polytekton 'om'

imagine, draw, think, make, build, write, design, publish

in this section: about, scholarship, teaching, research, making, service, cv and ...
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from the Greek polus 'much,' polloi 'many.'

- a worker in wood, a carpenter, joiner, builder
- a ship's carpenter or builder
- any craftsman, or workman
- the art of poetry, maker of songs
- a planner, contriver, plotter
- an author
polytekton is a commercial and philanthropic entity that’s part of a larger network of interdisciplinary companies concerned with the built environment in its physical, historical, cultural, theoretical, and temporal representations.

In its earlier incarnation as mikeschDesign polytekton was web-accessible since the mid-1990s but its origins go back to the 1970s when its founder began his career as an itinerant artist, producing drawings, paintings, and murals on automobiles and buildings, then advanced this loose vector later, following an academic career, into a full-time calling as a designer, researcher, scholar, and educator.

Since 1979 polytekton’s scope has progressively broadened and deepened to include architectural design, book-publishing, graphic- and web-design, ceramics, print-making, as well as more conventional design/build projects such as condominium conversions, house renovations, and small buildings. This material work has been tempered by academic schooling: B.Design (1989) and M.Arch (1991), University of Florida, and M.Arch (1995) and Ph.D. in Architectural History and Theory (1999), Princeton University.

polytekton consists of the following entities that have physical bases in Ames, Iowa and Gainesville, Florida, with temporal satellite offices in Berlin, Germany, and Rome, Italy, accompanied by less gravity-dependent manifestations in web form:

• Book Publishing (editing, design, and distribution):
Culicidae Press, LLC, and Culicidae Architectural Press (now folded into Culicidae Press)
• Graphic- and Web Design (including hosting and maintenance):
• Design/Build Work:
• Video, Sound Editing, DVD/CD Design and Mastering:
• Shared Prose and Poetry:
• Philanthropic Division (design for non-for-profits and educational institutions):
Margaret Zach International Women Composers Library, Design Across Boundaries, Dignified Donkeys, E-co lab, Green Design Research Collaborative, Southeast Chapter Society of Architectural Historians.

A portfolio of polytekton—chronicling work that has been completed in the last thirty years—is available in separate volumes through
Culicidae Press. The first two volumes, as well as other published books are available now by clicking on the images below.
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Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.

Richard P. Feynman

As a non-native English speaker I am always aware of the opacity of languages. Perhaps because my father was a writer (for a newspaper) I have had an affinity for textual design—for writing is that, too. The birth of my writing pleasures coincided with graduate studies at the University of Florida where my instructors, Professors Jennifer Bloomer and Bob Segrest, stressed the interrelations between architectural design and language in their respective studios.

Using language as a design tool has influenced not only my studio work but also my writing, of which I was doing increasingly more than drawing during my design studies, although drawing is of course also a kind of writing, since the word in Greek, is both:
"-graph: repr. F. –graphe, L. –graphus, Gr. -γραφος. The Greek termination was used to form adjectives, sometimes in the passive sense of ‘written’, e.g. αυτογραφος written with one’s own hand, χειρογραφος written with the hand; sometimes in the active sense, ‘that writes, delineates, or describes’, chiefly used absol. as ns.; ‘one who writes, delineates, or describes’: e.g. ζωγραφος a painter from life, βιβλιογραφος a writer of books, γεωγραφος a delineator of the earth, a geographer."

Since 1989 I have accompanied almost each studio project with an extensive text, something I call architexts. Most of them are available in a series of books available through Culicidae Press, through Issuu.com, or on my LinkedIn profile.

Mobility, in its literal and figurative manifestations, defines the core of my scholarship. Starting with a physical move from Europe to the United States in 1985 I built a foundation of academic credentials (here's a Life Map) that covered, by 1999, the gamut from a Bauhaus-inspired B.Design via a theory/practice based M.Arch to an M.Arch and eventual Ph.D. in architectural history and theory. This accumulation of credentials accompanied a shift in scholarship, while still relying on mobility as a focus: since the mid-1990s I have moved increasingly from studying proper architecture, exemplified by buildings, into an expanded field of design (which includes architecture). My interest in the dynamics of design—how the design field changes—and in dynamic design, i.e. design that changes other things, has led to a series of scholarship waypoints (captured in this graphic) that I will outline in the next few paragraphs below.

The tipping point for my movement from conventional architectural scholarship into a broader, mobility infused approach to design was a presentation I gave in 1999 as part of the Department of Architecture faculty lecture series. The title, “Mobile Home: An Unscientific Auto Biography,” hinted at a shift in my work (combining ‘home’ with ‘mobile’) as I began to interweave professional research with personal history. This research led in 2004 to a peer-reviewed book chapter, “Food to Go: The Industrialization of the Picnic,” published in Jamie Horwitz’ and Paulette Singley’s Eating Architecture (The MIT Press, hardcover in 2004, issued as a paperback in 2006). In that chapter I studied how architecture, that most stable of artistic expressions, has been transformed radically by the more mobile elements it contains within: people and goods. As a frame I examined the history of food to go, represented in the picnic as a type, and how this temporal mode of consumption creates a counterpoint to the apparently static reality of conventional architecture, here specifically represented through an unbuilt drive-in by Mies van der Rohe, whose design just preceded his seminal Crown Hall at IIT, with which it shares the structural system of exposed columns and concealed roof beams.

This essay led to a consideration of the intersection between architecture and writing, when, in 2008, the Network for Theory, History, and Criticism of Architecture (NeTHCA), based in Brussels, Belgium, published my peer-reviewed paper “Roman Rides. Notes on Academic Tourism and Other Expressions of Touristic Mobility” as a book chapter in the bi-lingual Tourism Revisited, International Colloquium on Architecture and Cities #2. In the paper I examined how writers (and by extension designers) can benefit from living in a foreign country where they work as outsiders. As case studies I used the texts of two important German writers who lived in Rome during the 1960s: Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973), and Rolf-Dieter Brinkmann (1940-1975). I argue that both authors, in very different ways, managed to read their sensual and subjective experience of urban life against the attempts of mass tourism—exemplified in the tradition of the architectural Grand Tour—to sanitize the city during the 1960s.

In 2010 I married the tension of mobility and stasis with research about energy-efficient architectural design at the intersection of Corning—a small but vibrant community in southwest Iowa—with the Icarians, a 19th-century utopian community that lived just outside of town. Shuttling between ideas about sustainability and self-sufficiency in a fundamentally connected society, I argue that using contemporary green technologies for urban renewal is a winning strategy for a small town like Corning. This research was published as the peer-reviewed paper “Remaking Home: Flying Close to the Sun with Modern Day Icarians in Iowa,” in the international bilingual English/Macedonian journal Doma.

Finally my biobased research that grew from working as a Co-PI on the 2009 Solar Decathlon led to a peer-reviewed paper (with Meredith Chambers) about the intersection of biobased materials and the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system which was published in the Journal of Green Building, for which I now serve, two years after the publication of our essay, as a peer reviewer.

After receiving tenure at Iowa State University in 2003 I have given numerous peer-reviewed presentations, my work has been adopted and cited widely, nationally and internationally, and I have been invited to many conferences and workshops. Through my professional work as a designer, editor, and publisher I have been serving the general public, professional designers, and academics within Iowa, as well as regionally the Midwest, and then nationally and internationally, reaching a global audience. Since that first lecture in 1999 I have continued to move between and across a broad set of scholarship agendas that weave through four academic categories, namely teaching, research, practice, and service.


The very best thing you can be in life is a teacher, provided that you are crazy in love with what you teach, and that your classes consist of eighteen students or fewer. Classes of eighteen students or fewer are a family, and feel and act like one.

Kurt Vonnegut, 2007

From my perspective a large part of teaching is learning, and as a curious human I can't do one without the other. Any course I have taught involved at least as much learning on my part as teaching, and whenever I repeated a course I would adjust the content to reflect my learning from the previous iteration. I have taught design studios since 1989, starting as a teaching assistant at the University of Florida, then moving on to Iowa State University (ISU) as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, an Assistant in Instruction at Princeton University, back as an Adjunct at ISU, and since 2003 I have been teaching studios, seminars, and lab courses on computation as an Associate Professor.

My model of design pedagogy, design practice, and research grows out of a broad and ongoing education that was influenced by both a history-centric/German idealist European culture and a North-American practicality that favors applied research and learning-by-doing. This both/and rather than either/or perspective has shaped my scholarship and teaching agenda. My objectives as a teacher are to educate in the original sense of the word: to
“give intellectual, moral, and social instruction.” In other words I strive in my teaching to make students comprehend the world through rational, ethical, and communal lenses.

Based on my education as a non-traditional student who came late to the academy—but fortunately at a time when digital tools were just beginning to influence learning—I place my teaching philosophy at the intersection of traditional analog methodologies and advanced digital modes. For example, in the studio I encourage students to shuttle continuously between analog production—using pens/pencils for sketching as well as hardline drawings, and making physical working models—and digital modes such as online research, 3D digital modeling, or thoughtful writing, depending on their personal and my own evaluation of what is needed at a given point in their design process. I combine this shuttling between analog and digital modes with disruptive techniques that change the students’ learning environment and create an awareness of sensory presence. For example, if I notice that a student doesn’t understand an idea I’m trying to communicate verbally or through analog or digital sketching (on my iPad)—let’s say the idea of an architectural threshold or an entry sequence into a building—I will walk with them to an example nearby, perhaps the King Pavilion adjacent to the College of Design, and let them experience a spatial threshold with its various stages by walking from the parking lot into the long hallway, pointing out the series of spatial compressions and expansions, the changes of materials, or the transformative changes in natural/artificial light. In my experience these disruptive exercises tend to be more memorable than a purely verbal or graphical explanation alone, and in combination with the earlier mentioned analog and digital tools they make up an effective pedagogical tool set.

Although I have worked at ISU since 1991 primarily in architectural education—aside from my residency at Princeton between 1992 and 1994—my scholarship, teaching, research, design practice, and service have always been linked to other fields such as graphic design, the fine arts (drawing, painting, print making, ceramics), carpentry, sensory design and human computer interaction, biobased materials, and online/offline digital design (web design and video authoring), using a wide range of media and software applications. Within the College of Design I have collaborated with faculty from all departments, formally and informally, on a wide range of projects. The emphasis on broad-and-diverse as well as focused-and-deep (note my Ph.D. in architectural history and theory) runs through my teaching, and is directly linked to my personal history.

After growing up in Germany, I emigrated to the United States in 1985 and started my academic career as a non-traditional student in my mid-20s, completing first an architecture-centric B.Design (with honors, in 1989), followed by a professional M.Arch (1991). The first degree taught me the fundamentals of analog design such as sketching, hardline drawing on mylar, and physical modeling within a Bauhaus-inspired curriculum. During the summers I complemented this architecture-heavy curriculum with courses that expanded my analog material repertoire, for example ceramics (hand building and wheel throwing) or print-making. I was fortunate enough to experience the transfer from analog to digital learning in school where experimentation made this radical paradigm shift easier to digest than in a professional working environment. In my last year of undergraduate studies I discovered the computer and its three-dimensional visualization capacities through two software packages that were available at that time at the University of Florida: Architrion and a beta version of formZ. As an autodidact I taught myself these two and many other applications through tutorials (except for an official one-week course learning Maya at thenAlias|Wavefront headquarters in Toronto in 1996).

Since 1988 I have acquired a vast arsenal of digital tools that I continue to apply in my teaching of studios, special topic seminars, and laboratory courses. For example, in the File-to-Fabrication course Arch 433 that I took over from my former colleague Chris Beorkrem (now at UNC Charlotte), I teach students how to navigate the space between the digital and the analog. As part of the course students learn how to use laser cutters, 3D printers, a vacuum former, and a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) router. Within one semester my students acquire the expertise to develop their designs through an iterative process of analog sketching and digital 3D modeling (using Rhino3D/Grasshopper and SolidWorks software), followed by repeated outputs of digital designs into the analog reality of physical materials. Going through iterative loops teaches students the behavior and characteristics of materials, resulting in a slowly improving physical product. Because I value the different modes of creative design I require my students to always also draw by hand, and to bring their sketchbooks, or more recently digital tablets with styluses, to class. With respect to understanding design as an ongoing progression I ask students to take screen shots of their work as a way to document the digital design process, which tends to disappear when there are no incremental saves, especially when students only show the last state of their design onscreen for final review.

Countering the weightlessness, and yet highly influential digital work, with the gravity and heaviness of the physical output—such as the design of working light fixtures (which have been exhibited in the Dean’s Office and the former Architecture Department Office every year), or the final product of the class, a full-scale sitting stool—the students in my Arch 433 course develop a facility for shuttling effectively between analog and digital modes, which is a fundamental requirement in today’s digitally saturated, yet materially dependent design profession. Consequently I value the design process as much as the final product. While students in their early semesters want to rush to their final product, I strive in my teaching to slow down this rush by allowing them to dwell in the moment of making, to appreciate the process of both designing in their heads and designing with their hands.

As a parallel to developing courses at the analog/digital intersection I have also expanded my teaching with initially experimental courses that take students out of the narrow range of purely visual learning. Beginning in 2003 I complemented the mostly visual/digital realm with a material-focused design/build studio, bringing back my analog expert knowledge. Later, together with my partner and colleague Dr. Miriam Zach (University of Florida), we expanded in our teaching this narrow perceptual zone to include multi-sensory dimensions. For example, in the honors seminars we have been teaching since 2009 (Miriam skypes into the ISU class from Florida), we always begin the semester with a blind walk across campus where students regularly report that this single experience changes their whole perspective about how they perceive the world around them. As a counterpoint to limiting sight we also ask students to forgo hearing for 24 hours—during a one-week time span—using earplugs, and then report back to the class with a self evaluation. Limiting the senses has a curious side effect: students are suddenly much more able to include what they previously ignored in their design projects. This increased sensibility works for students of all ages, but it appears to be most effective for beginning design students.

From 1995 to 2005 I focused my teaching on the first year of the professional MArch program where I taught non-traditional beginning architecture graduate students who had decided to take a new path, sometimes while already professionally established in another field. Many of these students were in their 30s and 40s, returning from careers where they became dissatisfied, and going to the university was accompanied by a considerable amount of anxiety and risk-taking, given the financial strain and intellectual unknowns many of them faced. In my profession as their design studio teacher, I saw my at times difficult task to challenge their perception of the architectural design field, at the same time as I built up their confidence that they would be able to succeed in their newly chosen field.

In 2003, during discussions among members of the graduate committee under the leadership of my colleague Clare Cardinal Pett, the 3.5-year graduate program shifted to introduce in the first year a two-week design/build project where beginning students would demolish, recycle, design, and then construct their own new and improved studio environment, followed by my now conventional analog/digital teaching for the rest of the semester. The goal was to create a team that would make friends or at least colleagues out of strangers while simultaneously instilling a sense of empowerment to a group of individuals new to the rigors of accelerated learning. For the first studio in 2003 I worked with the students to take out a 10’-tall non-load-bearing steel-stud wall between two adjacent studios on the fifth floor of the College of Design, while making sure none of the students would accidentally knock off one of the charged sprinkler heads. The transforming experience of putting holes into an apparently solid object, coupled with the realization of the physical weight of architecture while sorting through recyclables, made this exercise a resounding success that we repeated the next year by installing a new seminar room, followed by combined storage/light shelves and other subsequent projects. The success of full-scale interventions in the studio also spawned a shift in my other courses when I began to expand the physical materiality of architecture by researching, and then teaching, sensory design as a topic in seminars, such as Arch 528G Lighting Design in Architecture, Art, and Design, Arch 528Y Sight and Sound: Sensory Design in Art and Architecture, vertically integrated undergraduate/graduate studios such as Arch 404/603 Design of a Music and Architecture Research Institute M.A.R.I., and honors seminars. This emphasis on the multi-sensory dimension of design, which had started as far back as the energy crisis in Germany in 1973, spawned in turn my larger research into sustainability and bio-based materials. I will explain this topic in more detail in the Research section.

As a teacher I see myself as a guide or mentor rather than as an instructor (in the narrow meaning of the verb ‘to instruct’). Having grown up in a strictly hierarchical culture of post-war Germany I have a built-in resistance to hero worship, and rather than impart to my students that they can just follow a master teacher, I try to let each of them find her or his own path. They share the responsibility for determining the direction, and I accompany them for a few semesters. In my experience this teaching method leads to competent yet self-critical individuals who trust their own skills and become role models in their practices outside school.

In my studios I put a premium on having students experience their projects, and those of others, through both intellectual and sensory perception. Field trips play an important role in this pedagogy. They allow students to experience the designed environment in full-sensory mode, unlike learning about design only through books and online searches. In the last eighteen years I have organized numerous field trips all across the United States and Europe, from fairly well structured excursions to impromptu road trips. Among the former are field trips I organized, or co-organized, to Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Kansas City, New Orleans, Gainesville, St. Augustine, Cedar Key, Davenport, Dubuque, Duluth, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Rome, Vicenza, Venice, Naples; among the latter is a one-week road trip through Germany and France with nine students in two station wagons that I led from Munich via Wittenberg, Dessau, Berlin, Lemgo, Cologne, Koblenz, Strassbourg, Ronchamp, and back to Munich. To continually broaden the students’ appreciation of these foreign—since initially unknown—environments I choose to not only visit architectural high points but also take students to lesser known cultural institutions like museums, libraries, or schools, architectural/design firms and manufacturing companies.

The emphasis on putting myself and my students into an encounter with the unknown is directly connected to language. Growing up with a different mother tongue than English I have learned to use language as an additional tool in my arsenal of teaching skills. Often I use words as switches to turn on the light in students’ minds. Even when they think they know a specific meaning of a word that is part of a new project I ask them to look up that word for other meanings and its etymological origins. My own awareness of how German, English, Latin, French, and Italian words differ in their meanings and origins provides an additional layer of creative pedagogy. Finally I want to express my strong belief that teachers should be lifelong learners, whether inside or outside the classroom. Therefore I participate as much as possible in reviews for my colleagues in other programs and, of course, within the architecture department. Whenever feasible I invite beginning students to participate in upper-level studio reviews as well, so they understand their own growth process within the College of Design curricular structure.


Highly organized research is guaranteed to produce nothing new.

Frank Herbert, Dune

At the arguable zenith of architectural theory in North America during the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked on both highly complex analog and digital projects while intuitively pushing the limits of software applications to utilize three-dimensional spaces as a foundation of architectural design. Twenty-one years ago, in my 1991 Master’s Research Project at the University of Florida (self-published as part of polytekton volume 2), I envisioned the intersection of online research with analog printing of research texts that graduate students could find in cyberspace, for later use and dissemination—just as the internet was slowly gaining a foothold as a research device for information. My insistence on imagining and designing in 3D, as evidenced in my design work from that time onward, derived from my dissatisfaction to design something as poly-dimensional as the environment around us using only two-dimensional representations such as plans and sections. Consequently I continuously searched out and taught myself early 3D-capable software applications like Architrion, formZ, or ArchiCAD, that allowed the user to be in spaces rather than look at representations of them in two dimensions.

This push to not accept the status quo in my profession continued in 2003 with a foray into research about lighting design in architecture, art, and design which I turned into a seminar and then expanded into a collaborative, interdisciplinary studio with Jamie Horwitz from Architecture (now Industrial Design) and Joern Langhorst from Landscape Architecture. Eventually this work would migrate into the File-to-Fabrication courses I have been teaching since 2008 where the first project is the design of a functional light fixture using the laser cutter as an output device. Parallel to these sensory-based investigations I collaborated with Miriam Zach on several papers, exploring the intersection of music and architecture throughout history. This research resulted in two peer-reviewed presentations at professional meetings: “A World in the Ear or How Music and Architecture Evolved with Changes in Technology” in 2003, and “From Plato to Xenakis: Notes on the Intersection of Music and Architecture” in 2004. In a few cases serendipity acted as the catalyst for my research projects. In The New Yorker magazine from November 15, 2004, I read an article by John McPhee in the Annals of Transport section about the author traveling by coal barge on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. From that single essay I developed a vertical option studio, Arch 404/603 (with students from architecture and landscape architecture), about the design of a Music and Architecture Research Institute, to be located on a barge that could travel between Davenport, Iowa and Cedar Key, Florida. My students collaborated on the design with honors students from Miriam Zach’s IDH 3931 honors seminar at the University of Florida. As an introductory project the students designed a Garden for the Blind, followed by a one-room intervention in a condo on the beach near St. Augustine, Florida, that would contain a designed space for listening. Work produced in this class was also exhibited in a gallery near Winterset, Iowa, at the Westbrook Artist Site from September through October of 2006.

Quite often my ideas for research projects develop through chance conversations. In a 2002 article in the Oxford Journals publication Industrial and Corporate Change, Martin Ruef, referencing the original work by Mark Granovetter, revisits the power of these weak ties by reading them against innovation. In the spring of 2010 I presented a paper about the ISU Solar Decathlon house at the national PCACA (Popular Culture/American Culture Association) conference in St. Louis, where I talked afterwards to one of my session mates, Brown University Ph.D. candidate Nathaniel Walker. We realized that we both admired a particular house designed by an apparently crazy architect/artist in my German hometown of Lemgo, which Nathaniel had visited several years ago. We agreed to work together researching the history of the house, and this weak tie with Nathaniel has now resulted in a collaborative paper I presented at the annual Midatlantic Popular and American Culture Association conference, another presentation—with a slightly different focus—in the Fall of 2012 at the annual IASTE (International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments) conference in Portland.

More recently, through my position as an appointee to the Architectural Board of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida (also a weak tie) I have become aware of the threat developers present to historically significant public and private buildings in North Central Florida. When I learned about the potential loss of a mid-1970s church in Gainesville, designed by Schweizer Associates Architects (Environmental Design Group), I researched the architectural work of principal Nils M. Schweizer—a student of Frank Lloyd Wright—who became, after Wright’s death, the architect-in-charge of the now famous Florida Southern College in Lakeland. I presented a paper about the work of Schweizer and the Gainesville building at the annual meeting of SESAH (Southeast Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians) in Athens, Georgia, in October 2012. However, instead of writing merely about the history and aesthetic qualities of Schweizer’s design, I also examined its acoustic properties, which are outstanding in this stone-floor-wood-clad-laminated-beam-three-hinged-arch design.

I already mentioned the Solar Decathlon/Interlock House research that evolved out of the thesis work with my former graduate student Bob Gassman. Two other architecture graduate students, Eric Smith and Michael Garcia, were fundamental in getting biobased materials into the final design of the Interlock House. I worked with Eric Smith on testing zein-based spray foam insulation, but the material, after many tests, failed the flammability rating required by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). However, both Eric and Michael used the services of Muscatine-based McKee Specialty Surfaces company to design and build the exterior doors on the north side of the Interlock House, employing biobased panels that they CNC-routed with the help of a supportive shop manager at the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Ankeny, Iowa. I consider this type of local and regional partnering an important step in strengthening the connections between the academy and other entities in Iowa and the Midwest.


Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

John Lennon

For me design has always been about physical production; the pleasure of creating contrast between dark and light, large and small, rough and smooth, and of course the joy of working with all senses against and with materials is for me an important part of being in the world.

Prior to studying design at the University of Florida in the 1980s my friends and I renovated a sawmill in Entrup (see Google Map below), a village outside the small town of Lemgo, Germany. During this time I also created a series of realist paintings and surrealist drawings that provided a welcome refuge from the stuffy social scene in town. To relish the renegade status I lived with my partner (now wife) Miriam Zach in a farm house commune of eight like-minded individuals, then moved into a small hamlet of converted circus and construction trailers across the street, and continued to sharpen my three-dimensional skills while working as a shade-tree mechanic on Citroëns and Renaults, primarily out of necessity because their engines and frames were easy to work on but also because they were inexpensive vehicles that we could afford to drive—and repair.

While living in Entrup I also worked as a manager's assistant for an orphanage in Wiembeck, near Lemgo, Germany. The manager taught me many skills I still use in my current design/build work, such as how to fix windows busted out by the children living in the orphanage, or working with hammer and chisel doing joinery of wood pieces. In retrospect I think of those times as learning by doing. Theory and practice converged in the repairing and making of objects. Only later did I learn how to design with intention, and to understand the importance of a story that accompanies designed work.

Turmhof and Wassermühle, Entrup, Lemgo
After returning from Princeton to ISU in 1995 I began a more active pattern of design experimentation by designing and building a barn for a 1963 Bambi Airstream trailer, and then working on my own house, a 700 sq.ft. stick frame originally built in 1925, treating it as a test-bed for energy-efficient design strategies such as super-insulated walls, natural air convection—by taking out most of the interior partition walls—and increasing the amount of glazing on the south side and shading on the west side. In 2003 I collaborated with Miriam on the transformation of her mother’s condominium into an age-appropriate living space that would accommodate the 91-year-old client’s physical challenges. Initially we renovated the kitchen, and one year later we modernized the bathrooms. The renovation of the apartment was noted by the local newspaper, The Gainesville Sun, in a feature article. In addition I self-published with Miriam two small books, one on the kitchen design and the other on the bathroom renovations, that have served as models for people looking for ways to have family members live independently at home. I also designed and showed three posters communicating the kitchen renovation as part of a College of Design faculty exhibition in 2004. This design-built work had a parallel track in teaching where I used my knowledge of materials and construction to lead the first-year graduate students in the yearly ritual of renovating their own studio spaces (see the Teaching section).

During the last twenty years I have learned to shift my designs from unnecessary complexity to simple layouts that communicate effectively, adopting most recently the ten theses on good design by the German industrial designer Dieter Rams. Rams’ work for Braun influenced, of course, the late Steve Jobs of Apple Inc., and its current head designer Jonathan Ive. It was Steve Jobs who positioned his company, and himself in lectures, at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Apple’s product line is, of course, an example for this design approach. Instead of allowing science to dominate appearance, Jobs insisted that beauty and functionality would have equal footing with the internal workings of the devices. I think of this approach when I design books for
Culicidae Press, as I consider issues such as readability of fonts, their relative size, dimension of leading, and hand-adjusted kerning to prevent widows and orphans. In some cases I explain my rationale to the reader graphically, as in the Epilogue section to the translation of Stefanie Golisch’ book The Living Thing, where I included a graphic showing the relative margin sizes in relation to the body text shape which I based on the golden section ratio.

In my work I aim for a care that borrows from Jobs, Ive, or Rams who will design the invisible interior of any product with particular attention to detail, even though very few people, if any, will ever see the beauty of these internal spaces. Designing books, or anything else for that matter, is for me never mere surface treatment but always a fundamentally ethical endeavor in which I understand design holistically as a multi-dimensional, self-critical, and iterative process.


The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Mahatma Gandhi

I strongly believe that service strengthens any community, and I have given freely as part of being a member in multiple communities, such as my colleagues in the Department of Architecture and the College of Design, the University, the citizens of Ames and Iowa, and through my special connection, to people in the southeastern United States and Europe. I have met the needs of the academic communities by serving on a wide range of departmental, college, and university committees before and during my tenure at ISU. Among them are Co-Chair of the departmental Curriculum Committee (shared with my colleague Cameron Campbell; we alternate chairing the committee every semester), Chair of the College of Design Honors committee where I continue to serve as an advisor to departmental members, am responsible for communicating policies from the University Honors Committee to the design college constituents, and handle with Michelle Rasmussen (College of Design Student Services Coordinator) questions by honors students about honors projects. I also represent the college at the university level during monthly meetings of the University Honors Committee. As Chair of the Substantive Area Design committee I’m responsible for initiating and guiding the discussions about studio culture, policy, and strategies, including curricular proposals that then get handed to the curriculum committee for further discussion. This position is elected by the faculty, and as a chair I’m an automatic member of the departmental curriculum committee. Over the years I have also served as both chair and member of a number of faculty search committees. These are, of course, vital to the department and the college since the hires are part of the lifeblood of the university.

I hold numerous other service positions and affiliations within the department, the college, as well as in other academic units on campus, and I volunteer my services where my expertise is needed or where the architecture department chair sees fit. When possible I reach out to other organizations on and off campus. In the past I have designed websites pro bono for local chapters of Iowa-based service organizations such as Architecture for Humanity and Design Across Boundaries but I have also worked with representatives of MICA (Mid Iowa Community Action) and ISU students on energy-retrofitting existing homes of low-income citizens in Story County. During the spring of 2012 I served in my role as Human Computer Interaction (HCI) graduate faculty member as an interviewer for new incoming Ph.D..

As part of my graphic design practice I also do a substantial amount of other pro bono design work and advising for non-profits (such as web weaver for the Southeast Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians [SESAH], for Architecture for Humanity Iowa, and e-co Lab), colleagues who need help with their information technology, and the elderly. In addition I would consider my reviewing of peer-authored papers and funding proposals a service to the academic community. In 2008 I evaluated a proposal by a professor at the ETH (Swiss Polytech Institute) about music and architecture, because of my expertise in that cross-disciplinary field, and in 2012 I became a reviewer for the FWF Wissenschaftsfonds (Austrian Science Fund) located in Vienna, Austria, for a research proposal by a full professor about music, acoustics, and architecture. The Austrian Science Fund is “Austria’s central funding organization for basic research. The purpose of the FWF is to support the ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at a high international level. In this way, the FWF makes a significant contribution to cultural development, to the advancement of our knowledge-based society, and thus to the creation of value and wealth in Austria.” In 2012 I also became a peer-reviewer for Seminar, A Journal of Germanic Studies. According to the University of Toronto Press, which publishes Seminar, the journal, founded in 1965, is “one of the leading journals today for the study of Germanic literature, media and culture. It seeks to publish the highest-quality scholarship on a range of fields including philology, philosophy, aesthetics, media studies, visual culture, gender studies, and transnationalism in so far as they relate to German-language material or other languages in a German-cultural context. Jointly sponsored by the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German and the German division of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, the journal endeavors to promote German studies across a broad international context.”


We like lists because we don't want to die.

Umberto Eco

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