Kleiwerks International participant in NBX 2011
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I’ve always loved getting my hands dirty.
Growing up in rural southeast VA, I was surrounded by vast cornfields, acres upon acres of forests, and really big ditches. I remember my brother and I making mud pies and ‘pottery’ from dirt we’d dug out of the ground. My best friend and I would build teepees and forts out of sticks we’d collect in the woods. We actually got in big trouble one time for treating the big drainage ditch as a swimming hole and proceeded to change into our swim suits and take mud baths. When taking those aptitude tests in grade school mine would always come back saying that my best fit career would be a Farmer. For some reason I was embarrassed by this and would cover it up and be like, ‘oh yea, it says I’m going to be a Lawyer.’
As is often the case, I left for college at age 17…naive and not a care in the world.
I didn’t enter in to architecture for any profound reasons. I spent my first year taking all the basic classes and putting off the idea that I was actually there to figure out my career and I was supposed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Nearing the end of my freshman year, as I was blindly walking across campus, I began to admire the old stone buildings sitting on the lawn. A light bulb went off in my head and I ran to my dorm to see if we had a school of architecture here. Like many of the decisions made in my life, it just FELT right, so I went for it.
I stumbled my way through 5 years of architecture school, often times not quite getting the ambiguous assignments we were given, questioning this path I was on, and almost giving in several times. In my 4th year, I travelled abroad to Europe; I spent an entire semester admiring countless western European cities….from Barcelona, to Venice, to Madrid….Lisbon and Toledo….on and on. I often say that in my 5 years of school, I learned everything in that one semester. I’d see the old buildings and admire the craftsmanship; to walk through it and touch it; to imagine the laborers and artisans THOUSANDS of years ago carefully shaping these forms. In Barcelona I found the most organic, soft, sculptural architecture I’d ever seen; Antoni Gaudi. These buildings became snapshots in my head I’d carry with me forever. It was within these moments that I knew this path was right.
I cried the day I graduated. I knew that life as I knew it would never be the same. I was leaving behind the abstract, carefree, free thinking University life for the ‘Real World.’ The thought of sitting behind a desk doing Auto Cad for 9 hours a day shook me to the bones. But I did the deed. I typed and printed 50 or more resumes and mailed (yes, snail mail) them to Charleston, SC. I’d recently visited New Orleans and fell in love with the deep south….the people, the salty smell, the sticky air, but most of all, the old architecture. I’d heard about Charleston and thought it’d be a comparable match to New Orleans. I visited Charleston once and as I walked the cobblestone streets, and passed through hidden backyard courtyards and gardens, and old carriage houses South of Broad, the magical feelings I’d felt in Europe were back and I knew in my blood that architecture is important; it’s much more than just a building, it’s the feelings we have when we’re enveloped in its beauty.
For 8 years, I made my way through the work force. I got licensed. I got LEED certified. I pumped out more deadlines that I can count and drank more coffee than could fill the Red Sea. But for me there was a disconnect. The creative mind was often overshadowed by the corporate mind; the long hours at a computer staring out my fixed glass office window nearly killed me; I’d often sit and think, ‘Damn, I shoulda been a farmer.’
While chatting with a man from Ireland on a backpacking trip through India, we started to talk about our jobs and how we reluctantly had to go back home and face them. I started to tell him of my interests and passions; my love of the outdoors and the lack of it in my daily work routine. He mentioned Janell Kapoor with Kleiworks, Int. and said ‘you should contact her.’ Months later, I came across this crumpled paper with ‘Janel Kapoor’ on it and ‘googled.’
I read about Cob and Bamboo and Earthen Plasters and Wood-Fired Ovens! I saw pictures of houses which looked to me like the Gaudi work I’d seen in Barcelona! These building have ‘NATURE’ written all over them…and better yet, they are made of MUD and STRAW and SAND!!! Lo and behold, there’s a 3 week Natural Building workshop coming up in the spring of 2011! Holy Sh*t, I’m there!!!
I quit my job.
Cut my hair.
And went to Asheville where I played in mud and built and sculpted and designed for 3 weeks.
It was as if my creative mind was stimulated and exploded with red clay! Finally, my hands were once again in the dirt. The bridge between my training and education about buildings and my connection to and love for the natural world was complete. I was rooted.
A little over a year later, I’ve opened a small business called Root Down Designs, built 3 Cob Ovens, taught 5 Natural Building Workshops, earthen work on my 1950’s home, designed sustainable structures for the City and for homeowners. My world is in constant motion as my tasks alternate between designing and building. When I need inspiration I get my hands in the mud and work through solutions as I plaster a wall. I bend bamboo and I make clay bricks. I make samples and scratch and poke them. I experiment and I test.
I learn to understand the architecture of nature, and therefore, I understand architecture.
As an Architect… a creator of built objects… it’s my obligation to Mother Earth to build WITH her, and not against her, and to inspire others to do the same. Instead of trying to ‘defeat’ nature with our structures, try befriending; a symbiotic marriage between earth and structure.
As we move through this complex world full of options and technology and boundless information, sometimes tapping back into what’s really simple and familiar….things like mud and sticks and stones….can bring about the most profound solutions.