Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Mentor Interview with Lane Williams, Modern Architect

By Olivia Pineda, Assistant Editor

Lane Williams is a modern architect living in Seattle, Washington, who designs custom-built homes for single families. He is part of the Seattle architectural group Coop 15, a team of architects who similarly design custom-built homes. His work has received awards from the AIA, the American Institute of Architects. He and his team design homes in the Pacific Northwest, primarily in greater Seattle, Central Washington, the San Juan Islands (a group of islands off the Washington coast) as well as some works in Oregon and California.

AK: What or who inspired you to pursue architecture as a career, and specifically modern architecture?

LW: My parents were an art teacher and English teacher, who taught and encouraged me at an early age to learn perspective drawing and drafting, sketching, painting, ceramics, creative writing, photography, music, dance and theater, plus carpentry and mechanics. I helped my father build the house he designed and constructed. It was a very unique design, and he made all the parts and pieces, including doors, windows, and cabinets. My father strongly believed that I was destined to become an architect. When I announced after my sophomore year of college that I was majoring in creative writing and journalism, he withdrew all financial support. I rebelled and finished my B.A. in English without his support, but it took three years of working in newspapers to realize that I was supposed to be an architect, and I went back to school.

AK: How would you define “modern” architecture?

LW: Modernism is a way of thinking that has been around for over 100 years. It follows a certain logic that includes “Form follows function.” This is a famous quote from architect Mies van der Rohe, who wanted to strip away the decorations of traditional design, and expose the structure underneath. He also eliminated many of interior walls that separated room functions, allowing homes to have an open plan in which the living, dining, and kitchen areas blended together, and eliminated walls between workers in office buildings.

AK: How would you describe your personal style of architecture and how did you develop it?

LW: I’ve been influenced by many great architects, from internationally known luminaries such as Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, to some of our best regional architects, including Roland Terry, Paul Kirk, and Jim Olsen. But I prefer not to follow a certain “style”—many of my designs (including the one you live in)—are unlike most of the other homes I have created, because I find inspiration from each new client. My style is really a methodology in which close collaboration with the client eventually yields a final design, with emphasis on livability—comfort, ease of maintenance, and, especially, the creation of living areas that draw families closer together.

AK: When you begin a new project, what artistic, visual and practical aspects do you take into consideration?

LW: The practical aspects relating to livability are mentioned above. The artistic/visual aspects are still a matter of collaboration with the client. I have no preconception before the collaboration as to what the house might look like. It can have a flat roof or a shed or a gable. It probably won’t be shaped like a corkscrew, because while I love the designs for the Guggenheim in New York by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Guggenheim in Bilbao by Frank Geary, my concerns for economy generally encourage me to draw with straight lines.

AK: How has architecture evolved or changed over the past few decades, and what have been the reasons for these changes?

LW: Most of our evolution is in two forms. First, we do most of our drawings on computers, making designs like the Bilbao Guggenheim more feasible; many of the “drawings” for that building were never transferred to paper, but were transferred from the architect’s computer to the computer of the materials fabricator. Computer drawings have also enabled us to create highly realistic visions of our designs, enabling clients to better visualize the work before it is built. For some architects (like Geary), this has generated tremendous excitement about the potential of these buildings—though some, like the wonderful symphony hall he created in Los Angeles, took a decade to obtain funding and completion. For other architects, these realistic depictions have shifted more creative control to clients, who no longer have to rely upon the architect’s vision of the final product. The second change is one of building technology. The best modern designs created over 50 years ago look equally fresh and modern when compared to the best designs of the past ten years, but today we can create those modern designs with flat roofs and extreme cantilevers and large amounts of glass with technology that will allow them to not leak, sag, or feel too cold inside.

AK: What types of cutting-edge technologies are architects using today to build futuristic homes and buildings?

LW: I’ve already referred to the revolution of computer-aided design (CAD) technology, and more humble building technology developments such as torch-down roof membranes that last longer and are less prone to failure than old hot tar roof systems. We continue to make buildings more energy efficient, with the implementation of more efficient heating and cooling systems, better insulated windows, walls, floors, and roofs, and the integration of energy generating photovoltaic solar panels. All of this has been happening for years, so perhaps it is not truly “cutting edge.” I have never been an architect who strived to be at the forefront of cutting edge, because my work emphasizes livability and economy, which generally requires that my clients are not the guinea pigs for new and untested technology.

AK: What will influence or affect the design of architecture in the future?

LW: Sustainability is the number one challenge we face. While technology is an important part of the solution, I believe it is even more important that all of us recognize that the limited resources available on our planet will last longer if each of us learns to share more equitably. Therefore, I encourage clients to build smaller homes instead of increasingly larger ones. I used to live in a 4,000 square foot home, but I recognized that my family of four was only using 2500 square feet most of the time, so I built us a 2500 square foot home. But while building in that home, we lived in a downtown high-rise apartment for a year, with only 1400 square feet of space. When we moved into the 2500 square foot home, it felt large. I now have just one teenage son at home, but my three older children visit frequently. My current home is 1800 square feet (not including separate office spaces for me and my wife, which are on the floor below), and though there are moments when I wish it was a little larger (as when all children visit simultaneously), most days it feels about right.

AK: In a “city of the future”, what types of architecture would you expect to see?

LW: As described above, I believe most of us in this country and other affluent nations will be living in smaller homes than we do today. One of my clients lived in Japan for 14 years, raising their three children in a 900 square foot home, which is considered medium-sized in Japan. The average home in America, today, is about 2500 square feet. The average home in the future will need to be much smaller. I can’t speak very well to the future of commercial and institutional buildings, as they are beyond my area of expertise, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of those buildings (and many homes) generating much of the energy they consume.

AK: What advice would you give to a kid who’d like to become an architect?

LW: Study and practice art in all forms. My father, the art teacher, believed that all of us are born with unlimited creative abilities, and that we lose those abilities when they are not practiced. So paint, draw, play the piano, sculpt, dance, act, photograph, learn perspective drawing and drafting (with and without computers), and sing, sing, sing.