Interview with Faulkner Architects Director Greg Faulkner

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    We learn how the Californian landscape informs the work of architecture practice Faulkner Architects with director Greg Faulkner.

    Architect Greg Faulkner’s interest in the field was piqued when he toured the office of his now father-in-law. A career in the aircraft design industry left him hungry for a new challenge, founding his own practice in 1998. Since, Faulkner Architects have earned global recognition for their use of material, creating homes that seamlessly integrate with their environment.

    Faulkner Architects’ portfolio ranges from a Cor-Ten steel family home among the treetops featured in est Magazine issue #31 to a home built around a series of boulders. We sat down with Greg Faulkner to speak about the role climate plays in their work and how his team are designing prefabricated housing on a sustainable carbon footprint.

    What inspired you to pursue a career in architecture? 

    Greg Faulkner: I was working as a design engineer in the aircraft industry. I had spent two years on the wing group of the Citation III at Cessna and two years with LearAvia on a graphite-epoxy business turboprop plane. I met an architect, David Welles, who became my father-in-law. We spent the day together one day touring his office, which included a small design studio off to the side.

    I got pretty excited – there were half a dozen guys inside with a bunch of models and renderings, markers and yellow trace. I could be comfortable in this environment, I thought to myself. I can do this.

    A few site visits followed, including projects at various stages. Aircraft design was great, but it wasn’t my passion. I made life changes quickly, and after finishing a BA at the University of New Mexico, I was admitted to MIT, completing a Master of Architecture in 1987.

    How does the Californian landscape inform your work?

    Greg Faulkner: Our focus is on the making of places that connect to the landscapes they inhabit. In order to do this, we must be in intimate conversation with the specific details of the site. The built form(s) are intended to be intensifications of the qualities that exist.

    We carefully observe the trees and plants and how they inhabit the slopes. The architecture can then be fitted into the site, allowing the nature of the place to survive. We use the materials from the site, for instance, the tree species might inform the type of wood used on the project.

    How would you best describe your work; what elements define Faulkner Architects?

    Greg Faulkner: We try not to have an aesthetic.  Form and material must be earned. Nothing is done for aesthetic reasons alone. The direction for the work is ordered first by orientation to sun, wind, views, and ease of construction.

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    The Lookout House by Faulkner Architects features the Mantis Floor Lamp, designed by Bernard Schottlander for DCW Editions and the Metropolitan Armchair, designed by Jeffrey Bernett for B&B Italia.

    “We use the materials from the site, for instance, the tree species might inform the type of wood used on the project.”

     

    – Greg Faulkner

    est living greg faulkner lookout house

    Lookout House by Faulkner Architects

    Who or what has had the largest influence on your work?

    Greg Faulkner: The way Alvar Aalto’s buildings inhabit their sites and his use of natural materials in a way that’s driven by human touch had a large impact on me and what I thought an architect should be. His sketches are amazing as if in one gesture, a pencil line drawing is built up in layers. In search of form, the sketch includes a plan, section, and elevation in one drawing – they are fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, you should.

    What do you enjoy most about residential architecture?

    Greg Faulkner: Shelter is primal – the act of living is the experience that nourishes us and connects us to each other and our contexts. Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa describes it as: “The phenomenology of architecture is founded on verbs rather than nouns. The approaching of the house, not the facade; the act of entering, not the door; the act of looking out of the window, not the window itself; or the act of gathering around, rather than the hearth or the table as such, seem to trigger our strongest emotions.”

    This is profound – it removes ‘what it looks like’ from the conversation and focuses our attention on what it feels like.

    You’ve designed homes all around America in various climates. What makes designing in your home state of California so special?

    Greg Faulkner: The variation of the natural landscape here is extraordinary. We have projects in the desert, the mountains, and oak-covered rolling hills of Napa and the bay.  Every project comes with a different set of constraints and opportunities. The reversal of climates and variation of context creates a heightened level of observation and sensitivity. This intensifies the setting for the story of the family and the inhabitation of their chosen place on the planet.

    What do you find most rewarding about managing a global-recognised architecture firm?

    Greg Faulkner: The folks you meet. As our reach grows, the people and clients we work with enrich our narrative and propel the practice forward.

    What is the most significant project you’ve designed to date and why?

    Greg Faulkner: We are in development on a small prefabricated house of 480 square feet, called the Mini Camper. It is a 12′ x 40′ shed form sheathed in corrugated corten with fold-down awnings that close and protect the house from fire and weather. It will be completely turnkey, delivered to the site as a finished building. We have three planned in different locations so far.

    One is for a family whose house burned in the fires last year. This will serve as temporary housing while their house is being built. The Mini Camper will be affordable to many and will help fill the void of available emergency housing following natural disasters. Its carbon footprint will be minimised by fabrication in a controlled environment.

    Design Insider’s Guide:

    Favourite local designers and studios?

    Greg Faulkner: Gulassa and Company in Seattle. Stefan Gulassa makes amazingly crafted metal, wood, and acrylic furniture pieces. They seem to come from the same cloth as our work.

    Favourite design stores?

    Greg Faulkner: The Gardener, near my office on Fourth Street in Berkeley. It’s more of a wabi-sabi store – everything feels of the earth. I go in sometimes just to feel the atmosphere.

    Favourite galleries or spaces?

    Greg Faulkner: Oracle Stadium, the home of the San Francisco Giants. We can walk there from our place, and if you sit up a bit, you can see the bay. The setting – close to the city and on the bay – elevates the game as we are connected to the place.

    Where do you go to look at great design?

     

    Greg Faulkner: Everywhere – we travelled to Tanzania and Greece separately in the past year prior to the pandemic. In Santorini, one can observe the organic inhabitation of the hillsides by the connected fabric of consistent materials and colour of individual houses. The white colour is a shared technology that reflects heat.

    The monuments are of course impactful. They drip with the emotion of the years they have seen. However, it’s the vernacular and indigenous fabric that I am drawn to. Also, the Maasai villages in East Africa – the way all of the dwellings’ entries face one direction and away from the wind is awe-inspiring.

    est living greg faulkner

    Greg Faulkner

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2 comments on “Interview with Faulkner Architects Director Greg Faulkner

  1. We agree with your predisposition (articulated by Pallasmaa) that how and where we live should favor verbs over nouns. Our studio practices a belief that well designed spaces should create emotions not abstractions; real life not stiffness; places that nurture as we cross thresholds from day to day, moment to moment, in contextual connection. We admire your work!

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