atmospheres: juhani pallasmaa in iowa

IMG_3052A good week here.  Finnish architect and writer Juhani Pallasmaa, a neighbor during the Rome year, was kind enough to spend two days of his current U.S. visit with us in Ames and Des Moines, and it’s fair to say that the entire program is feeling its bar raised significantly after his lecture last night.

Pallasmaa’s theoretical work is usually labeled phenomenological, but it encompasses cognitive science, ethics, aesthetics, and tectonics in its scope.  He consistently argues for the importance of human experience in both making and occupying spaces, in particular the importance of the senses (all twelve…) and of craft.  Others have made similar pleas for such engagement and thoughtfulness, but Juhani’s writing comes across as more celebration than scold.  As frustrating as the continuing reign of the visual and the spectacular may be, the essays and books he’s written remind us that more fulfilling, more engaging architecture and design still occurs, and still offers us moments of pause and reflection–crucial headspace in a world that doesn’t offer much of it.

DSC02786Juhani is as generous a thinker as he is prolific, and it was a joy to listen to him talk with students about their work, about what he thinks architects who are just starting need to focus on (hint: drawing, lots) and what makes good design.  “The character of the maker” was his answer to the last one–it’s not brilliance or inspiration, but rather the diligence and thoughtfulness of the designer as they make the ten thousand little decisions that require patience, reflection, and persistence throughout a project.

We enticed him to Iowa, in part, by pointing out that the greatest collection of Saarinen buildings is in Des Moines.  “Saarinen never did a bad building, did he?” Juhani asked–rhetorically, of course–as we left Scott Chapel and headed to lunch in the Art Center’s courtyard.  We couldn’t come up with one.

Very grateful to all who made this happen, and of course to Juhani, who left us with an overview of twelve themes in his design work, ranging from color and material to staircases and light.  And with no shortage of bon mots to chew on.  “Science is how we confront the world in the third person,” he told our graduate students during a seminar (above).  “Art is how we confront the world in the first person.”

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