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Q+A with Architect Robert Hutchison

By GRAY editors

Images courtesy Robert Hutchinson

Robert Hutchison, Altrospazio Photography

What began as a personal exercise for Seattle-based architect Robert Hutchison, has become much more.

A series of unbuilt structures, designed by Hutchison and eventually with his studio team, will be on view in Gallery4Culture through the month of May, as a part of 4Culture’s 2017-2018 exhibition season. By designing plans and in some cases, models, for eight structures in an exploration of different building typologies, Hutchison has created something sublime and enigmatic with Memory Houses: Nine Allegorical Works of ArchitectureThe exhibit explores the themes of memory and loss through the lens of architecture made up of models, drawings, and written narrative from Hutchison.

For Hutchison, the exhibit is deeply personal. In 2015 when his father began to experience rapid memory loss, Hutchison turned to a latent project that he and his father had started designing twenty years prior on the Eastern shore of Maryland, where Hutchison spent time in his youth, that never became realized. Starting with an existing building on the site, a house and milk house that were both built around 1700, Hutchison began to construct a story about the significance of memory that eventually yielded eight works of “allegorical” architecture. First, a winery that he designed in architecture school two decades prior, gave way to the next buildings, a chapel, and columbarium. These architectural explorations in 2015, Hutchison says, were “an attempt to continue a conversation of sorts with my father that I could no longer have otherwise.” In 2016 when his father passed away, Hutchison continued to explore his project deeper, this time bringing his studio into the fold as collaborators.

We delved deeper into the project with Hutchison to uncover more about what the process brought to him and his practice, and through that, discovered how a project affected by death turned out to really be about life.

Memory Houses

Telescope House and Milk House in Wye Mills, Maryland. Constructed circa 1700.

Memory Houses

Project in Design, 1995: "The winery building was designed by a son for his father, an avid wine enthusiast who had begun planting grape vines on the site ten years before. Directly mimicking the nearby Telescope House, the building consists of a series of nesting gable forms, each gable referencing a part of the winemaking process. The structure is strategically sited at the crest of the hill above the vineyards." -From Memory Houses

Memory Houses

Model: Columbarium (House for Remains). "The Columbarium is designed for the family that owns and operates the winery. In contrast to the adjoining horizontal winery facility, the Columbarium develops a vertical relationship between earth and sky. Access to the structure is through a descending path into a semi-subterranean chapel covered by a pyramidal superstructure clad in shingles that are treated with pine tar (the same treatment found in the stave churches of Norway). The pyramidal roof strongly references the old milk house on the property."

-From Memory Houses. Mark Woods Photography, Jill Hardy

Memory Houses

Model: Memory House for a Widow. "A boathouse and a dwelling sit side by side on the banks of the river, like an old married couple … individuals with their own physical identities and personalities, yet undeniably connected. The dwelling looks towards life - towards the winery on the top of the hill. The boathouse looks towards death - towards the Lighthouse situated across the river. The railroad terminates in the boathouse, and serves as a marine railway to launch an eastern shore draketail workboat that is typically suspended in the boathouse." -From Memory Houses. Mark Woods Photography

Memory Houses

Project in design: Light House (Memorial). "The Lighthouse is a Memorial. Its asymmetrical shape and perforated cladding allude to a body draped by fabric. The interior is a single space, circulation is continuous from bottom to top to bottom … one experience, looped. " -From Memory Houses

Memory Houses

Project in design: Round House (Museum). "The Roundhouse provides shelter for locomotives of varying lengths, and allows for locomotives to be turned around. Below the Roundhouse is a subterranean museum to house a collection of model railroad locomotives and associated railroad cars. Similar to the Colosseum, stair access to the museum is perpendicular to the curve of the building." -From Memory Houses

Memory Houses

Project in design: Carillon Tower (House for Bells). "The Carillon Tower is a building that is played as an instrument. A playing cabin for the carillonneur is located within the center of the tower, surrounded by the bells." -From Memory Houses

Memory Houses

Project in design: Signal Box (House for a Train Engineer). "The Signal Box houses signaling equipment for the railroad. The accompanying bridge provides pedestrian access across the railroad. The two structures are like a hinge, inseparable yet reliant on one other." -From Memory Houses

Memory Houses

Project in design: Archive (House for Maquettes). "The Archive consists of a family of small buildings, each designed to house a physical model. Each building maintains an individual personality, yet collectively they make a whole." -From Memory Houses


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