In 2002, John Meunier stepped out of the position of dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Arizona State University, a position he held for 15 years. He then took a yearlong sabbatical, visiting and filming desert cities around the world that has developed into a set of educational videos produced by Insight Media. His current academic research focuses on Intricacy in Architecture and Urbanism, an interest that developed from his previous research into Compact Urbanism. From 1976-1987, he was director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati. He started teaching architecture at Cambridge University in England, where he was on the faculty for 14 years. He has been a design consultant to the City of Cincinnati and served on its four-member Urban Design Review Board. He was vice-chair of the City of Phoenix Central City Architectural Design Review Panel and the ASU Design Review Board throughout his deanship. Most of his architectural practice has been in Great Britain where he was on the team that won the competition to design the Burrell Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. The house he designed for himself near Cambridge in England is now on the National Historic Register. He recently completed a house for his surgeon son in Solana Beach, California. During his career Professor Meunier has been a visiting critic and lecturer at many schools of architecture, including Harvard, Yale, and McGill. He was president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in 1990-91. In 2006, he was a visiting professor and interim director of the School of Architecture at Clemson University. He is a registered architect in the United Kingdom, and in Arizona. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
- M.A. Cambridge University, England 1961
- M.Arch. Architecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 1960
- B.Arch. Architecture (First Class Honors), Liverpool University, England 1959
Making Desert Cities
Modern desert cities, such as Phoenix, Albuquerque, Tucson, Las Vegas, even Riyadh and Dubai, are
being made in ways that reflect the capacity of post-industrial technology to overwhelm the limitations
that constrained the forms of older, pre-industrial, desert cities. This work questions whether both the
technology and the living patterns that typify such modern desert cities are sustainable. It also looks at
some older desert cities to see if they have much to teach us about how to live well in desert cities without
an excessive dependence on non-renewable resources, and without placing so much stress on the
environment. At the same time, as Amos Rapoport and Besim Hakim have suggested, we must recognize
that the forms in which cities are made respond as much, or more, to cultural imperatives, as to issues of
climate and technology. We need to be cautious, therefore, as we derive these lessons and attempt to
apply them. Nonetheless, many of these older cities, such as Yazd in Iran, Shibam in Yemen, Jaisalmer
in India, and Marrakesh in Morocco, have evolved in response to their desert contexts over extended
periods of time. Some have even survived significant cultural shifts, such as in Sana’a in Yemen, with
the arrival of Islam after many centuries of growth. It is argued that they may provide valuable models,
regarding compact urban form, alternative house forms, climate control and its optimization, water usage
and its celebration, low-energy construction materials and methods, even the nature of windows, in the
making of modern desert cities.
Desert cities in the United States, such as Phoenix or El Paso, even Los Angeles and San Diego, face
a unique responsibility as they provide models for what it means to live a “modern” life in a desert
environment. Following these models can multiply by many times the stresses placed on other ecological
and political systems as they are emulated, partially or wholly, throughout the world -- first by the
wealthy in their suburban villas, and then, over time, by others in the population -- abandoning the old
dense city centers as they seek the benefits of a life that begins to match their images of twenty-first
This work aims to address a growing concern by many regarding the long-term prospects of cities,
such as the rapidly growing cities of the American Southwest, with both an urban form and an array of
building types that have largely ignored their desert settings. It also is a response by the author based on
extensive travel to desert cities around the world, particularly, but not solely, to older cities whose cores
were built in a pre-industrial era, in search of lessons indicating more appropriate ways of living in a
desert context. This work is not informed by nostalgia or cultural conservatism, although these are
certainly forces staying the hands of those who would destroy, indeed in some places have already
destroyed, the patrimony of ancient cultures in the name of “modernization”, and in response to the
ineluctable forces of the marketplace. It is informed by a deep commitment to what Vitruvius called
“propriety”; by a belief that the best way to live is not by dominating the context but by optimizing its
benefits and gently ameliorating its challenges; that the power of modern technology should be used only
as a last resort when all other means cannot meet the demands of twenty-first century life.
Background. The advent of twentieth century technology has radically changed the nature of desert
city living in many parts of the world. Widespread use of automobiles, increased access to large scale
urban water and sewage systems, almost universal access to electrical power and, in some cases, full
climate control through air-conditioning have eroded the need for a care-full relationship with both the
social and physical environment. Satellite receivers, powered by that electricity, have infiltrated almost
every household with images of ways of life that challenge indigenous cultural norms of both behavior
and artifacts. This barrage of images, reinforced by the communications from international commerce,
has promoted the uses of the new technologies as a means to “modern” life patterns.
There are still many desert settlements in the world where access to all of these modern technologies
is very limited. Automobility is at best a motorcycle, and much travel is done in mini-buses or shared
taxis. Although electricity may be available via a tangle of overhead wires, water may be available only
for a few hours a day or a few days a week, or has to be brought in containers from communal taps or
wells. The building of sewer systems often has been less than satisfactory in some desert cities, as
leaking pipes have both polluted the ground and dissolved the foundations of older buildings. Further, the
effluent is often left untreated as it leaves the system. But these transitions to “modern” living, even
when incomplete, have still been eroding ways of making desert cities that evolved over centuries and
were adapted to the physical demands and opportunities of their physical and cultural contexts.
Is this process reversible? There have been political and religious leaders who have attempted to
resist this tide of “modernization”. Countries such as North Yemen had rulers who refused to let their
community participate in twentieth century developments throughout the first two thirds of that century.
The resistance to this western model of modernization may be reflected in some of the political turmoil in
the world today among those who value the traditional ways of life and fear their destruction under the
wheels of the juggernaut of western modernization. However, even in countries that profess a cultural
hostility to the west, many of the forces of “modernization” seem to be irresistible. What is needed is an
alternative model that retains much of what is valuable from the past but that also accommodates with a
new sensibility the demands of the present.
This work elaborates the idea that Intricacy is the missing ingredient in far too much of the architecture and urbanism of the modern world, and its lack is the cause of the banality and superficiality that results in our feelings of dissatisfaction with that world.The research is a celebration of Intricacy in the built environment, believing that environments possessing this quality will be elevating to the spirits, the mind, and our sensibilities; that when we live amidst such buildings, streets and places, our lives will be enriched instead of, as so often is now the case, being diminished.
My interest in Intricacy has several roots, but in some way it is a natural extension of my previous work on Desert Cities and Compact Urbanism. That work caused me to think hard about the pedestrian realm, and its need for intricacy to provide enough information content at a human scale to satisfy the relatively slow moving pedestrian in an urban setting. It is my goal in the research to dig into history, to look at current theory and practice, to ask what the new technologies of design can do for us, and then to direct our attention back to issues of urban and architectural form.
As this work began a working definition was developed:
“Intricacy is an intellectual construct that interprets a challenging set of perceived phenomena within a rich structure of relationships that link each member of the set consequentially to the rest. An object of our attention is perceived as intricate when its comprehension requires such intellectual engagement. Such an object may have complex form, but it can also be intricate because of its ambiguity of form or significance. Multiple readings of simple form may also imply intricacy.
“Art, Music, Architecture, and Literature must necessarily be “intricate” to qualify as substantial works of long-term cultural significance. Their formal structure and their multiple layers of meaning may separately, or together, achieve the quality of intricacy. It is this quality that lends major works the ability to reward those who revisit them many times.”
It began to become clear while on a sabbatical leave travelling around the world in pursuit of ideas for the future of Greater Phoenix as a desert city, (visiting cities such as Yazd and Isfahan in Iran, Jaisalmer and Jaipur in Rajasthan, Tunis and Fez in North Africa, Sana’a and Shibam in Yemen, Lima and Cuzco in Peru, and Adelaide and Alice Springs in Australia), that many highly rewarding physical environments, rewarding particularly to the pedestrian, shared the quality of intricacy. And so, on returning to research and teaching at Arizona State University, the subject matter gradually evolved from Desert Cities, through Compact Cities, to Intricacy, not just of urbanism, but also of the architecture that contributed to that urbanism.
The work on Desert Cities had been stimulated by a continuing unease that the urban conglomerate of Greater Phoenix, composed of about 23 cities and townships distributed along the valley of the Salt River and its tributaries in central Arizona, has been taking a form that has more to do with cheap land and automobile accessibility than with any focused attention on its setting in the Sonoran Desert, its challenges and opportunities. And so older desert cities were visited that had evolved over many centuries, accepting the constraints of their settings while developing an architecture and urban form that was richly responsive to that desert environment.
But there is something else bothersome about Greater Phoenix. In spite of the fact that it has been a home to some highly talented architects and urban visionaries, starting with Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri, the dominant characteristic of both its architecture and its urbanism is an unrewarding banality. In this, of course, Phoenix is not alone. In fact a generalization would claim that this characterizes almost all newer cities and buildings round the world, and that Greater Phoenix is simply exemplary, and by no means unique. Here again the word ‘intricate’ seems to stand for what is missing. The absence of intricacy is what makes walking around the city tiresome, and the encounter with the vast majority of its buildings boring. This, of course is not an original perception; Robert Venturi, in his book of 1966, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, makes a very similar point. We will have to return later on to attempt to draw some distinctions between our argument and his, while at the same time recognizing similarities.
Hence this work, which is not focused on Phoenix, or Desert Cities, but on the need in all our cities and buildings for the quality of Intricacy. Cities should be fascinating and enjoyable to live and work in, as well as to visit, and our buildings should reward the human encounter, physically, intellectually and aesthetically.
Intricacy is not the same thing as complexity; we suggest that it is in fact a special subset of complexity. The intricacy that we discuss here is not just a formal characteristic either; minimalist environments can be intricate too, as can a Japanese rock garden or the Barcelona Pavilion, in their elegant profundity and capacity to generate multiple readings.
Intricacy can be both the product of one creative mind, and of many minds and hands. In nature intricacy is the product of evolution, and indeed the intricacy that comes from adaptation and evolution over time would seem to be a characteristic shared by both nature, the most intriguing of our cities, and some of our older buildings
In the course of this work the thoughts and ideas of many others have been consulted. An early discovery was an exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 organized by Greg Lynn whose title was INTRICACY. The exhibit focused primarily on recent developments in art, and to a certain extent in architecture, influenced largely by recent digital and genetic engineering developments.
“Among artists, designers, and architects there is an emerging sensibility of intricacy. Partially heralded by the digital and genetic engineering revolutions, the term intricacy connotes a new model of connectionism composed of extremely small scale and incredibly diverse elements. Intricacy is the fusion of disparate elements into continuity, the becoming whole of components that retain their status as pieces of a larger composition. Unlike simple hierarchy, subdivision, compartmentalization or modularity, intricacy involves a variation of the parts that is not reducible to the structure of the whole”
Greg Lynn’s definition from his Essay in the catalogue for his exhibition:
INTRICACY: A Project By Greg Lynn FORM
Another discovery was that Chapter V of William Hogarth’s publication, The Analysis of Beauty, published in 1753, was devoted to Intricacy
Chapter V - Of Intricacy
‘Intricacy in form, therefore, I shall define to be the peculiarity in the lines, which compose it, that leads the eye a wanton kind of CHACE, and from the pleasure that gives the mind, intitles (sic) it to the name of beautiful: and it may justly be said, that the cause of the idea of grace more immediately resides in this principle………. except variety; which includes this and all the others.
‘Intricacy is that part which serves to correct the excess of simplicity falling into meanness’.
‘ It is a pleasing labour of the mind to solve the most difficult problems; allegories and riddles, trifling as they are, afford the mind amusement: and with delight does it follow the well-connected thread of a play, or novel, which ever increases as the plot thickens, and ends most pleas’d, when that is most distinctly unrvell’d?’
This latter is a fascinating anticipation of Stan Allen’s comment on Peter Eisenman’s design practices, “practices that owe something, if somewhat obliquely, to the operating principles of detective fiction….”(Trace Elements by Stan Allen in Tracing Eisenman: Peter Eisenman Complete Works Edited by Cynthia Davidson
And so this work is intended to be a celebration of Intricacy in the built environment, believing that possessing this quality will ensure that such environments will be elevating to the spirits, the mind, and our sensibilities; that when we live amidst such buildings, streets and places, our lives will be enriched instead, as so often is now the case, of being diminished.
What makes a place intricate, as opposed to just complex? Here we might go all the way back to Aristotle’s distinction in his Metaphysics (1024a) between a “whole” and an “aggregate”, Alberti’s thoughts about “congruity”, or Gestalt theory that seeks for wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Architectural systems of proportion ensure that a rich diversity of elements can be linked both to each other and to the whole, because they share a common mathematical discipline. In many older towns, as Bernard Rudofsky identified in his book Streets for People: A Primer for Americans, “in all vernacular architecture, the elements are standardized but never identical” they are “sufficiently varied to avoid monotony”. In all of these we are looking for some balance between the intrigue of diversity and the resolution of unity. Diversity alone can yield confusion; unity alone can yield boredom. In their mutual presence one can discover intricacy.
Alexander Pope, in describing the ‘Gardens of Lord Viscount Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, England’ summed it up with his typical wit:
Here Order in Variety you see,
Where all Things differ,….yet where all agree!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined a poem: “(it) is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part.” (from Biographia Literaria, Chapter XIV 1817)
For many years I have used a definition of architecture as ‘buildings worthy of contemplation’. In other words if we are prepared to spend time and effort in extending our encounter with the building both intellectually and emotionally, and find that that effort is rewarded by both increased understanding and enhanced aesthetic appreciation, then we would suggest that it is worthy of being described as a work of architecture.
We would go further and ask that the building should reward the physical encounter at a rich diversity of scales. The finger and the hand should find elements that gratify the touch and the grasp, the seat and the back should find places to rest and to lean, the body should find niches and aedicules, such as the zharookhas, as they are called in Rajasthan. Stairs should be a pleasure to climb and descend, offering different points of view and just the right mix of security and exposure. (Paul Rudolph was a master at exploiting the positioning of the body in space so that one is exhilarated by the experience). Camillo Sitte recognized that “outdoor use of certain interior features like stairs…was an essential charm of ancient and medieval city building….The effect is such that one feels that he is both inside a building and out in open space at the same time..”(p71 The Art of Building Cities: City Building according to its Artistic Fundamentals 1889 Translated by Charles T. Stewart Reinhold 1945). There should be a smooth transition between the intimate human scale and the progressively larger elements and spaces of the building and ultimately its urban setting.
Far too often in today’s buildings there is only one scale, usually large, at which the building is composed. The more intimate elements, furniture, hardware, fittings, have so obviously been selected from standard catalogues and have little or nothing to do with the extension of the argument of the building down to the human scale. It was one of the finest qualities of the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright that his creative energy extended down to that smallest detail. And it has to be admitted that, for all their other limitations, this was also true of many of the better Art Deco buildings such as Rockefeller Center (1930-1939) in New York and The Netherland Plaza Hotel (1931) in Cincinnati (the latter a building that is often thought to have had an influence on Michael Graves, whose first architectural degree was earned in Cincinnati).
In architecture one can usually expect that the intricacy one finds is the product of one guiding creative mind, for although most buildings are the product of many minds there is usually one central figure. In urban situations this is almost never the case, although there may be smaller set pieces such as the Campidoglio in Rome where a single architect, Michelangelo, is given the credit for pulling the ensemble together. Intricacy is not solely a quality generated by one creative mind, it can be cumulative; and it is that cumulative quality that typically generates urban intricacy. The authors of grand transformative concepts, such as Haussmann’s revisions to Paris, following Sixtus Vth’s changes in Rome and John Nash’s intercession in London, may be very significant contributors but even then they are only a part of what has created cities that reward their citizens through the rich intricacy generated by a multitude of creative acts.
So in what way can we distinguish such urban intricacy from just complexity? Again we must return to Aristotle’s distinction between a “whole” and an “aggregate”. As he elaborates this idea he states, “(collections) to which the position of the parts in relation to each other makes no difference are ‘aggregates,’ those to which it does make a difference are ‘wholes.’ “….In other words we will find the intricacy of “wholes” where the various parts of a city are responsive to each other. This does not imply that they must mimic each other, but it does imply an effort to provide continuity of scale, materiality, or other factor that will ensure a positive urban relationship. Aalto’s Enso-Gutzeit Headquarters in Helsinki, and Le Corbusier’s Casa Curutchet in La Plata, Argentina, come to mind as emphatically modern buildings that nonetheless attempt to provide such continuity. In Jerusalem the mandate that all buildings must use the beautiful Jerusalem stone did not inhibit Moshe Safdie in his design of the Hebrew Union Seminary, one of his best buildings. In Barcelona Enric Miralles’ Santa Catarina Market modernization is not only inventively original but also exquisitely responsive to its setting and that setting’s history. Far too often our modern cities are merely aggregates of self-absorbed and aggressively histrionic buildings that ignore this necessity to create a whole through a responsibility to provide continuity with the rest of the city.
What has caused the loss of Intricacy in so many of our modern environments? Certainly the automobile must bear a major share of the blame as it loosened up our cities and removed the pedestrian from our streets. Although it has to be admitted that there are many occasions when the experience of driving in and around our cities, as a kind of high-speed urban promenade, can be both exhilarating and also explicative. Nonetheless the intimate encounter, at a level where all the senses are involved, that is available to the pedestrian in a city scaled to ‘his’ dimensions and ‘her’ tempo offers an easier path to Intricacy, as we all experience in the many older, pre-automobile, urban environments that are such a pleasure to visit and desirable to live in.
Adolph Loos must also bear a share of the blame in his association of ornament with crime at the beginning of the twentieth-century. This hugely influential fatwah took away from many of the designers of the environment the means of formal elaboration, of evoking conventional meanings, of elaborating light and shade, of inviting tactile exploration. It could be argued that Loos was merely the messenger from a culture that had lost its deep religious faith and no longer looked to the Greek and Roman ‘ancients’ as models for its Humanist thought and action; a double loss that emptied most decoration of its authority and meaning. It could also be argued that Loos showed a way in his own work, with the spatial richness of his raumplanung and his celebration of nature through polished woods and marbles, toward another kind of Intricacy, the Intricacy found in the work of Mies van der Rohe. But sadly this subtler kind of intricacy turned out to be beyond the skill of the majority of designers, whereas the language and disciplines of Humanism had been accessible not only to all the architects but also, through Pattern Books, to the speculators and builders who produced most of the buildings of elegant cities like Georgian London and nineteenth-century Paris.
The dominance of a limited range of scales, typically large, in both buildings and urban environments is both a by-product of the previous two issues, the automobile and the loss of meaningful decoration, but is also a result of the ways in which buildings are procured in a market driven culture that favours so-called ‘economies of scale’ whether we are talking about retail, education, or even housing. Buildings and developments tend to be large and self-contained. But it is not only the institutions that are large, the scale of the elements from which they are composed tend also to be large and relatively inarticulate. Whereas there may sometimes be an interesting and even inventive architectural concept informing the building as a whole, all too often the creative energy dwindles at the finer grain of decision-making. Large buildings do not necessarily lack Intricacy, in fact they might offer more opportunity for Intricacy because of the richness of their programs and the purchasing power of their size, but it is all too easy for them to be simply repetitive and mono-scalar, and, of course, there are economic incentives for that to be the case. Hanging frilly decorative screens around them does not generate Intricacy. This may be an early manifestation of an emerging interest in re-engaging with decoration and of exploring the resources generated by the computer, but it only serves to demonstrate that elaboration does not equal intricacy.
A share of the blame for the absence of Intricacy in our architecture may also lie at the feet of the Journals that both reflect and stimulate architectural culture, where easily perceived novelty in the basic concept behind a building is more likely to be celebrated than the less accessible and subtler intellectual, experiential and aesthetic intricacies that structure a more profound understanding.
Nonetheless it is the goal of this work not to simply point out failure, but to suggest routes to success. We live in a time of radical social, technological, and cultural change, each of which offers both an incentive and an opportunity to realize intricacy in our built environments, and particularly our cities.
Making Desert Cities. In Lusk, P. & Simon, A. (Ed.), Building to endure: Design lessons of arid lands (pp. 61-88). 2014 The University of New Mexico Press.
Making Desert Cities Sustainable: The Role of Urban Design. In Pijawka, D. & Gromulat, M. (Ed.), Sustainability for the 21st Century: Pathways, Programs, and Policies. 2015 Kendall Hunt
- Meunier,John Chas C*. DESERT CITIES OF THE WORLD: IN SEARCH FOR SUSTAINABILITY. GRAHAM FDN(12/10/2002 - 5/31/2006).
- Meunier,John Chas C*. CENTRAL PHOENIX/EAST VALLEY LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT PROJECT. REGIONAL PUBLIC TRANS AUTHORIT(9/1/2000 - 5/15/2002).
Educator Award by the Phoenix Chapter of the AIA 2015.
• Contribution to the advancement of the profession of architectural
education and the practice of architecture.
I began my career both as an architectural educator and an architect in
Great Britain. I was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in the School of
Architecture at Cambridge University in 1962, initially on a five-year
limited contract but that was converted to a tenure-track appointment
and then to a fully tenured position as a lecturer. (In those days in England
there was only one professor, the Head of Department, and the rest of the
faculty were lecturers). Before I left Cambridge, fourteen years later in
1976, I was appointed to the interim headship after the death of the then
Professor in an automobile accident.
During this period I was appointed to the Committee on Education and
Practice of the Royal Institute of British Architects, (the RIBA), and in that
position found myself serving on RIBA Accreditation committees to many
other schools of architecture.
In Cambridge, at that time, it was normal for the majority of architectural
faculty members to have architectural practices, often, as in the case of
Colin St. John Wilson the architect of the new British Library, very significant
practices. It was therefore natural that I would begin my own architectural
practice, initially by designing and building my own house, now a Grade II
Listed Building of historic importance. Subsequent work was done mostly in
partnership with other faculty. Together with Barry Gasson and Brit
Andresen we won the international competition, and ultimately the
commission for the design of the Burrell Museum in Glasgow, Scotland.
That building, and all of the other buildings I designed during this period
were internationally published. The Wendon House was selected by the
British Council for exhibition at the Paris Biennale in 1967.
In both my teaching and in my practice, following the example of my
distinguished colleagues on the faculty at Cambridge University, it was my
effort to do work that questioned current norms, using both the
intellectually based research and aesthetically challenging ideas that it
was our responsibility as university faculty to pursue.
While I was acting as Interim Head of the School of Architecture at
Cambridge I developed an interest in academic leadership. I became a
candidate for the Headships at both Cambridge and Cornell, but not
surprisingly given my relative youth, although selected for interview, I did
not receive either of those appointments. I was, however, invited to visit
the University of Cincinnati as a candidate for the Chair of Architecture. I
was very intrigued by that school’s Co-op system where students alternate
three months in school with three months in practice. This is a system
somewhat similar to the “thick sandwich” courses that I had learnt to
appreciate while visiting the Polytechnic Schools of Architecture in Britain.
So I was pleased to accept the position that ultimately became the
Director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design in the College of
Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.
I was in that position long enough, eleven years, to be able to thoroughly
revise the curricula, and appoint many new, young, faculty members.
One of those is the new Dean of Architecture at Taliesin, Aaron Betsky.
A critical conversation with students in Cincinnati had a great influence
on my policies as School Director. I discovered that, in their opinion the
real learning and education in architecture occurred while they were on
their co-op experience in practice. For them the work that they did in
school was an opportunity to enjoy themselves while earning a degree. As
I thought about this it occurred to me that this was understandable. In
practice they were working on real projects, with “real” architects, and
earning money. In school, they were mostly working on fictional projects,
with, often, non-practicing architects, and paying for the privilege. So I
asked myself what should be done, and came up with the answer that
school had to be more intellectually and creatively challenging to make it
equally rewarding for the students, and to do that it would make sense to
hire a lot of very bright new young faculty more or less straight out of the
most interesting graduate schools. We also initiated a visiting professor
program that included distinguished teachers, with academic homes in
other places, such as Colin Rowe, Peter Collins, James Marston Fitch, and
During my eleven years in Cincinnati my own architectural practice was
focused mostly on the pursuit of ideas about how we might design
thoroughly modern buildings that nonetheless have a relatively profound
dialogue with an architecturally significant historic context; this coming
out of my years there as president of the Miami Purchase Association for
Historic Preservation. This work generated a house in a very visible location
on the slopes of a hill, called Mount Adams, overlooking downtown
Cincinnati. I also pursued some of the research work initiated while
working on the Burrell Museum in a project together with the curator of
the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Prints, Drawings, and Photographs collection.
My discovery was that although this kind of collection is very susceptible
to degradation from exposure to light that does not mean that the
galleries in which they are exhibited should be dimly lit. The secret is to
focus the lights from the ceiling not on the work but on a light reflective
Within the community I found an important role as an appointee to the
City Manager’s Urban Design Review Board, whose brief was to ensure
the highest of architectural standards for all major work that utilized public
funds within the City. This experience was very helpful to me when I
helped found and lead the City of Phoenix’ Architectural Design Review
Panel, and was appointed by President Russell Nelson to chair the Arizona
State University Commission on Public Art and Design.
Towards the end of my time in Cincinnati I was approached by an
executive search firm hired by Arizona State University to identify
candidates for the deanship of what was then the College of Architecture
and Environmental Design. Having fallen in love with the desert southwest
while a student during a three month Vespa Motor Scooter solo trip
around the United States I was very interested, and ultimately gratified to
be offered the position.
Adding to my interest was the fact that my responsibilities would now
include other disciplines beyond architecture. At Cincinnati my brief as
School Director included Interior Design, but now, as Dean, it would
eventully include Planning, Landscape Architecture, Interior, Industrial and
Graphic Design. From the beginning of my career I had always been
interested in architecture’s overlapping relationships with other disciplines,
however tribal, insular, and self-protective each profession may be. It was
my pleasure to be able to appoint three School Directors in Architecture,
Planning and Landscape Architecture, and Design who not only
promoted their own disciplines but were willing to collaborate.
As a School Director myself at Cincinnati I had begun to be involved in
the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, (ACSA), which I
found to be a very valuable network linking all the architecture schools in
North America, including Canada. In fact I taught at McGill for many
years as a visiting professor, made possible because of Cincinnati’s
quarter system being out of sync with the regular semester system
followed by McGill.
While at Cincinnati I had taught a full load but that was no longer possible
as a dean at ASU. I did, however, teach the very large, 300+ students,
Introduction to Environmental Design class at ASU, believing that it was
important for a dean to expose his/her ideas to the freshmen in the
College. I also chaired several master’s thesis projects every year. This
stood me in good stead when I returned to full-time teaching after fifteen
years as Dean.
Relatively early on in my term as dean I was elected President of ACSA
and played a leading role in the debate about a single degree
nomenclature for the professionally recognized architecture degree. That
debate still continues as the five-year BArch schools fight against it. From
the Presidency I then moved on to the National Architectural Accrediting
Board and chaired many accreditation visits to schools as varied as Sci
Arch and Tuskegee. Our goal was not to trap each school in the strait
jacket of a model program, but to help them realize their own
appropriate destiny given their location and their demographic.
Soon after I came to Phoenix in 1987 I realized that the problems this
community faced were not only those of a very fast growing, sprawling,
metropolis but very specifically those of a desert city. These problems
became a set of themes for our work in this community, and personally for
me both as dean and subsequently as a professor doing my own research
and teaching seminars and design studios.
This work has generated chapters on Making Desert Cities in books
published by Kendall/Hunt and the University of New Mexico, public and
commercial television programs on KAET and The History Channel,
educational videos marketed by Insight Media, exhibitions in other
Universities and in Phoenix City Hall, and many public lectures, as well as
informing much of my teaching and the teaching of my colleagues.