Thom Faulders
Main at Faulders Studio
December 11. 2012 – 7 PM
San Francisco

In a bar near CCA


My name is Thom Faulders. I run Faulders studio and we met at CCA where I teach as an associate professor. I  was born in France, believe it or not since that is where you are coming from, in La Ciotat. I was born over there while my dad was teaching in Engineering and I was only there for a year. My parents moved to California. I went to school there, and then I studied to Florence for about 2 years. When I graduated I worked for the office of Superstudio, where at the time they were trying to figure out how to do architecture “post-Superstudio”. It was a pretty interesting time, because they had created a hypothetical/radical architecture where they designed themselves out of a job : things, buildings, anything concrete was no longer needed because everything desired was to be provided by the networked supersurface.

Then I moved to San Francisco and worked for various architecture companies. In Italy my thesis was to do a high rise for Florence. A city like Florence would never have a tower, so it’s really a speculative idea. When I got back here I was working with a small firm that didn’t have enough work, and we were discussing that SOM was hiring. It’s not something I would do, as I was not intending to head in a corporate architecture direction. But the more I thought about it, the more it started to seem interesting, like something that was new, foreign. So I got a job there as a designer. I worked in a high rise tower downtown,  wore a necktie everyday, and was absolutely fascinated by the scale of work and production processes there. I speak highly of my time involved with SOM, though I only worked in the San Francisco office for about 6 months.

Years later I went to graduate school to study architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Michigan. It’s a small school, where many amazing people have studied and/or taught, for example Charles and Ray Eames, and more recently Daniel Libeskind. I was living in and around Detroit for two years. It reminded me of Florence ! Detroit is emptied out, it was extremely depressed at the time. In Florence you also couldn’t do anything – as a contemporary architect hoping to build – because it’s virtually an urban museum. I felt like these were two very different spectrums of impossibility.

I come from a pretty strong Architecture background. My undergrad was in architecture, I worked for many architecture firms, and I just felt that it wass time to pursue an alternative world for thinking about architecture. So, that’s when I went to Cranbrook back then. We were working on full scale fabrications, non-representational and it was an exciting period. After graduate school, I moved down to LA for a while. I had a friend that was working for the Richard Neutra’s most famous house in Palm Springs, the Kaufmann House. I went out for a visit to see the massive renovation, and ended up staying there for half a year as part of the small construction framing crew. The Kaufmann House is so extreme, to me existing somewhere between building and environmental art.

I started to revisit architecture as abstraction – something I wanted to pursue further. I had some work, some clients, I needed a space and a name to show I was doing some drawings. I was licensed as an Architect, and that’s how I started, project after project. Now the types of projects and clients I work with continually fascinate me, and very often quite  conceptual and innovative.



st louis

Saint Louis Arch

The building you wish you had designed ?
You’re supposed to ask “What’s your favorite building?” ! I don’t know, how about the Saint Louis Arch.

The project that you designed that makes you the proudest?
One such project would be Airspace Tokyo. That was a collaborative project, with Hajime Masubuchi (Studio M) an architect in Tokyo. He did the building and commissioned me to do the building wrapper. I brought in Sean Ahlquist to do the design computation as well. I like that project because I think it turned out to be visually stunning and phenomenally dynamic. You couldn’t build that in the US. It’s in a residential district in Tokyo – here the politics are too complicated, everybody has an opinion on what you are allowed to do. I’m sure that nobody would let us build it in their neighborhood here!

A striking detail in one of your projects ?
The work that I do is involved with inventing material processes for production. One in particular, a project I did about ten years ago called Mute Room. This was a temporary installation using slow-acting memory foam. To this day, people find that a really interesting project with its anthropomorphic qualities,  a form of simple intelligence of a material that can erase itself, become totally plain and smooth, yet is malleable enough to register marks and blemishes. There’s something really human about that.

The project you would never design?
I’m not sure I’ve run into it yet.

The ideal or perfect city for you?
Tokyo. Although I could say Dubai. But Tokyo. This is a place where anything is possible. You see it all there.

Do you prefer talking or drawing?

The first time you felt like an Architect?
I can say when I was probably in high school, to take a clean piece of paper and to draw a world of possibility upon it. That, to me, is still amazing.

The question that’s bugging you?
I am teaching a Grad seminar called Out of Control. This question of: can architecture be out of control? And can you design and tap into something that is beyond control? …That is emergent and open-ended, with its complexities being generated through processes that happen in time. These are things that I’m particularly interested in.

What infuriates you as far as architecture is concerned?
I don’t know if it infuriates me but it’s interesting that apart from doing the actual building, there’s all this other content we produce, from images and model representations to in-process fabrication and final photography, etc. Through print and online publications, we are continually asked to provide this content for free in exchange for exposure. Feeding this is a big effort – wouldn’t it be great if we were paid everytime our work was accessed for publication, like a musician ridicule SF noiror author ?

The most ridiculous building in San Francisco ?
Possibly all of the cheap housing that was put up after the 1906 earthquake, now rarified with historical significance and cannot be altered. It’s a unique paradox.

The song you are listening to over and over again? Playlist SF
I don’t know about song, but I listen to Eight Mile, by Eminem.

Your message to young architects?
I don’t do messages.

Who is the architect that accompanies you?
Possibly a writer, a futurist named Ray Kurzweil. He’s nuts. He’s a scientist. Also, another kind of futurist writer, someone that’s involved with looking at new technologies and new media, is Kevin Kelly. He writes about the differences between the made and the born. The made is constructed, the born is something that evolves or happens through certain circumstances. When I’m working, I think about these ideas that he writes about. I’m looking for levels of intelligence I suppose. Here’s a set of ideas that I like to think about that somehow seem attainable and unattainable at the same time.

What do you remember about your student years?
I was a student for over 7 years through undergrad and grad studies, and what I most remember is always trying out new things in the studio environment. That’s what I still like to do today.

What’s next?
When you’re talking about what project that makes you the proudest, it is always the one that’s right in front of you. If not, I think it means you’re bored, when you are looking back…
Currently I am trying to amplify cloudy light for a science center in Portland, right over the entrance as you walk into this building. I think it’s going to be perceptually very interesting, and we won’t really know until it’s built. We are trying to make something that almost glows and is atmospheric, yet is simply made out of painted metal. It’s very nerve-racking.

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