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Zocalo At The Hammer: A Conversation Between Gus Van Sant and Brad Cloepfil

Zocalo At The Hammer: A Conversation Between Gus Van Sant and Brad Cloepfil

Tuesday night, I attended the conversation between Portland-based director Gus Van Sant and architect Brad Cloepfil at the Hammer. I enjoy the work of both and have known several people who have worked at Cloepfil’s firm, Allied Works, in Portland–but I have never had the opportunity to see him present his work.

Probably the most interesting thing about the evening was the lack of visuals. There were no slides and no clips. One member of the audience complained about it during the Q/A but, as someone who attends a lot of architectural lectures, I found it refreshing to not be distracted by the visuals: I could focus completely on what was being said about their process, their ideas, their inspiration.

Zocalo At The Hammer: A Conversation Between Gus Van Sant and Brad Cloepfil

The evening began with Gus Van Sant asking Cloepfil about why he lives in Portland (for both, it seemed to be a respite from the noise of places like NY and LA: it is a place where they are most productive) and how does one find inspiration. Cloepfil meandered a bit on this topic, but essentially he believes architecture is a means of mining things – they do not have to be new things or even profound – to create a lens that brings insight into things. In a way he feels they both “edit” experiences and the goal for him “is not to expand but to limit the conversation.”

Van Sant actually contradicted this notion though: he feels that in film “scale is preferable, “To make it personal AND include a vastness.” I would have loved to hear more about this idea but the talk then moved onto Cloepfil’s Wieden + Kennedy project, basically the project that really instigated his career.

The most interesting part of the conversation, for me at least, was towards the end when Gus Van Sant talked about how HE found inspiration in a fleeting moment. He might be at the airport, see someone selling something, something that is not officially sanctioned at the airport, maybe they are raising money for the deaf and he will want to find out that person’s story. You could feel the entire audience wanting to hear more about this process but unfortunately he got cut short by Cloepfil and his work.

Zocalo At The Hammer: A Conversation Between Gus Van Sant and Brad Cloepfil

I wish we had the opportunity to hear more about Van Sant’s process, many of the questions (including a horrific moment when a woman essentially asked for his email address for her 21 year old daughter who is in Portland and needs a job) were addressed to him: I believe the audience felt the same way. He is well spoken and clearly is very aware and thoughtful regarding his filmmaking.

My impression of Cloepfil was of someone who has an almost pessimistic view of architecture. On more than one occasion he made a disparaging reference to “corporate” architecture and even stating that there are only two kinds of architecture: architecture as commodity, which is about replication and making money, and the 1% (very clever to hit that note!) who do it for the ideas and architecture that lives on its merits. I disagree with this statement: I do not believe architecture can be boiled down to these two extremes and in fact it does the profession a disservice to characterize it as such. Is his work for Pixar not a commodity? Is Frank Gehry’s work not considered a commodity AND in that 1%? I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on the subject, particularly folks who work in the industry.

Kudos to both Zocalo and the Hammer for continuing to put on interesting programming; it is refreshing to see architects outside of the academic environment and I would love to see more of these at other cultural locations throughout the city. And, as we close the conversation, a heads up: in December the Hammer will have a Saul Bass event (!!) and on November 22 they will screen This is Where We Take Our Stand with not-so-secret guest Tom Morello doing an acoustic set.


Meara Daly

Meara Daly is a founding partner of NelsonDaly, a content and communications consultancy for designers and architects. She has collaborated with architects on the East and West coast (but not in the middle) and coordinated events and communications services for the late, great Form Zero Bookstore + Gallery. She provides content, writing, and editing services for a number of private clients who often have issues with grammar. Proving that maybe high school was not as bad as she thought, she met her amazing now Sonoma-based partner in the 10th grade. Meara lives in Silverlake with her architect husband and six year old daughter. You can get in touch with her on Twitter, Tumblr, and on her Website.

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