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Architectural Bucket List

Life of an Architect Podcast

Architectural Bucket List

By Bob Borson, FAIA | May 27, 2019

Today we are talking about Architectural Bucket lists. Everyone knows what a bucket list is – things you want to do or achieve in your life. For an architect, this could be visiting Therme Vals in Switzerland by Peter Zumthor, or if this was prior to 1969, maybe it would be smoking cigars with Mies van der Rohe.

Items that an architect would put on their Architectural Bucket list could cover a lot of ground, but that’s what we are going to be talking about today. Preparing for this show was actually agony for me because I tend to not identify with favorites. There is an ebb and flow to my interests and while I might really like something today, chances are better than good that I will replace this current object of my fascination with something else before too long.

Never the less, let’s see where our current interest lies as of today.


Who would you like to have as an ideal “Architect” buddy for your life/practice? I would assume that this would be a famous architect but it doesn’t have to be. But let’s put the caveat on here that they have to be living?

I chose Renzo Piano. While there may be a language issue, as pointed out by Bob, I went a more professional route and chose him based on my appreciation for his work and the impact his friendship might have on my own work. So for this one, it would be a true “architecture buddy”. I think Renzo is thoughtful in his work and he has a fantastic sense of detail and creativity. He has long been an architect that I admire, so therefore I would want him for my practice side of life.  As noted in our conversations, I chose a different direction of thought than Borson on this one.

This was a tough one for me because most of the architects who I admire are probably too mature to actually enjoy spending time with me. Answering this question came down to narrowing a few perceived character traits. Do they like to party? Could we talk about something other than architecture? And for what traits have I selected them? Design? Technical prowess? Business acumen? Originality in their thinking? How about all of these items? For that reason, I went with Tom Kundig. On one hand, this seems like it would be a popular choice, the non-architect’s choice, but I chose Tom because I like the technical nature in which he designs appeals to my own process. I would live in every house he has ever designed, he looks like he enjoys what he does and despite the ability to change the scale of the projects he tackles he has continued to accept and design single-family residential works.

I almost went with Omar Ghandi but he seems either so cool as to appear disinterested in everything or maybe he’s mean. Every project of his I love but whenever I see pictures of him, he seems too intense to be my friend … but maybe I’m wrong about that.



This would be a location you would like to visit. It could be a broad point and/or a very specific one … I’m not even sure that it has to be “architectural.”

I chose a region of a country for this one. Bavaria Germany was my choice as a “place”. I have never been to this area so it holds a romantic mystique for me. I feel drawn by my ideas of the mixture of landscape, history, architecture, food, and drink. I believe I would enjoy this area for all of those reasons and more. While I am a “modernist” at heart, the idea of traveling through medieval towns and visiting castles while enjoying great food and beer sounds like the best experience imaginable.

For me, I think I would go for a broad categorization and say “Japan”.  I won’t admit to being an expert on traditional Japanese architecture, but it is one of the places that have the most interest to me. The way the Japanese culture seemed to want to integrate itself into the landscape while maintaining complete dominion and control over it is something that I’ve always felt that I needed to experience in order to have a better understanding. Meanwhile, when I think of Japan, the words that come to my mind are: tranquility, solitude, focus and order – and all those seem pretty good to me. 



I would imagine that there is a particular building that as architects we should want to visit … but picking a particular one? Oh jeez – that’s almost impossible but let’s give it a go.

A very strange choice for me here as well as I am not usually bound to historical work. I chose the Pyramids of Egypt. I recently had a wonderful conversation with the jury of the 2019 TxA Design Awards during the first part of May. The pyramids came up and all the jurors had such wonderful things to say. “Trip of a lifetime”…  “Definitely must see” … “I was in awe” … etc., etc. I have always wanted to visit these wondrous pieces of ancient architecture, but after this discussion, it sealed the deal. There are so many reasons I want to see these structures, but mainly it is so I can actually fathom their size and presence. I think they are one of the places that photos can never do justice, but that may be all great places come to think about it.

There are two buildings that come to mind, but only because they are currently floating around the top of my brain at the moment, ask me again tomorrow and I’ll have a different answer. I want to bring my wife and daughter to Sainte Marie de La Tourette, a Dominican Order Priory located in Lyon, France but I’ve already been there. I was there almost 30 years ago and I still remember the impact that building had on me.
The other building that I want to visit is Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor located in Vals, Switzerland. There’s a quote I found that was the underlying question pursued by Peter Zumthor in creating his world-famous masterpiece.
“Mountain, stone, water – building in stone, building with stone, building into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how is it possible to create an architectural interpretation of the meaning and sensory significance contained in these words by translating them into architecture?”



This would be your selection of an architectural item or just something you really want. Basically, we are just talking about cool things here.

The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman Photo: Unknown

Easy call here. This has been on my bucket list of ownership for years. I would like to own an original era Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. I would take any authentic form of this chair, but I would really prefer to have in my possession one of the original production era versions which were from 1956 to 1960. I would also take a second generation chair (1961-1971) and feel quite special as well. The chair has been in production consistently by Herman Miller since 1956 with a version 3 (1971-1991) and version 4 ( 1992 – present)  which can be purchased from multiple retailers and still commands a hefty price tag for a chair. But also there are a multitude of knock offs of this chair available on the open market. I could purchase one of these and I am almost certain 90% of the persons who viewed it would not notice a difference, but I prefer an original which is actually difficult to find and rather pricey.

1969 Jaguar XKE II convertible

This might surprise those of you that know me because I am infamously not a car guy … but my architectural bucket list item would be a 1969 Jaguar XKE II a 4.2 6-cylinder with 4-speed manual transmission of pure automotive beauty. Everyone knows you have to be a scoundrel to drive a jag and I think I have a look to pull it off. The one shown in the picture above can currently be your’s for only $129,900.



What would be your dream project to design and have built? This could be a project type, scale or just about anything.

Museums. They seem so free and strongly design-oriented, and in that sense, I mean that have large design gesture that can define the full project. The ideas of these projects always seem to be very strong in my opinion. For that reason, I would like to be able to design a  museum projects. Or multiple of them as a project type. They are high profile, public projects that are typical “statement makers” in the professional practice of an architect. I am not sure the first one would not make me never want to do another as they are large scale projects typically with multiple stakeholders and therefore could be a management nightmare, but I would still be very willing to give it a go and get one under my belt.

Oof. This one is hard … like really hard. Can I take a pass? No – I’ll answer. I would really like to design modern houses in the remote wilderness. It can be in almost any climate or location but something trending towards the extreme. Deserts, Snow, cliffs, mountains … I’m actually getting tingly just thinking about it. Okay, maybe that wasn’t so hard after all … plus I’ve already done one of these sorts of projects and it was amazing.



This could be a conference or some other event. Like Biennale or the Bauhaus 100 or the Mid Century Week in Palm Springs. I am sure there are others.  Maybe it’s one of these architectural residency programs.

Glenn Murcutt Master Class Photo: unknown/ worldarchitecture.org

This one is an easy one, yet at the moment brings me some misery. My choice here is the Glenn Murcutt Master Class in Australia. This is a two-week program that allows architects to have a studio environment and create a project like during college. The main draw of the program is that architect Glenn Murcutt is one of the main instructors. This event has occurred annually since 2001. I was accepted to the program for the 2019 session. But due to several factors, I will not be able to attend. I was allowed to defer acceptance for one year, but I was also informed this may be the last year of the program.

Ghost Architectural Laboratory – Enough House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple

For me, I think I would attend the Ghost Residency that is put on by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple. It’s a 9-month residency and is based at MacKay-Lyons’ studio at his farm on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia – the satellite office of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects; the site of the legendary Ghost Architectural Laboratory; and in the historic village where many of the firm’s best-known projects continue to be built. This is the research workshop for their house design practice.



What one tool would you like to master instantly. Software? Pencil? Kung Fu?

Technical Ink Pens. Photo: uknown

This one was difficult for me. I got a bit crafty and may have actually created a two for one here. My tool of choice was The Pen. From my perspective, I mean the ability to use a pen to create visualizations that get ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper. So I am assuming a complete unparalleled mastery of this tool. While this could be construed as the skill of drawing rather than the mastery of the pen as a tool, I would argue that my definition still works. I want to master the tool of the pen which means I am able to make it represent whatever I would like. So, therefore, in my opinion, mastering the use of a pen involves artistry and drawing abilities.  This is no different than learning software as a tool to convey your ideas in a digital form.  Not surprising that Borson disagrees.

I hate my answer to this question but I think it would have to be either Revit or ArchiCAD. I used to be really great at AutoCAD – in fact, I probably still am, but things have apparently passed that drafting platform by and if I had mastery of some BIM platform I think it might give me some freedom as I am currently reliant on others in my office to do some things for me. Part of the reason I hate that answer is that I don’t think that my time is best served by drafting but I know how my design process works and it does require the specificity that drafting provides.

[40:28 mark]
For this episode, we have a new hypothetical to consider. Here is the situation:

You have just learned from a high-ranking government official that an airborne virus was released by terrorists around the globe and as a result, the zombie apocalypse will begin in 3 days. You have been informed that these are the slow-moving variety of zombie and that 90% of the world’s population will be infected and will ultimately die off over the next 5 years. You are being notified because your DNA, which is conveniently on file, alerted aforementioned government officials that you will be part of the 10% that is unaffected. How will you use these 3 days to prepare?

Once again, Andrew and I disagree on how effective each others survival tactics will be … and somehow I turn out to be a bad guy for wanting to save the human race AND get credit for doing so. We almost came to blows over this.

I have gone through this exercise – the one where you sit down and think about  which particular location you want to visit, the car you would like to purchase, the people you would like to meet, etc., a few times before and as I looked through those past lists, I appeared that my interests and tastes have predictably evolved in most instances. I’m not sure that I would place any of these items into the “goals” category, more of the “it would be nice if …”


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