Friday, October 19, 2012

Professor Interview: Dr. Paul Tesar!

This week we're excited to feature an interview with Dr. Paul Tesar, one of our school's most well-loved and esteemed professors.  Thank you, Dr. Tesar for spending the morning with us answering our questions.

Q: Where did you grow up? What was your favorite part of growing up there?

I grew up in Vienna, the capital of Austria.  In retrospect being there made it apparent that growing up in a city with so many historical layers that are manifested in so many ideologies - political, social, psychological - made me aware of the complexity of the world.  I didn’t grow up in a one-dimensional environment.  The fact that we have traces of Roman times, Romanesque, the period of the middle ages, the Baroque, the 10th century, layered on top of one another produced a totally different world view.

Q: How have your architectural priorities changed from when you were fresh in the field to now?
Well, I started architect school in 1960 it was the height of the modernist, functionalist thinking.  I accepted that premise more or less without question; it made sense, form follows function, who could argue with that?  As I developed and grew older, I started questioning that; realizing it’s a bit more complicated.  One thing that started creeping in was the notion of how culture influences architecture. It’s not just about program, construction, economics.

Q: If you could take your students to see one work of historical architecture, what would it be?  What about one work of modern architecture?
One building that totally overwhelms me is the cathedral in Sienna, Tuscany.  As a spatial experience, the light, materiality, spirituality of the space was palpable and overwhelming.  Off the top of my head, that’s the one, although there are a half dozen others I could mention in the same breath.

The interior space of the Berlin Philharmonic, by Hans Scharoun.  From the outside it’s this awkward, bulky looking building that looks like a stranded whale.  But when you enter, it’s this incredible space designed for music.  Musical space.   You walk in and its one of the few modernist spaces that made me weak in my knees, start tearing up.  Walking in, I thought “Oh my god”.

Q: How do you take your coffee? 
Right here black, without anything.  In Europe one of my favorite places is Nannini, in Sienna.  It’s a coffee bar close to the Piazza del Campo, and they have an espresso machine that seems to be 15 ft long.  The whole places smells like cappuccinos and lattes.  There I get a cappuccino with some pan forte, the sort of local fruit cake, which is much better than American fruit cake.

Q: Is there some lesson that you learned at one point in your career that you’ve returned to many times since?
It may be self defeating, but sometimes I feel what architects take as very important and spend a lot of time and effort on doesn’t seem to matter all that much in life, in a more general perspective.  I feel we are sometimes racking our brains about things that matter very little to most other people.

Another one is that particularly in dwelling the notion of comfort its more important than we generally give it credit.  Comfort over image.  Right now it’s the other way around, may things we admire I feel I wouldn’t want to live there.

Q: From what do you draw daily inspiration?
In general I have to say from animals.  I love animals, I love to watch animals, their directness, their innocence, their sweetness.  I always feel that they have qualities that I wish human beings have but most often don’t.  Interactions with animals makes us more human, and the reverse can also be true.

Q: If you could host your studio in one city (without the interference of the study abroad office), what would it be?  Why?
I would have to say so many cities in India have impressed me, particularly Ahmedabad.  I was impressed with the vivacity of the urban life there. When I’ve been there I’ve had a feeling of a spiritual experience amidst the buzz of ordinary life, of children on motorbikes, and donkeys and camels and cows and people and vendors. Rather than being spiritually inspired by cathedrals, I felt this experience in the middle of the Indian street.  Call it spirituality form below rather than above.  It rose in my body from the sensuality of the place rather than from intellectual and religions feelings. 

Q: What is your favorite non-architecture book?
One book that I keep coming back to is wonderful book by the author Martin Buber called I and Thou.  Ich und Du.  Not a book about religion but rather about how we relate to the world, how we relate to each other.  About the basic philosophy of relation and says we can enter two kinds of experience; an “I-You” relationship, or an “I-It” relationship.  Fascinating.

Thank you for contributing to our interview series, Dr. Tesar!

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