Craig Steely explores the creative expression behind architecture.
The creative arts field is a huge industry. You have people that do everything from painting, drawing, music production, to fashion designing. But, one creative expression we often forget is the art of architecture. Ever just looked at a building design and explored the beauty of the structure? The aesthetic and the function is so personal. And each architect has their own style.
Craig Steely has been in the architecture field for many years. From an early age he knew he wanted to be an architect. “I remember the moment it “gelled” for me. I was around 14 and visiting the Sea Ranch community along the northern coast of California. I had spent the morning wandering around construction sites and sketching houses. Back at the place we were staying I found an old Sunset magazine laying around and honestly it was probably the first time I ever realized there was a thing called an “architect”—something different from just building, more like thinking about the possibilities of building.” Craig recalls.
“I remember thinking “I should do this, I could do this!”
The creative process of designing building is much like that of designing fashion or creating music. You want it to have a certain appeal. You also want to invoke some of your own style through the structural design. Even though you have a client to please, creating a design is sort of like an extension of you. Craig, like many designers, has a sketch pad with models that he envisions in his head. Once a client becomes available he can then make modifications that incorporate the needs of his client.
Once the building comes to life, the finish product will still capture the essence and design of what he envisioned while remaining functional for the needs of his client. In comparison to fashion design, it’s sort of like the designer who creates a beautiful piece of clothing for a high profile celebrity. The celebrity requires alterations so things get modified to accommodate the wants and needs of the star. “It’s like solving a riddle. When I’m designing, in my mind I have “glimpses” of a finished project. Then at a certain point while designing, I begin to see the shapes come to life before my eyes,” Craig says.
Imagine you have the resources to build your dream home. You have this elaborate list of things you just have to have. Of course the typical person can’t just pull out the bricks and cement and build their home without any help. Your best bet is to find an architect. It’s important to find one that can relate to your style. It’s their job to take the vision you have in your head and put it before your eyes. That’s why the relationship between the architect and the client is so critical. “The clients become good friends.” Finished buildings come out so much better when the foundation of the building is the relationship developed between the architect and client.
“You should only work for clients you respect. Only do projects you can find something interesting in—be protective of your passion for what you do.”
Craig has done projects all over the world. In fact one of the aspects of his job that he finds most rewarding is the places that architecture has taken him. Some of his most rewarding projects have been located on the Hawaiian Islands. “My Hawaii projects as a whole feel like a strong step towards an architecture that connects to nature in a contemporary way using contrast along with other more subtle ways of relating to the land than just the visual.” He is inspired to create architecture that integrates technological advances to nature. Where better to find inspiration than in the beauty of nature. “Architecture is uniquely positioned to promote the understanding that technology and nature must co-exist together. For me it’s continuing the search in my projects for a balance between rustic camping and the feeling of the Farnsworth House.”
“Travel to experience great buildings.”
Who do you consider the classic icons in architecture?
I’m interested in the work of Paulo Mendes De Rocha in Brazil, particularly his houses from the 70’s. There is a roughness and purity to the forms and materials that create a sensuality to the spaces.
What books would you recommend?
Read the architect and writer Pierluigi Serriano. I don’t know anyone more versed and knowledgeable on the roots of California Modernism. He searches out the rare and obscure. And he has a visceral and deeply personal knowledge of it — tracking down buildings and befriending the surviving architects involved to get a deeper narrative. Read all of his books. They can be read on multiple levels— visually (they are always filled with great architecture photos), as historic architecture narrative, or about the personalities of the architects behind seminal buildings.
Modern design in architecture is often revered and misunderstood at the same time. Why do you think that people in America have such misunderstood feelings about modernism?
Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from experiencing poor or inappropriate examples of it. Or maybe it is because some people see the world changing too quickly and others want it to change faster. I think it comes down to those who look forward or only look backwards. To me it seems inappropriate to build with new technologies and materials in any other way.