Architect and University of Houston professor of architecture Patrick Peters, recently named Educator of the Year by the American Institute of Architects' Houston Chapter, creates work that's meant to blend into the background. He's designed an amphitheater for an elementary school and a solar shade tree at another school, both of which are meant not to be noticed.
The solar shade tree for example, isn't obviously solar powered. "There are subtle clues as to what that is," he tells us, "but it's a place that has experienced a lot of vandalism and so it was a conscious intention to make the solar array and equipment very subtle. In other words, the students would be able to understand a lot of it through the agency of their teachers, but it wouldn't be on show. When you're under it, you can look up and see the four panels, but it doesn't scream at you. It powers a security light and a ceiling fan and [a battery charging station] which is also discreet. We really intend to create places that people can use and enjoy maybe without even realizing that it's new."
Because in some settings "new" can sometimes translate into "target." In order to create lasting work that would not likely become the target of vandalism, Peters designed structures not likely to be noticed.
What He Does: "I'm an architect and an architectural professor. It's possible to be one or the other, without being both, but because I happen to be both, it increases the number of hats that I wear." One hat Peters doesn't don is that of artist. "I take an issue with the attitude that the architect is an artist. That suggests that the unilateral will of the architect is paramount and I think that's where we get into problems. There's another analogy that I think is more accurate, and that's the architect as a conductor. It's an architect's job to draw out of a number of talented people a more [fully realized] result than would happen otherwise. Even among talented musicians, without someone who's able to coordinate them, the outcome can be cacophony."
Why He Likes It: "I find it's extremely rewarding to make work. I get great joy in working with students, witnessing and orchestrating their journey. I've discovered they have a vertical learning curve. It's like flying to the moon; instead of a gentle curve, it's almost straight up. I also enjoy working with clients and realizing projects."
The part of the process he likes the most is the brainstorming at the start of a project. "The ideation process that happens at the beginning is very enjoyable. I also enjoy working out problems you encounter in a project. It's like working out puzzles or riddles, there's a certain satisfaction in working it out. And of course, who doesn't like the payoff at the end, to be able to actually put yourself in the space and see what you've helped to create. It's extremely elevating -- it's a wonderful feeling."
One thing he particularly enjoys as a professor is witnessing students discover their own skills. "There's always an 'ah-ha!' moment for students when they realize that what they're building looks like the model they created. That's always a great moment to see. I still have those moments, too and they're very satisfying.
What Inspires Him: Music, art and literary works don't directly inspire Peters. "I can certainly find beauty in those things, but for me, I find the conditions of the specific place are what trigger the most ideas. How the conditions come together at the specific place make a difference. Building in Houston is different from building in Galveston, building in Austin is certainly different than building in Marfa. Building on a certain lot in Montrose is different from building on a lot in Meyerland. Every section of Houston has its own character, but then the exact lot in any area has aspects and characteristics that are unique to it."
If Not This, Then What: "I would want to be an engineer; it's something very similar to being an architect, but also very different."
If Not Here, Then Where: "I would love to live in New York or be permanently based in Boston or Los Angles I think Chicago is the most likely place. It's very much like Houston."
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What's Next: Peters is working with a group of students to re-purpose used office cubicles into temporary housing for disaster victims. And a micro-pavilion he designed will soon be constructed at Hermann Park.
Peters says he's looking forward to seeing what's in store for Houston architecture over the next few years, a period during which he expects a lot of growth and accomplishment. "The things that make [Houston] a town that's open for new talent to prove itself, or to succeed, have to do with low levels of restriction and a not too deeply entrenched [hierarchical] system that embraces new ideas. There are periods in Houston where we can see that we've had a great deal of accomplished work produced. I think it's possible that we're moving into that sort of period again."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Jamie Kinosian, visual artist Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator Shanon Adams, dancer James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist Lou Vest, photographer Sara Gaston, stage and screen star Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer Karim Al-Zand, composer Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana MarÃa Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer