Summer Studio in Retrospect: An Interview with SSCA Alum Adam Vandepeer
Adam Vandepeer attended the ICAA's Summer Studio in Classical Architecture during the summer of 2016. He currently works for classical firm Bories & Shearron in New York City. Here, he shares some of his experiences at Summer Studio that have helped him as a student and practitioner of classical architecture.
What do you feel has been the most valuable skill or lesson that you have developed and honed during Summer Studio?
My time at the Summer Studio provided me with a remarkable understanding of the expressive nature of the classical language of architecture. Classical architecture conveys meaning through its formal elements and time-honored principles. This allows it to capture and reflect aspects of a culture, place and time. The Summer Studio provided me the foundational teachings of not only how to identify, but more importantly how to utilize such principles in design practice. I have to come learn that it is the successful interrelationship between these elements that generates a sense of harmonious beauty. By understanding and developing these key principles, I became equipped with a range of techniques that to this day have continually assisted me in producing designs that are dignified, gracious and expressively meaningful.
What was something impactful or surprising that you learned about classicism at the Summer Studio?
One of the most fascinating aspects of classicism that I learnt is how versatile and adaptive this visual language can be. It is the evolutionary nature of classical architecture that enables it to adjust to changing tastes and times. As a young designer, what I find incredible is how I can draw inspiration from all periods of history, and creatively adapt this knowledge to fit our contemporary needs. Summer Studio is what introduced me to this rich diversity, and I learnt how to utilize this living tradition to guide in the creation of designs that engage in a fluent dialogue between the past and the present.
What has been a project you’ve worked on since Summer Studio where you have applied what you’ve learned from Summer Studio?
As a student I leant that classical architecture is a visual language with its own grammatical rules. However, these rules are not as rigid as they first seem. They behave not as a strict requirement, but more as a conventional framework. It was captivating to discover that once you become aware of these rules, they can be challenged and modified in countless ways. I find that this frees the language and I was eager to apply this new knowledge directly following my time at the Summer Studio.
I was required to design a ballet theater and exhibition center for my 2016 University graduating project. With this project I wanted to express how classicism is much more than its acclaimed canon of Five Orders. I further wanted to highlight that classical architecture’s conventional grammar can be refined and adapted for a unique, contemporary context.
Images: Adam's graduating design project of a ballet theater and exhibition center
The design sees the proposal of pure geometric forms that are spatially arranged along a central axis and compositionally scattered in an unusual yet classically harmonious way. To achieve this sense of balance and proportion I created a system that dispersed the forms in relation to the fractions and subdivisions found within Vignola’s Orders of architecture. Although this was just a theoretical project, it was fascinating to utilize the classical principles that I developed in the Summer Studio to act as the underlining concept of a large-scale design.
Has there been a project that you’ve seen recently that has made you particularly excited about the field of traditional and classical architecture and its contemporary applications?
While it may be thirty years old, The 1989 Battery Park Pavilion in NYC designed by Demetri Porphyrios is a stunning example of the contemporary relevance of traditional architecture. The vernacular design of the pavilion embodies the core principles of classicism. I find that the design is simple yet sophisticated with a strong emphasis on natural material and its tectonic honesty. There is also a pleasing visual harmony seen in the contrast of the large heavy brick Tuscan columns and the slender proportions of the wooden Ionic posts that enclose the pavilion. What I admire most though, is how modest the structure is. It celebrates a clear expression of the ancient traditions of post and lintel construction in a dignified and refined way. It is as if the pavilion is standing tall, proud of its simple gestures and form, while in contrast to the colossal skyscrapers that span its horizon. I highly recommend any future Summer Studio students to check it out!
As a young professional, what is a piece of advice you would give to future Summer Studio students about how they can make the most of their time in the program and prepare to enter the workforce?
Classicism is a timeless attitude. It is not merely a style to be applied to a building, but a way of thinking. The knowledge that you will gain during the Summer Studio will be carried throughout your entire design career. Your worldview will be broadened – not just architecturally speaking, but philosophically too. In this regard, the best piece of advice I can give future students is to come with a curious open mind, ready to engage in conversation. Some of the greatest thinkers in classical design will be at your fingertips to share their wealth of knowledge, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. And finally, enjoy it! The life-long friends you will make and like-minded people you will meet is one of the most worthwhile and rewarding aspects that the program can provide.
2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective
This interview is presented as part of the 2020 Driehaus Summer Studio Retrospective, a four-week series of daily online content inspired by the ICAA's Summer Studio in Classical Architecture program and the many students who have been impacted through its unique course of study. You can find additional programs in this series here.
The ICAA expresses gratitude to The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust for its sponsorship of these programs.