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Louis Wasserman from Louis Wasserman & Associates talks to us about narrative architecture


Today we are talking to Louis Wasserman from Louis Wasserman & Associates. Welcome Louis!

Louis Wasserman is an architect and AIA fellow with over 30 years experience, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. He’s worked on national and international projects, has produced award-winning research, and he’s written award-winning books on residential architectural projects.

Louis Wasserman & Associates is Louis Wasserman and Caren Connolly. Caren is landscape designer, and they work together to bring active storytelling to every design and every space, in their practice of narrative architecture.

You might remember that we recently published a story about their very popular Abbott Place House project. If you missed it, you can read about it here

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Louis. Can you give us a little insight into where you get your motivation from? What inspires you?

Narrative architecture inspires me. We believe every design solution or building tells a particular, and entertaining, personal story.

Inside timber kitchen looking towards timber deck

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? How do you start the ideas flowing?

Ours is a collaborative firm of architect and landscape architect who have taught, written four books on residential architecture and done premiated research all to inform our built work.

Borrowing from our award-winning research, we find that the most important step in architecture is defining the question. Once the question is defined, architecture follows.

We ask our clients to write a one-page narrative describing what they see, feel and do upon coming home to their “new” space. We’ve even had clients who provided their narrative story with their own soundtrack that illuminated our translation into architectural process.

Abbott Hill house external at night

What is your process for integrating sustainability into your process? Where do you start?

Caren Connolly and I have been partners, both personal and professional, for over 46 years. As Harvard educated architect and landscape architect, we begin each project from a landscape architectural and an architectural sensibility about what is best for the site and for its program.

The importance of looking at site and the environment at the beginning and throughout the process marries the architecture and the site to their context.

Timber deck and timber wall

What area of sustainability are you most passionate about?

Appropriately integrating landscape and architecture, which covers all the sustainable issues.

Timber deck with views towards the mountains

What is one thing you think your industry could do better to move sustainability forward?

Architecture and Landscape Architecture both draw from art, technology and science. The industry should speak clearly and involve the client in the discussion, so the client understands that the technology, art and science are not different subjects.

Timber house facade with large windows
Timber kitchen with timber flooring, walls and ceiling

What was the biggest design challenge you’ve faced and how did you solve it?

The Abbott house site was our greatest challenge. If the site had had one more degree of slope it would have been, according to CA unbuildable, but they have a building code for that too!

From the perspective of years in practice, the greatest challenge is finding out what clients REALLY need – hence the narrative writing exercise.

Timber lined ceiling in lounge room with timber flooring

What is your favorite project designed by you or your practice?

It is the most recent project; the Abbott Place House

View from timber deck looking towards timber clad house
View from timber lounge room with timber ceiling

What is your favorite sustainable project by other people and why? Please include images

A favorite example is the Octagon house in Watertown, Wisconsin. This home was the first in the State to have indoor plumbing, utilize a grey water system, have a vent chimney and employ terrace doors to maximize daylighting and natural ventilation. The stacked and abundant glazing in the Abbott House along with these other sustainable characteristics can be traced back to this 1854 example.

* Louis and Caren are so passionate about the importance of this house that they included it their book ‘Wisconsin’s Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes’. The home is now a museum and your can read more about it here

Bedroom with timber walls and timber windows

How do you predict that the covid pandemic will affect your industry? Has it affected your designs in any way?

I think there are multi-dimensional implications that will last forever:
1. Social distancing
2. Mid and high rise/elevators office space will all be impacted by remote working
3. High rises repurposed as housing presents the challenge of safe vertical movement and distancing
4. The market for residential as a building type will only get stronger but at the expense of other building types and social interaction. We will need to design for remote working at home and home school space
5. More thought (and money) needs to be devoted to (re)making schools that can accommodate social distancing and increased ventilation demands
6. The life span for many building types will be shortened, while housing lifespan most probably will be lengthened

View into loungeroom with timber walls and timber windows

What is your favourite book, website and podcast?

My favourite books are The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck and The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. My favourite website is www.IMDB.com and 99% invisible is my favourite podcast.

Timber lined hallways looking towards bathroom

And finally, one last question – who inspires you?

My partner, my kids, my clients and my fellow professionals.

Thanks for making the time to talk with us today. It was fascinating to learn about how you use narrative to inspire your work and your predictions of how your industry may be affected post-covid were thought provoking and insightful.

Images courtesy of Louis Wasserman & Associates. Photography by Isaac Resnikoff

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