121 Center St.
Portland, ME 04101
This lecture challenges received notions of site specificity and questions the underpinnings of site-responsiveness in architecture. In architecture, site specificity is generally not controversial or even questioned as the fact of architecture’s connection to a physical site is rarely in doubt. For example, Frank Lloyd Wright strongly argued that “A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings.” Architects such as Wright argued that specific cases of built architecture take primacy over general theories of architectural value, including the implied universalism of the Modern Movement. The art of the 1960’s and 70s presents an alternative to the notion of site as a pre-existing location to which art responds. Artist Robert Irwin’s later work aimed to expand notions of site and the categories of art, “To conceive of the site as ‘constructed’ is to challenge it’s given, immutable qualities.” (Martin Hogue) Irwin’s proposed 4 expanded categories of art in relation to site (Site Dominant, Site Adjusted, Site Specific, Site Conditioned/Determined) to define various relations between art its surroundings. These approaches supersede the disciplinary categories of “art” “architecture” “landscape” and “city” which become undifferentiated in the work.
Using contemporary art as a path towards rethinking some old assumptions, the lecture unpacks alternative ways that the architecture–site relationship appears in the work of Actual Architecture Co. and the student design-build practice, FACT. The lecture concludes by reconsidering site specificity as the suitable matching of prototype to site: generic shape as site adjusted architecture. In this process the architect takes on the role of product developer and site adjuster instead of the more familiar role as designer of supposedly unique objects.
Jeff is Douglass Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Nebraska and founding principal of Actual Architecture Company. At UNL Jeff runs FACT, an interdisciplinary designbuild studio that engages nonprofits and communities in collaborations that span design and construction.
Jeff received an AB in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College in 1988 and a Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley in 1995. In 2018, after 15 years practicing as a founding principal of Min | Day (San Francisco & Omaha), Jeff founded Actual Architecture Company (Actual.AC), an internationally recognized architecture and design firm based in Omaha, Nebraska and operating around the world with expansive vision. Jeff draws on his background in art, landscape, and architecture to provide informed, highly considered design for a wide range of clients, sites, and projects – from individuals to art institutions, urban to rural settings, and furniture to buildings and master plans. By maximizing the potential of both academic and professional practices, Actual.AC integrates design-research, speculative design practice, and a commitment to building highly refined yet flexible architecture with diverse clients.
Jeff has garnered numerous awards including a 2022 Residential Architect Design Award, The Plan Award 2021, a 2019 Progressive Architecture Award, the Architectural League of New York’s 2016 Emerging Voices, Architectural Record’s 2009 Design Vanguard, the 2007 AIA California Council’s Emerging Talent award, New Practices San Francisco 2009, Residential Architect’s 2010 Rising Star, Architectural Record’s 2003 archrecord2, over 80 national, regional, and state AIA design awards, 11 ACSA design awards, 3 IDEC creative scholarship awards, 4 university teaching awards, and more.
Jeff’s work has been exhibited at the Nebraska History Museum, Museum of Design Atlanta, Sheldon Art Museum, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (4 shows), Kaneko (2 shows), little gallery (Omaha) Luggage Store (San Francisco), Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (East Lansing), Ide@s Gallery (Shanghai), AIA San Francisco Gallery, Smart Museum (Chicago), Center For Architecture (New York), Harvard University Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, and numerous other university galleries.
If you weren’t in the architecture field, what would you be doing?
Failing as a conceptual artist.
Where is the next place you want to travel?
Ethiopia, with my daughter.
How do you take your coffee?
A little cream and a tiny amount of sugar.
What is the first thing do you do to procrastinate?
When you were younger, what did you think you would be doing at this point in your life?
Practicing architecture, but teaching was not part of the mix.
What was your first car?
1976 Volkswagen Microbus, previously owned and not maintained by most kids in Camden-Rockport
What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?
Every year I re-read Lawrence Weschler’s “Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One
Sees” on Robert Irwin, so I would definitely recommend it
Where is the farthest place you have traveled?
How many times have you been to Maine?
I grew up mostly in Maine (ages 4-8 in Bath and from age 15 in Rockport, through summers
during college) and I spend some time in Maine every year.
What hobby do you wish you could spend more time on?
Outside of your own work, what is your strongest architectural experience?
A toss-up between the Soane Museum in London and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome
Models: digital or physical?
What is your favorite restaurant? Favorite item to eat at that restaurant?
La Buvette, Omaha; Haricot Verts with Pancetta & Parmesan