the W.O.R.D. : an Interview with Chris Warren

Keeping with the agenda of a critical examination of the world, Jargon ETC sat down with Mr. Christopher Warren of the Los Angeles based W.O.R.D.. Chris is an architect who founded W.O.R.D. in 2009 following working in the practices of Shift Studio and Morphosis. Working at Morphosis, Chris was involved in various projects including the Madrid Housing and NYC2012 Olympic projects.

His current practice name is an acronym for 'Warren Office of Research and Design,' and states a goal to rigorously apply ideas and a create a thorough understanding of the problem at the architectural project at hand. [1] W.O.R.D has worked on projects in Los Angeles and around the world, a full catalog of which can be found on their website. In addition to working on international projects, Christ is LEED AP certified and teaches full time at the University of Southern California School of Architecture.

Here are some excepts from our interview, the full text of which can be read below in the Scribd window.

ETC - the blog, the questioner.
CW - Chris Warren, the questionee

[1] - quoted from the 'about' section of W.O.R.D


ETC W.O.R.D. expresses a commitment to criticality, which is something we love at Jargon ETC. What aspects of a project should generate a critical response? What condition(s) are you most critical of? Generally speaking, much recent criticism has been levied on “formally extravagant” architecture, especially during the economic downturn. Do you feel that this affects your creation of critical work?

CW All aspects of a problem can generate a critical response, but usually only a few warrant one in any given exploration. We always try to examine a project in its context. When I say context, I don’t mean its geographical location and surroundings, but rather, the cultural, social and political climate in which it’s taking place. Only after thorough reflection and research on these topics can we begin to predict what may be appropriate now and thirty years into the future.

You brought up the term ‘formal extravagance’ in your question, and I feel that it always deserves criticism, not simply when it occurs in an economic downturn. The word extravagance really sums up the problem as an unrestrained construction of the unnecessary. Aesthetically we’re now capable of nearly anything, but it seems that the majority of form-based architecture is mere decoration. It tells us nothing of the time we live in, and we are no better for having seen it. Formal extravagance places architecture in the realm of sculpture, but architecture is more than that. I saw an interview in which Richard Serra said that architecture is not an art, because true art has no ‘use.’ I agree. Architecture must function! Above that, great architecture has the power to enlighten us, but not simply by aesthetic means, or by making us exclaim, “Wow, look at what we can do with the computer!” Rather, there’s a real, intimate understanding waiting to be discovered, a dialogue and relationship between our spatial constructions and human interaction. My work now, and especially my work in the future, will focus on the use of architecture as a tool to research and provoke that human experience and forward our understanding of the world in which we live.

I know that what I do is considered ‘formally extravagant’ by some. But, it takes a trained eye to see beyond the form to the richness of the work, the research and the intent. That also goes for many projects done by other architects around the world, sometimes the richness is there, but more often, it’s not.

ETC Sustainability. This has been the big buzz word of the last few years among the profession with LEED and the USGBC occupying spaces in the credits for most large projects. How do you view your office’s role in sustainability?

CW I believe that the topics that fall under the umbrella term of sustainability are important and must be addressed. But honestly, sustainable design is something I’ve always done, whether it was in Boulder where we were all taking mandatory ecology classes and dealing with passive heating and cooling means in studio, or while I was at Morphosis where all of the projects we touched addressed these ideas long before LEED became a buzzword. I do it. Everyone should do it. But it should never have become a word abused by organizations and corporations. They simply co-opted a term, turned it into a niche market and now make millions by exploiting it. In some ways it’s good that it happened, but it didn’t happen in the right way. In short, I’m a sustainable designer because I want to be. I’m a LEED AP because I have to be.

ETC You have been involved in well received projects, like the Taiwan CDC, that were also not built. What are some things that you learned from these experiences? What would you have changed?

CW The Taiwan project was an entry for a two stage international competition that eventually received an honorable mention. I completed that project while a partner at Studio Shift. Of seven finalists, the top three were Taiwanese led entries while the other four were foreign led teams. I’ve learned that some things, no matter how good the design, are out of our control. We were really trying to win, and in retrospect, we nearly killed ourselves completing a competition in which we realistically never had a chance. If I could do it over, I would, but I wouldn’t necessarily try to win. Rather, I’d use the time and effort to explore new ideas and provocations.


ETC What is your opinion on contemporary "building construction / building design" culture outside of the US?

CW Spain and Korea are kicking our asses...hard, and nearly everyone else at least came to watch. Dubai and China are completely open-minded, but they’re usually building for all of the wrong reasons, showmanship and greed.

Our faltering is a function of a conservative, extremely capitalistic and risk adverse society. For the most part, we build easy buildings, and do it cheaply. When we build well, it’s usually because of a foreseen economic gain, one that ‘starchitect’ status can bring to a development. Other countries are willing to take a chance and will put forth resources and the time to see things through, because of pride and longevity. Our current state of design is a consequence of having dealt with this quagmire for as long as anyone can remember, and even with the new administration, things will most likely not get better for modern design. Really, where do you think Obama would rather live, in a knock-off Tudor or the Mobius House?


Anonymous said...

um, Obama did live in a tudor knockoff.

Anonymous said...

I think that's what he's alluding to.

Anonymous said...


劉德華Andy said...


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