Letters to myself

The author in Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China circa 1987

Last night I came across a stack of old letters I had written to my mother who passed away 10 years ago. I found them inside a game of checkers I was about to teach to my 5 year old daughter how to play. They were written by a young man on an odyssey in search of a calling, mostly from Shanghai, a few from British controlled Hong Kong. I relived the sepia toned feelings of discovery as I read one after the other crepe-thin contents inside air postal envelopes covered in exotic stamps. The discovery I had found then was a profound spacial awareness attained from an itinerant background.


By the time I completed high school I had attended 9 different schools from Washington state to Southern California. I was eighteen and astute at making my way alone, befriending old and young alike. We lived in houses, apartments and mobile homes. We were not a military family, just one wrought in upheaval. I learned to value the sanctity of quiet, indoors or out, entertaining lonely thoughts attempting to comprehend the meaning of it all.

By the time I received my Bachelor of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design I had enrolled in and attended eight different colleges, four of which were junior or community colleges and four were bonafide institutions. My itinerant life never abated. My trans-world odyssey occurred between the transition from the two year college to the four year brand.


Through all of my travels I made an effort to create sanctuaries in what spaces I could to provide a safe nest in which to rest from constant movement. I became adept at transforming the sacred from the raw. Sometimes it was very easy, sometimes impossible and I would be forced to flee from bad juju.

I also learned the freedom of traveling light, through attrition mostly, easing the burden from schlepping unnecessary flotsam through airports, bus and train terminals or hitchhiking. The precious items outside of clothing and a few books were those small artifacts that contained special memories of people or places.


The checker box letters held in them a reminder of why I am compelled to design minimalist spaces for people. Space alone shaped by light has the ability to transform feelings, to inspire thought, to nurture, to offer solace. This awareness impassions me to want to encourage others through invoking awareness in them. I’d like to think I can uplift someone’s outlook by creating a positive environment just by manipulating natural light within a framework of material surfaces.

I am drawn to the simple, sublime materials found in nature or processed raw materials like steel and concrete. I oppose as much as possible layer upon layer of treatments that hide these raw materials. I seek truth in material so the mind is secure through innate familiarity. I am insistent on refraining from designing bloated buildings that gobble resources and create dead space: that which is out of scale for the purpose. Scale is a sublime feature that our brain comprehends as proportional to appropriateness.

The sanctuaries I found most memorable contained the essence of the above features. I learned out of necessity and can recall them when necessary. Following this path gives me peace of mind and guides my design sensibilities.