Tod & Billie Musing #2

When Tod Williams and Billie Tsien talk about their working process, their architecture, they say more about personal experience and preference, and how it influences their work, much more than other architects. This perhaps owes to the duo's diverse background and their working and personal relationship, though whatever the reason it's a refreshing antidote to architectural jargon focused more on form than experience. Their occasional quips in the lecture the other night that situated the two as near polar opposites of each other reminded me of a conversation with Peter Zumthor published in a 2G monograph on the firm. Here's a relevant snippet.
Peter Zumthor: I try to makes something as whole and complete and simple as possible in expectation of the future life of the building, or the use of the building to come. What would you say is different in the way you work?

Billie Tsien: We're looking for wholeness, too, but when we work on a project, it feels like a lot of stitches or different threads that come together, balancing the different pieces that are part of it. [...]

Tod Williams: [...] We take many of these stitches with a desire for wholeness but realizing, I think, that it won't come. And I'm not sure we want it to come.

Peter Zumthor: [...] How do you find out more about wanting or not wanting wholeness? Could it be connected with the relationship between the landscape and the piece of architecture? I know that I feel this passion for containment and space, a contained space, the intimacy of being protected by architecture.

Tod Williams: I'm never interested in that, although it's interesting when I see it in your work and desire it through your work. I would want a feeling that comes and goes, almost as if you could slide in and out of it. When it's very limited I feel alarmed.

Billie Tsien: I think, if I imagine a box, I'm looking for quiet and movement. But you, Tod, I think you're looking for the way out. The box would have corners that are not complete so that it contains you but you can always leave. I think even physically you feel trapped if you don't have a way out.

Tod Williams: I want multiple ways out, in fact.
Tod & Billie Musing #1


  1. What a great professional blog, the best I have ever seen. Congratulations! I hope you don't mind me taking some ideas in terms of layout and structure.
    Best wishes

  2. As part a class, I visited Tod and Billie's firm this past weekend and was able to meet and talk with Tod and another senior project manager. Tod was more down to earth than some of my professors, yet much more successful.

    Tod spoke about how he avoids commercial projects because of how important the personal connection with the client is, and you just don't get that with huge corporations.

    It speaks a lot for the two of them (Tod and Billie) that their office is set up just like a a college studio space, one big room with a bunch of desks. Neither of them have separate offices, just desks along with everybody else's.

    Tod gave my class a great little talk about the way he views architecture and his works, which was the best part of the trip.

    He strangely reminds me of a typical "hockey dad."

  3. Wish I had gone, had nothing to do either, just a brain lapse. Hey John can you keep publishing these upcoming lectures?


  4. When I met Tod and Billie earlier in the year at a conference I also found them to be down to earth and refreshing devoid of the dreaded "architect's ego"!

    I covered Billie's presentation in detail over at my site.


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