gooood team interviews creative individuals under 35 years old from all over the world, some are pioneering founders, some are clients, some are ordinary practitioners. gooood is trying to record the authentic living and working states of this era. Your recommendations and suggestions are appreciated!
gooood Under 35 NO.23 introduces Alfie Koetter, who is the founder of Medium Office, founding editor of Project and teacher at the University of Southern California.
“Early exposure to models conditioned my understanding of scale and representation…in my mind building was just a big model made out of more expensive materials.”
What kind of environment did you grow up in and why did you choose to become an architect?
I was raised by two architects, which, as a child, seemed like a totally normal thing; I thought everybody had models of buildings and prints of the Nolli map in their houses. In retrospect, I realize how strange it actually was. Early exposure to models, for instance, conditioned my understanding of scale and representation: models were no different than buildings; they were just smaller and made out of different materials; the bigger they got the more complex they became until you ended up with something that people called a building, but in my mind was just a big model made out of more expensive materials.
▼Medium Office作品 – Kiosk 001，2018
Work of Medium Office – Kiosk 001, 2018
“In distancing myself from architecture I paradoxically brought myself closer to it. I was able to see it as something other than just a profession. I could see it as a discipline.”
I didn’t find this problem of scale and representation interesting when I was younger. I took it – and much of architecture, for that matter – for granted. I was too close to be able to properly see anything. For that reason, I didn’t study architecture in college. It was, in my mind, a profession like any other; and because it was what my parents did, it was the last thing I wanted to do.
In distancing myself from architecture I paradoxically brought myself closer to it. I was able to see it as something other than just a profession. I could see it as a discipline. I was able to recognize that those problems of scale and representation that I took for granted when I was younger could in fact be grounds for intellectual pursuit, rather than simply matters of fact.
That said, I am not sure if I can declaratively say that I have chosen to be an architect. Architecture is simply a productive medium through which I can work, and at the moment, it is the primary medium through which I work. That could change though.
2 Projects 4 Scales, Medium Office, Exhibition at Woodbury School of Architecture, 2019
Besides architecture, what are your other interests?
I remember when I was younger being told about how Michael Graves was so obsessed with architecture that he couldn’t sleep at night; that he would wait until his partner fell asleep and then get out of bed and keep working because his commitment to architecture was So all-consuming. With that in mind, I can’t help but interpret the subtext to this question to be“to what extent is architecture your life？”
“Architecture isn’t my life. It’s definitely a part of it, but it’s not an all-consuming.”
我大概想篮球的时间比想建筑的时间多，老实说，我没有想要表示任何有知识性的建筑暗示，我纯粹爱看篮球。我爱看一名好的篮球员扭转一整场比赛，甚至是整个赛季；我爱 NBA 里有许多国际篮球员；我爱它是一项竞速运动而不是纯粹暴力。篮球是生命。
Given the sorts of stories – myths really – that we hear about architects like Graves, there is a cult-like sense of obligation to say that architecture is your life in total; any other answer would be to undercut your commitment to the discipline and consequently your integrity as an architect. At the very least, you feel compelled to say that your other interests are architecture-adjacent, something with sufficient intellectual pedigree like art or film (not to be confused with movies).
I would love to be able to give that sort of answer. It would be great if architecture was all I could think about; it would mean that I was singularly focused on one thing all the time. I would be so much more productive. But architecture isn’t my life. It’s definitely a part of it, but it’s not an all-consuming, I-don’ t-sleep-at-night part of it.
I probably think about basketball more than | think about architecture, to be honest, and not in some sort of intellectual way that has any architectural implications. I just love to watch basketball. I love how one good player can change an entire game, or even an entire season. I love how many international players there are in the NBA. I love that it is about as fast a sport as you can play without it becoming outright violent. Ball is life。
▼Kiosk 001展开图纸，extended drawing of Kiosk 001
“I don’t think the teacher-disciple model even exists today in the way that it once did.”
What’s your first job after graduation? How did that first job lead you to your current career?
我毕业后的第一份工作是在纽约的 Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF）建筑事务所，我不确定在 KPF工 作对我现在的事业有什么影响，除了我已经不在那里工作并且在做别的事的这个事实。
我们身为建筑师固守了这残存的论述：第一份工作是最重要的一份工作，它会是你成为何种类型建筑师的基础。这论述是建立在预设雇主与雇员是像师长和学徒的关系，学徒向师长学习，学成后成为传道者并且宣扬益语。或许这在某些时候曾是建筑雇佣的模式，像是我们形容 Jose Oubrerie 和 Julian de la Fuente 与勒·柯布西耶的关系，他们不只是雇员，他们还是学徒。抑或是像人们概指那些前 OMA 员工建立的公司（REX、WORKac、BIG、MVRD… 等等）为“小雷姆”一样。
My first job out of school was working for Kohn Pedersen Fox in New York. I’m not sure that working for KPF had any impact on my career, beyond the fact that I stopped working there and went on to do other things.
I think that there is a vestigial narrative that we hold on to as architects that the first job you have will be the most important job you will ever have, that it will somehow lay the groundwork for the type or architect that you become.
This narrative is built on an assumption that the relationship between an employer and an employee is like that of a teacher and a disciple, in which the disciple learns from a teacher and then graduates to become an apostle and spread the good word. And maybe this was the model of architectural employment at one point. Think of the language we use to refer to Jose Oubrerie and Julian de la Fuente in reference to their relationship to Corbusier. They weren’t just employees; they were proteges. O how people casually refer to firms established by ex-OMA employees (REX, WORKac, BIG, MVRDV, etc.) as“Baby Rems. ”
This narrative puts far too much pressure on finding a job in architecture. It’s already a dismal affair given the volatility of professional practice and pay being what it is. Furthermore, I don’t think the teacher-disciple model even exists today in the way that it once did.
This is a long way of saying that my first job did not lead to my current career.
“Project’s editorial team makes a real effort to highlight disciplinary conversations that are happening at any given moment.”
You started the Project Journal when you were in grad school, can you tell us more about that?
项目杂志一开始是由 Daniel Markiewicz、Jonah Rowen、Emmett Zeifman 及我自己在耶鲁大学建筑学院三年级时创立的。我们在当时对“项目”这一词有兴趣，它曾指的是更广泛的、或许能定义一名建筑师的整体原则。好像你必须有个“项目”才像是个受重视的建筑师。当时不清楚要如何找到这个“项目”，所以我们邀请了一些执业建筑师和学者到耶鲁展开一系列与我们的公开对话，帮助我们找到它。
The groundwork for Project Journal was laid out by Daniel Markiewicz, Jonah Rowen, Emmett Zeifman and myself while we were third year graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture. We were, at the time, interested in the term“project” as it was used to refer to a larger set of principles that might define an architect’s body of work. It seemed like you had to have a“project” in order to be taken seriously as an architect. What was less clear was how you got one. So we invited a number of practicing architects and academics to Yale to have a series of public conversations with us to help us try to figure that out.
After we graduated, we kept at this question of what constituted a project by conducting a number of interviews with architects in New York. Throughout this whole process, we never considered that these conversations would be turned over into a publication. It wasn’t until we transcribe all of these interviews that we figured that we should do something with them. And that thing we did was Project Journal.
Project Issue 1
“We really try our best as editors to get a sense of the disciplinary landscape. In that effort, we make a point not to prescribe themes for any of our issues.”
How does Project operate now? How do you curate the theme and content for each issue?
Project was and continues to be a platform for young and emerging architects. With each issue, we really try our best as editors to get a sense of the disciplinary landscape. In that effort, we make a point not to prescribe themes for any of our issues. I think our take is that themes are a bit solipsistic. Instead, we cast a more general net to get a sense of what is happening within the discipline at any given point in time. This allows for any sort of theme to emerge organically as we see surprising and unexpected intersections between pieces which begin to suggest sets of shared sensibilities.
▼Project杂志 – 第二期，第三期，第四期（从左到右）
Project – Issue 2, Issue 3, Issue 4 (from left to right)
“The conversations that happen in any given issue can be quite diverse. We often recognize overarching questions that unify each issue.”
Can you tell our reader more about Project Journal and its goals.
Project’s editorial team makes a real effort to highlight disciplinary conversations that are happening at any given moment.
In our most recent issue these conversations relate to the conceptual and computational automation of architectural labor; the aesthetics and politics of that labor; the construction of architectural images, and the politics that attend them; the display and performance of both domestic and public life, as framed by architecture; contemporary interactions – mediated by code, contracts, images, buildings – between humans and machines, machines and environments, partners in practice, architects in society.
The conversations that happen in any given issue can be quite diverse. That said, I think we often recognize overarching questions that unify each issue. In our latest issues that question might simply be how do we make things? From that questions follows a series of related questions: What do those things do? How? And who do they affect?
▼Project杂志 – 第五期，第六期，第七期（从左到右）
Project – Issue 5, Issue 6, Issue 7 (from left to right)
“Outside of the bubble of An academic institution, the practical application seemed questionable of these new skills, where teaching turns out to be a great medium for the development and application of these skills.”
Please tell us more about your teaching background.
I had my first opportunity to teach 2012 at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. I later taught undergraduate design studios at the Yale School of Architecture and graduate studio at Columbia before moving to Los Angeles where I now teach undergraduate design studios at USC and UCLA.
▼Alfie Koetter 2018年指导的“I am Contextual” 工作坊作品，学生：Juan Villatoro，南加州大学建筑学院
“I am Contextual” studio work, Juan Villatoro, USC School of Architecture, 2018
Why are you interested in teaching? What are the most enjoyable moments in your career as a educator?
When I graduated from architecture school, I realized very quickly that I had developed a very niche set of skills. This revelation wasn’t shocking as much as it was a reality check. I had spent a tremendous amount of time not just learning a set of technical proficiencies that would render me employable, but also recalibrating and refining the way I looked at things and spoke about them. Outside of the bubble of An academic institution, these new skills – apart from the technical ones – seemed to most others to be entirely eccentric and esoteric; their practical application seemed questionable. Teaching, as it turns out, is a great medium for the development and application of these skills.
▼Alfie Koetter 2018年指导的“I am Contextual” 工作坊作品，学生：Stephanie Saunders，南加州大学建筑学院
“I am Contextual” studio work, Stephanie Saunders, USC School of Architecture, 2018
“In American architecture education, students learn not only the technical requirements of building as a verb, but also the disciplinary implications of how one might talk about a building as a noun.”
What are the traditions in American architecture education that you think are productive?
I’m not so fully aware of the traditions of non-American architectural education to be able to say with confidence what would constitute a tradition of architectural education that is specifically American. I’m equally unsure that I would even be able to say what makes an American architectural education all that American either; so much has been borrowed from European models, namely the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Bauhaus.
One thing that stands out to me, though, is the conflation of technical and intellectual training that occurs in many if not most American architecture schools. In varying degrees, students learn not only the technical requirements of building as a verb, but also the disciplinary implications of how one might talk about a building as a noun. This really sets the stage for being a master of none, so I’m not sure of itsa productive or unproductive pedagogical model, but it does seem like something noteworthy.
“Develop confidence in the way we work, while becoming more relaxed to the question of what constitutes a project. Let go the unhealthy and unrealistic pressure.”
How did you start your office and what kind of challenges do you face as a young architect practicing in America?
Emmett Zeifman 和我几乎是一毕业就开始一起工作，先是项目杂志，然后是各种设计竞赛。在某个时候，我们做的已足够让我们制作一本作品集并且称我们自己为 Medium Office。
Emmett Zeifman and I started working together almost immediately after we graduated, first on Project Journal, and then on various design competitions. At a certain point, we had done enough work together that we could make a portfolio and call ourselves Medium Office.
▼Medium Office作品 – Folly 003，2015
Work of Medium Office – Folly 003，2015
If there have been any challenges for us, they have been mental, having to do with developing confidence in the way we work, while at the same time becoming more relaxed as to the question of what constitutes a project.
In the back of my head I’m frequently haunted by projects like the Vanna Venturi House or the Gwathmey Residence, these now-celebrated projects that were the architect’s first built work (Robert Venturi and Charles Gwa thmey respectively). There is great pressure not only to build, but to have what you build be as substantial as those sorts of early works. It’s a lot of unhealthy and unrealistic pressure that I think we are beginning to let go of.
▼Medium Office作品 – Pavilion 001，2017
Work of Medium Office – Pavilion 001, 2017
“We try our best to divorce ourselves from authorship so that we can remain as objective as possible in our evalua tion of the things we produce. Automated or mechanic processes allow us to appreciate things that we would have otherwise thought very little of.”
What is your design process like? How do you make decisions during that process with your partner?
We are always trying to recalibrate our sensibilities. If we immediately like something that we’ve produced, it probably means that it’s not that good. We try our best to divorce ourselves from authorship so that we can remain as objective as possible in our evalua tion of the things we produce. To this end, a lot of our work relies on automated or mechanic processes: we set up systems that have formal consequences. The hope is that these formal consequences have unexpected or unfamiliar qualities that force us to recognize and articulate our own sensilities. At its best, this process allows us to appreciate things that we would have otherwise thought very little of.
▼Medium Office作品 – installation 001，2015
Work of Medium Office – installation 001, 2015
▼Medium Office作品 – housing 001，2016
Work of Medium Office – housing 001, 2016
How does academia work its way into your work and does pop culture also have a impact?
Teaching has given us a lot of leeway to experiment and work incrementally towards a practice. It has given us the freedom to develop our own ideas and aesthetics, which we can now bring to projects with some clarity.
▼Medium Office作品 – 坚固的条纹衣架，2018
Work of Medium Office – Solid and Striped Office and Clothing Racks, 2018