splitting time between architecture and policy making.
“Policy influences so much of the work that architects do, and I really wanted to be a part of that,” he says. Simonsen is a partner with Community Studio, a practice dedicated to neighborhood-based urban design. City council positions are part-time, so Simonsen works full-time at his firm, averaging 20 hours per week on political work. “I don’t spend much time skiing or mountain biking anymore,” he says.
Salt Lake City is undergoing what Simonsen calls unprecedented capital improvements. “Probably 80 percent of the work we do in city council relates to capital improvement and planning or zoning issues,” he says. Simonsen finds that his experience as an architect brings a set of skills to his policy work. “You have to be a good listener, because you’re always working on someone else’s behalf to implement their vision,” he says. “Architects also have the ability to look at problems from many different angles.”
New York–based Jennifer Carpenter, AIA, LEED AP, is a full-spectrum designer. She has worked on the massive (helping design Washington National Airport while at Cesar Pelli & Associates) to the minute (creating children’s furniture for Nurseryworks).
In 1998, Carpenter joined Rogers Marvel Architects, and her role as an architect extended into furniture and product design. In 2000 Carpenter co-founded the offshoot TRUCK Product Architecture, where she designed furniture for retailers such as MoMA and created everything from tables (for Design Within Reach) to retail fixtures for displaying tableware (for Kate Spade).
In 2010 she launched Jennifer Carpenter Architect, taking on architecture, furniture, and product design. There is a link to her vast projects: materials. “Even though design disciplines are quite distinct, materials are the common thread,” she says. “There’s a lot of discovery that can come out of the material iterative process.”
Each practice, she points out, has its own set of challenges. “For all the discussion about fluidity between disciplines, they’re really quite distinct.” Understanding this has allowed a range of commissions. “I go back and forth between the scales,” Carpenter says.
When the economy dropped in the mid-1980s, Texas architect Lars Stanley, FAIA, LEED AP, turned to metal artisanry to diversify his practice. He has since built Lars Stanley Metalworks into a successful venture, turning out award-winning gates, sculpture, furniture, architectural details, and lighting fixtures.
Stanley lives and works on a two-acre site in Austin, Texas, splitting his time between his architecture studio and metal workshop. Whether in the smithy or the studio, his method is similar. “Architecture is a process of developing ideas, exploring options, and understanding reactions to the environment,” he explains. “With metalwork, it’s the same process.”
Stanley collaborates with a range of architects and clients looking for custom-metal details and he spends his days running between the studio and the metal shop to try out new ideas. “Architectural education can expand into other types of practices that can be very rewarding,” Stanley says. “I tell all of my interns to think of architecture more broadly.”
For Chicago-based historic preservation architect T. Gunny Harboe, FAIA, design involves the past, present, and future. “It’s often assumed that because it’s preservation, there’s not all that much design involved,” Harboe says. “In reality, there’s lots of design, particularly in finding a technical solution that has vexed the building for a long time.”
Sometimes this involves bringing a building up to code, but his work is more than technical details. “Thoughtful stewardship of our cultural heritage is an important part of creating a sustainable society.”
In bridging the past with the future, he routinely encounters pragmatic issues of performance, balancing that against heritage. One issue: windows. “It is not a good solution if the building performs better but loses its heritage values in the process,” he says.
Throughout his career, he has worked with a roster of early and midcentury Modernist masterpieces from Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott department store to Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall. He says it is a tough design challenge: “When we do a really good job it looks like no one’s been there.”