MarLim’s Interview | Todd Verwers of Todd Verwers Architects: As a Danish-American architect with a background in both the United States and Europe, psychologically seems to have one foot on each continent. He received the Bachelor of Architect degree in the United States, but really learned to practice architecture on a serious level studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and working in some great Danish firms. Especially a good time at Dissing + Weitling, a leading Copenhagen firm in the 1980s and 1990s, and the successor firm to Arne Jacobsen, was fruitful in developing the “architect’s eye” and his interest in minimalism in design and in life. GET THE INTERVIEW
All the projects are like meditations and don’t feel any particular one is the best. However, the least successful projects are those where he did not follow the design values and intuition or followed a particular aesthetic for which have no passion.
Todd: “I suppose I would classify myself as a generalist rather than a specialist. I have done small and large projects in all sectors. Each project evolves as a response to a particular program, and the aesthetic expression and materiality can vary from project to project. Still, in my work, I think there is a continuity of expression, and an interest in reducing the design to its essential qualities, which I feel evokes the most positive and profound experience in the users of a work of architecture”.
Todd Verwers of Todd Verwers Architects: a Danish-American architect DSM interview
Marlim: When did you start thinking about Architecture or any way your job?
Todd: I began to think about architecture in high school, where I took a class in mechanical drafting. We made beautifully exploded isometrics of motors and machine parts, which we airbrushed. The course was taught by an engineer, who employed me in his firm during the summer holiday. There I drafted drawings for power plants in his office, which did not interest me much. I enjoyed hand drafting but felt drawn to a more artistic profession, and architecture seemed to satisfy both my technical and artistic interests. VIEW Elisa Pardini Interview
Much has changed in the profession, but I still feel that architecture is a great profession, which is flexible in terms of what the architect wants from it, and it is easy to specialize. Although architects who practice architecture as a serious art form are relatively few, we all have the potential to add value and enrich the lives of our clients and users.
Marlim: Todd, I saw that you studied and graduated in 2 different countries, Me too: in China and in Italy; can you explain how this process took place in your Danish American life? I mean … you are American / Danish / have a parent from one of these countries … tell me a little about how it happened and how you remember those years.
Todd: I am actually half Swedish on my mother’s side, and since I was a teenager I was interested in the natural purity of Scandinavia and the Scandinavians; while growing up in the American Midwest. In fact, I have never felt particularly American, dreamed of coming to Europe, and was fascinated by the richness of European culture in strong contrast to my childhood environment in the middle of America. I was naturally drawn to study in Scandinavia, and wanted to come to Sweden, but found a great program for English-speaking architecture students in Copenhagen.
In Denmark, I felt stimulated, and my studies there marked the beginning of a process of transformation personally and professionally. I really wanted to assimilate a European identity and succeeded beyond all expectations.
TODD VERWERS DSM INTERVIEW
Marlim: If You Could Change One Thing, What Would It Be?
Todd: It is important not to look back, and I still am ambitious about securing and developing good projects. In my architectural life, I have a lot to be proud of. I still have a very small practice, and never partnered with anyone to develop a large firm with many employees and large projects. I have often wondered if I should have focused more on having a large office, which would have enabled me to achieve greater influence. I was not completely clear with myself about the type of practice I wanted from the beginning of my career, so I encourage all young architects to be dedicated to a vision for their development as early as possible.
Marlim: What is a good building for you?
Todd: A good building is any building that efficiently and intelligently reflects its intended program both functionally and aesthetically, and evokes a positive emotional or even spiritual response in those who use or experience it.
Marlim: I noticed that you have participated in many awards, how was it for you? how did it go?
Todd: I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards. My favorite is the “Wild Card” award I received from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) for my Folsom Street Residential Laboratory project in San Francisco, where I competed as an outsider against established design firms.
Todd: For an architect, winning a design award is the ultimate accolade. We design for our clients, but we value positive criticism from our colleagues and peers immensely.
TODD VERWERS ARCHITECTS DSM INTERVIEW, Danish American Architect
Marlim: “Good buildings come from good people, and all problems are solved by good design”. – Stephen Gardiner. WHAT’S YOUR IDEA?
Todd: Well, good buildings can come from very talented “bad” people, and not all problems are solved by good design. While good design and architecture can go a long way toward enriching peoples’ lives, architects and designers alone cannot rectify the massive problems confronting humanity, including overpopulation and associated global warming, habitat, and resource depletion, etc. Good buildings occupy habitats, consume energy and materials, no matter how energy and resource-efficient they are.
Marlim: I totally agree with you!
Marlim: When did you start your company?
Todd: I started on my own in 1996 as Petersen + Verwers Architecture. Mette Krebs Petersen is my wife, and she is a textile designer. We initially thought we would partner on architecture and industrial design partners, but ultimately I was the only active partner in the firm. Todd Verwers Architects was started in 2009 in Copenhagen as a continuation of Petersen + Verwers Architecture
Marlim: How much does the location of where you live/work affect what kind of work you do?
Todd: Mindset is more important than live/work location, but having a physical work environment that is calming and stimulating is critical to doing good work. I dislike cluttered and messy environments, which I find stressful
Marlim: This is a Natural and integrated project I love: The Sea Ranch, California 2003, can you tell me more?
Todd: The Sea Ranch is a famous planned coastal development in northern Califronia. The development is famous for its unique architectural vernacular and siting of the houses, which all integrate with and respect the coastal landscape. The house was designed for the Danish Consul in San Francisco and his wife. The design was by other house typologies at The Sea Ranch and embodies a Nordic sensibility to light, material, and lifestyle while respecting the architectural forms and rustic materiality characteristic of the famed Sea Ranch design tradition.
The primary living areas of the house are oriented toward the coast, and the design maximizes panoramic views of the ocean by providing a clear span of glass along the ocean-facing façade. The effect is profoundly ethereal, like that of “floating” above the water. Other large windows are carefully positioned along the side and rear façade walls to provide focused views from both living and sleeping areas back into the forest canopy behind the house. Panels of translucent glass provide privacy where needed while not limiting daylight
Marlim: Tell me about the project you’re most proud of and why. What was your role?
Todd: The Folsom Street Residential Laboratory is essentially the conversion of a historic San Francisco industrial building into a residential loft. The owner and I called it a laboratory, as we experimented with the integration of industrial components not normally considered for a residential loft, including laboratory cabinets and phenolic resin countertops in the kitchen, aluminum tubing as an armature for the office space, a custom raised computer floor for the bedroom platform, and specialist laboratory equipment as selected furniture pieces.
This project entailed a close collaboration with the owner, a single man, who was open to creating an unconventional residence for himself. The result is truly a synthesis of ideas from both the owner and myself.
Marlim: What’s your creative process? Show me some Pictures…
Todd: I tend to design intuitively. Conceptual “big ideas” manifest themselves early as thoughts, often without sketching a single line. I do a lot of sketching as a means to define and refine the ideas, and often the first ideas prove to be the best.
In Denmark, I learned the importance of constantly refining a design until it is built, and the importance of documenting all the details.
1 – Petersen Verwers Residence
With this comprehensive renovation of my own two-story city house in San Francisco, the composition of the street façade was an interesting challenge.
Without changing the size and location of the original window openings, I was able to transform and improve the proportions of the façade with the careful configuration of the windows and entry niche, and by adding a “floating” aluminum frame to “gather” the composition and provide shadow relief on the facade.
TODD VERWERS DSM INTERVIEW, Danish American Architect
2 – Petersen Verwers Garage Addition
This garage and storage addition to my 1965 brick home in Copenhagen punches through the rear of an existing carport. My primary design objective was to weave the addition seamlessly into the existing house.
While the addition is virtually undetectable from the street, the structure presents in the large rear yard as a simple, black volume, the height of which flushes with the horizontal lines and visual flow of the existing house. The volume of the addition is separated from the existing brick structure with narrow windows from floor to roof.
3 – Sea Ranch Residence
The fundamental idea for this house is informed by the sloping site and its orientation and views over the Pacific Ocean. The design maximizes panoramic views of the ocean by providing a clear span of glass along the west-facing façade. Further, by terracing the outdoor deck down the slope, views from the main living space are unobstructed. The effect is profoundly ethereal, like that of “floating” above the ocean.
Large windows are carefully positioned along the side and rear façade walls to provide intimate views from both living and sleeping areas back into the forest canopy behind the house.
TODD VERWERS DSM INTERVIEW, Danish American Architect
Marlim: What are some stupid things you can do to lose money on a project?
Todd: Architects are notorious for underbidding each other, and there is no more solidarity in the profession than in others. Selling your design services too cheaply is a recipe for losing money, as are inefficiencies in office workflow.
Marlim: Say a suggestive expression.
Todd: There is opulence in understatement!
MarLim’s Interview | by Design Studio Mag.
Many thanks for your time Todd, have you something in mind to say? CONTINUE ON YOD DESIGN
Todd: In addition to addressing the always critical matters of client program and budget, I strive to imbue my work with a sense of extraordinary discipline, grace, and simplicity. Architecture as manifested in form and space has the potential of combining the sacred with the everyday. I believe a building or space must be poetic as well as rational, and it is the potential of evoking a transcendent or profound emotional response in those who experience the work that fascinates and drives me.
I adhere to a holistic approach to design and am therefore intimately involved with each project from conceptual design through construction – where the primary objective is the making of timeless architecture while providing functional and economical design solutions for my clients. READ ABOUT FURRINA
VISIT TODD VERWERS ARCHITECTS , Verwers Architects, Danish American Architect