Renowned architects Williams and Tsien share beauty found in architecture


Photo by Trey Powers

By Nicholas Polinsky | Herald Contributor

Most people spend a significant portion of their lives inside various buildings, whether these structures are for work, school, home, or other purposes. Despite this, the intricacies and purposes of architecture are rarely appreciated by many people.

However, world-renowned architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien see architecture in a very favorable light, and hope to spread their philosophy through their works.

Williams and Tsien visited the RWU campus as guests for the President’s Distinguished Speakers Series. Their presentation described five projects: four which have already been completed, and one that is still in the works.

The current project which they spoke about is the Obama Presidential Center. After sharing their ideas and sketches with former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, the Obamas approved their project.

With plans to finish the Center in 2021, Williams and Tsien hope that the desired effects of education, story-making, and storytelling will come about.

Tsien spoke of how the purpose of the Center is not to focus on just Obama, but all of the people who helped him along the way as well. It is not a building of one big story, but rather of many small stories. In their architectural plans, the detail is extensive – they even plan to put a basketball court in the Center, as the sport played a large role in Obama’s life.

In addition, the Center will give back to the community through education and the ability for every visitor to leave their own mark.

Referring to the Center and its purpose, Tsien said, “it’s about educating young people to be active citizens in the world. It’s the project of a lifetime.”

According to statements on their website, Williams and Tsien “see architecture as an act of profound optimism. Its foundation lies in believing that it is possible to make places on the earth that can give a sense of grace to life – and believing that this matters. It is what we have to give and it is what we leave behind.”

Both of the architects spoke of how they have a personal connection with all of their works. They also spent time detailing some of their designing strategies and beliefs.

When talking about the choice not to use uniform stones in a project, Tsien said, “it’s inconsistency that makes things feel alive and human.”

Williams spoke of how their “work proceeds slowly,” not because they do not have the ambition to finish or that they lack the resources, but because Williams, Tsien, and their crew want to make sure that their projects fulfill their purposes, and will last for generations to come.

“We are building these buildings for our children and grandchildren,” Williams said.

Williams and Tsien also recognized the importance of every individual who works on a structure. Williams added, “[the] plumber, electrician, each of these people are treated as an artisan” because, without these people, the final product would not be as it should.

Their presentation inspired all sorts of students among the audience.

Senior Jordan Peabody may not study architecture, but his family has been in the business.

“It was really interesting… to see their ideas and concepts,” said Peabody.

Graduate student Rachel Foley, who does study architecture, was in awe of the “really notable firm.” Not only did she attend the presentation, but she also shared that Williams and Tsien held a masters class at RWU, allowing her to have a more personal experience with the pair’s ideas.

Regardless of your personal interests, everyone can learn something from Williams and Tsien. Optimism is what keeps us ticking, and these two architects can certainly see that.

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