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// VIEW MOVIE // RESUME // DESIGN APPROACH // AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARCHITECT //

R E S U M E
Robert Harvey Oshatz

Qualifications

In 1971, Robert Oshatz established the firm of Robert Harvey Oshatz, Architect. Over the years the firm has provided a wide variety of organic architecture, planning, interior design and construction management services for developers and individual clients. Robert Harvey Oshatz, Architect has designed and built numerous commercial and residential projects over the past twenty plus years.

Robert Oshatz has also been active as a speaker at public lectures and architectural gatherings. He has spoken at Auburn University, San Francisco Institute of Architecture, Monterey Design Conference, Portland City Club, Oregon School of Design, Oregon State University, San Bernardino City College, Lawrence Technological University and in November of 2000 held the Bruce Goff Chair of Creative Architecture at The University of Oklahoma, where he spent a week lecturing and being a guest professor. He is also a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institution's Continuous Architecture series.

While most architects today are specialists who associate with other specialists, Robert Oshatz is a generalist who associates with specialists. He has experience wearing the hat of a client, architect, and contractor. Acting as a client, he understands the delicate balance of the client's money and resources. He has acted as a construction manager and builder on a number of projects and understands the discipline of scheduling subcontractors while building a structure from the construction perspective.

Experience

Prior to establishing the firm, Mr. Oshatz had a long history of architectural involvement. From 1960 to 1963, while attending high school, he worked 30 hours per week for a Los Angeles architectural firm. During that time he developed construction drawings on multi-story apartments, commercial/retail buildings, and religious structures. From 1963 to 1968 he studied and received a Bachelor of Architecture from Arizona State University. Mr. Oshatz worked and studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. during summers and after completing his degree. Prior to opening his own firm Mr. Oshatz worked for Murray and McCormick, Civil Engineers and Planners. At this time he worked on both planning and architectural projects. Since establishing his own firm, Mr. Oshatz has designed and built numerous commercial and residential projects, including a large residence in Japan.

Publications

Throughout his career, Robert Oshatz has been published in numerous local, national, and international magazines. He has been featured a number of times in the Oregonian Northwest Magazine. Pacific Northwest Magazine featured his work in the article "The Art of the Architect," a discussion of his approach to designing with a client and his Northwest regional feeling. He has been in House Beautiful twice in regards to building with regional natural materials. He has written an essay in Architecture California on his design approach. Japan's A + U Magazine provided an overview of his work. He also has been featured in Thai Home and Garden, Architectural Design (England), and Salon Architecture (Russia). Other magazines have featured individual projects that he designed. His Miyasaka House appeared in the book, Structure as Design. Several of his works have been exhibited in galleries and museums, both regionally and nationally. Two of his home designs have also been featured on the Home and Garden cable network show "Extreme Homes."

Education

Arizona State University, Bachelor of Architecture
1968 Registration; Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado
NCARB
American Institute of Architects


// BACK TO TOP // RESUME // DESIGN APPROACH // AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARCHITECT //

A Traditional Design Approach
- Robert Harvey Oshatz

"An architect is an artist, creator, logician of evolving aesthetic structures; a designer of not only the visual but the internal space. I see architecture as a synthesis of logic and emotion, exploring and fulfilling the dreams, fantasies and realities of my clients, whether they are individuals, corporate, or community identities.

Except for the basic elements of design composition, dominance, transition, and identity; I stay away from design theories. They seem to be too transitory and irrelevant to my work. Design theories tend to outshine their author's performance, becoming limiting concepts, prejudicing the mind while tying one's hands behind one's back. They are roadblocks to new ideas. While subscribing to a particular theory of design an architect must solve problems within the parameters of that theory; this is limiting at best.

Without architectural theories the process of designing a structure remains in its purest form, simply solving a given problem. Design becomes a process of integrating its key ingredients… program and environment. The program (problem to be solved) is what makes a project unique, and the seed of a solution is found within the problem itself. An opportunity exists within every design to develop a unique solution. The environment is the source of a projects poetic sense. Every site has its own character; the challenge to the architect is to capture that character and translate its spirit into architectural poetry.

The starting point of my work is the clients program, so my first step is to divide the program into its functional and spiritual components. The program is more than just a set of functional requirements, technical space allocations and relationships. It should embody the emotional needs of the client/user.

The requirements of architecture are such that I must go beyond what the client understands. There must be surprise, mystery, beauty and delight, elements that make architecture rewarding to its users for a lifetime. This is one of the primary differences between architecture and building. It is the architect's responsibility to go beyond the mere program and into the realm of what I call the spiritual.

The graphic tools used to express the design program are plan, section and elevation. To me the plan is everything. It is the expression of the client's functional program, a beautiful translation of an idea. I find the plan to be a simple picture of a program organized into a rhythm of usages. In almost every project I undertake, I am asked to come up with a visual sketch idea of what a building will look like. I'm always at a loss and find it impossible to do. I've got to start with a floor plan. No matter how intriguing or complex my work appears to be, I start with a plan every time. The section is the expression of the client's spiritual program. It brings the plan to life. It is the realization of space. The section is a complex ordering of three-dimensional space, a play of light and shadow, solid and voids. It is in the plan and section that one sees the relationship of program, environment, structure, materials, and economics. The elevation is unimportant to me… it is only a skin enclosing the internal space created by the plan and section.

Just as there is no one answer to life's problems, due to its complex and changing nature, there is no single solution to an architectural design challenge. With a myriad of past experiences within me, I try to clear my mind of previous solutions and preconceived notions and approach design intuitively. The design process is then an intuitive one with ideas swimming through a sea full of the past, present and future, exploring and ordering complexities with an emotional reason into a logical end. Intuition is what brings a fresh new response to each architectural challenge. I strive to do the best I am capable at a given point in time, knowing that the same program would be resolved differently at another time.

Architecture is a synthesis of logic and emotion. When carried to its logical conclusion, a traditional design approach produces very imaginative structures. It is only a question of how much of an artist we architects choose to be."


// BACK TO TOP // RESUME // DESIGN APPROACH // AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARCHITECT //

An Interview with the Architect
by Salon Architecture (Russia)
"Salon Press" publishing house
Architect Ms. Nataly Eliseeva

SALON - QUESTION #1
You have said that you don't believe in following any architectural theories because they don't last and aren't really connected to reality. At the same time you have created your own original style with its own principles of planning, views on the strong connection between the architecture of the house and its interior,realizing at the same time that a definite idea (which each time reveals itself in unrepeatable conditions of the surrounding space) is a base of each definite work of an architect. Don't you think that all these views can be considered a theory for you as a practicing architect? Could you please give a comment for this part of your architectural creativity? Also, is such an attitude towards theory typical for America, or is it your personal point of view?

OSHATZ- ANSWER #1
I do not think in terms of theories or styles. Except for basic elements of design; composition, dominance, transition identity, modulation, balance, rhythm, harmony, etc. (elements that are basic to all design disciples) I stay away from design theories or styles. They seem to be too transitory and irrelevant to my work. Design theories tend to outshine their author's performance, becoming limiting concepts, prejudicing the mind while tying one's hands behind one's back. They are roadblocks to new ideas. While subscribing to a particular theory of design an architect must solve problems within the parameters of that theory; one is limited at best.

I make a distinction between what I do and operating within a theory of architecture. I simply involve myself with solving the problems a client presents in a beautiful manner, not within a theory or style. How one solves a problem and one's process does not make a theory.

Without architectural theories the process of designing a structure remains in its purest form, simply solving a given problem. Design becomes a process of integrating its key ingredients…program and environment. The program (problem to be solved) is what makes a project unique, and the seed of a solution is found within the problem itself. An opportunity exists within every design to develop a unique solution. The environment is the source of a project's poetic sense. Every site has its own character; the challenge to the architect is to capture that character and translate its spirit into architectural poetry.

The starting point of my work is the client's program, so my first step is to divide the program into its functional and spiritual components. The program is more than just a set of functional requirements, technical space allocations and relationships. It should embody the emotional needs of the client/user.

The requirements of architecture are such that I must go beyond what the client understands. There must be surprise, mystery, beauty and delight; elements that make architecture rewarding to its users for a lifetime. This is one of the primary differences between architecture and building. It is the architect's responsibility to go beyond the mere program and into the realm of what I call the spiritual.

The graphic tools used to express the design program are plan, section and elevation. To me the plan is everything. It is the expression of the client's functional program; a beautiful translation of an idea. I find the plan to be a simple picture of a program organized into a rhythm of usages. In almost every project I undertake, I am asked to come up with a visual sketch idea of what the building will look like. I'm always at a loss and find it impossible to do. I've got to start with a floor plan. No matter how intriguing or complex my work appears to be, I start with a plan every time. The section is the expression of the client's spiritual program. It brings the plan to life. It is the realization of space. The section is a complex ordering of three-dimensional space; a play of light and shadow, solid and voids. It is the through plan and section that one sees the relationship of program, environment, structure, materials and economics. The elevation is unimportant to me…it is only a skin enclosing the internal space created by the plan and section.

Just as there is no one answer to life's problems, due to its complex and changing nature, there is no single solution to an architectural design challenge. With a myriad of past experiences still within me, I try to clear my mind of previous solutions and preconceived notions and approach design intuitively. The design process is then an intuitive one with ideas swimming through a sea full of the past, present and future, exploring and ordering complexities with an emotional reason into a logical end. Intuition is what brings a fresh new response to each architectural challenge. I strive to do the best that I am capable of at a given point in time, knowing that the same program would be resolved differently at another time.

SALON - QUESTION #2
After graduating from Arizona University in 1968 you started working for Mr. Lloyd Wright's studio, an architect not only famous in America, but also in Western Europe and in Russia. You didn't stay there for long and in 1971 you already started working separately. Please describe that period: tell us what the peculiarities of Lloyd Wright's creativity where, and in what way his influence on you is revealed.

OSHATZ - ANSWER #2
While going to high school for three years (from 1960 to 1963) I spent mornings in schools and in the afternoon I worked for an architect. During this apprenticeship I learned the technical aspects of architecture and construction. From 1963 to 1968 I studied architecture at Arizona State University. In the summer of 1966 and 1968 I worked for Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright's oldest son) in Los Angeles. Lloyd Wright was an outstanding architect in the American tradition of organic architecture. At the time, organic architecture was not universally appreciated in America and he was not well known outside of the organic movement. The main thing that I learned with Lloyd Wright was a reaffirmation of my own thinking while experiencing someone practicing and living architecture as an art and not a business. It reconfirmed my belief in the nature of materials and how they should be used in a natural honest way. It reafirmed my belief that it was the interval space that generated the architecture and that interior and exterior space were one. But most of all, it was the enjoyment as a young man seeing someone living their dreams. And the enjoyment of studying Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eric Mendelshon and others in school and then to be able to talk about these architects with someone whom personally knew these people. It was being in the type of environment I wanted to live in. Architecture would be my profession and the way I would live my life. The shortness of my stay with Lloyd Wright was because of my excitement to start on my own living, practicing and breathing architecture.

SALON - QUESTION #3
Which of the following principles and architectural styles do you most closely follow:
-
one who is "designing one house for a lifetime", in other words, one who follows one chosen style and takes that style to the point of changing from architect to "craftsman."
- one whose views on contemporary architecture and its development changes in the process of accumulating the experience
- one who starts each new work, new project, with new architectural ideas
What other American architects do you feel share similar views, in terms of interpreting new ideas?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #3
I view myself as a student of architecture always trying to learn and knowing the next will always be my best work. Best in the sense that although each project is different, life is a continuation of each movement building on the previous.
Like music, architecture is not created in a vaccum. Beethoven needed Mozart and others before him to create a Beethoven symphony. Frank Lloyd Wright needed Louis Sullivan and others before him to create his ideas of architecture. I see each new project as a learning experience. Some take one idea or style and are satisfied with developing it for a lifetime. Some prefer to stay with an idea or style for a period of time until another idea or style comes into vogue. I prefer to look at each new project as an opportunity to explore a new idea. Every design project has an infinite number of ideas that can be used to come to a solution. I explore ideas and then develop what I think is the most appropriate solution at the time. By using the elements of design, dominance, transition, identity, modulation, balance, rhythm, harmony and etc., I take an idea to its logical conclusion. The next project will have its own problems to be solved and a whole set of new ideas to explore. It is the joy of a new project; knowing that the solution to that project is within its own program and seeing a new idea germinate to solve that project and sharing its results.

I think my viewpoint is shared by many architects who came out of the American organic movement in the tradition of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff.

SALON - QUESTION #4
How do you view the relationship between interior and exterior architecture? What is the difference between American architecture and interiors compared to that of Europe and Asia, i.e. Japan?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #4
I do not make a distinction between exterior and interior architecture. In my thinking they are one and the same. However, since in my approach to design I begin with the interior space, the exterior expression is a continuation or reflection of the interior space. One cannot be changed without affecting the other. I am not very experienced in European architecture and interior (my travel in Europe is limited). However I am aware of differences in Japanese and American viewpoints. In working on projects in Japan the primary difference is in the perception of space. The Japanese think and measure space in their minds in terms of tatami mats. Dealing with non-rectilinear spaces is a new experience for them. However except for culture differences in planning and use of space; like the removal of shoes, the preference to not enter a home on the north side, a Japanese room for tea ceremony or Buddhist altar; the perception of space is universal. In some ways it is an advantage working in a different culture. Since everything is new to you, you look at things with a fresh eye. Your mind is energized and you do not take things for granted.

SALON - QUESTION #5
You noted, that one of the peculiarities of your creativity is a strong connection with the owner of the client. This is the main principle for your architectural work: here an architect finds inspiration, here new ideas and variants of their realization appear, here fresh, original and different projects appear as a consequence of the originality and individuality of the customers. In some way "inspiration comes from the attention to the customer"..... So, is this concept familiar to all American architects or is it your own tendency?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #5
This is my own personal tendency. I think of the client, whether it is an individual, corporation, or community, as being the reason for the project. The client and the architect need one another. The success of a project depends on their successful interaction. Both are needed for true success. The architect brings the clients dreams and fantasies into reality. The client initiates the project and makes it possible. Ideally I hope the client can say after a project is completed, "If I was an architect this is what I would have designed". I think this is a familiar concept for many American architects. However I know many architects who think of the client as a necessary evil and the enemy of creativity. This is only an excuse for a lack of creativity.

SALON - QUESTION #6
You described your Miyasaka Residence as "neither Japanese nor American house...everyone can see it in his/her own way." In my mind the question is not "What is this house like?" There is a more interesting question concerning interconnection and influence between two cultures - American and Japanese. What made Mr. Miyasaka, a president of a major Japanese building company, chose an American architect? Perhaps the answer is hidden in the background: please tell me how that period influenced your architectural style. What do you think about international architectural styles? Does American style influence national architectural styles of any other countries?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #6
Before hiring me, Mr. Miyasaka retained four different Japanese architects over a period of two years. His wish was to have a "Western" style house that would provide his elderly parents the comforts of western living, yet serve their traditional Japanese cultural ways. He also was concerned that what he built did not look or feel out of place in his city. Since he could not find what he wanted, he desired to look into the work of a western architect. At about that time my work was in an exhibit in Sapporo, Japan. Mr. Miyasaka saw this exhibit and decided to contact me. After talking we decided that we were the right match for one another. My approach of using materials in a natural way and the belief that the interior and exterior are one and the same has much in common with Shintoism, the native religion of Japan.

I do not think in terms of style, so I cannot comment on international style. I especially hope that a so-called American style of architecture does not influence any other national architecture. I only hope that architecture in one country inspires other architects to learn and achieve their best.

For me the culture and physical environment that I build within is the source of the project's poetic sense. Every site has its own character, the challenge is to capture that character and translate its spirit into architectural poetry. Instead of style, the architecture should strive for a natural simplicity, through the understanding of the essence of a client's cultural relationship with nature. Today with the Internet, email and instant communication around the world, it is easy for an architect in one part of the world to work with others. The only important ingredient is the understanding of one another with an open mind.

SALON - QUESTION #7
Do you consider division of layout, planning, designing interior and landscape designing to be imaginary? We believe that everything depends on the professionalism of the architect and on his/her idea (which provides a completed approach to the following creation). Is your opinion similar?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #7
When I design I am thinking of everything that I can. Site planning, interior and exterior architectural design, structural character, furnishing, landscaping, etc. are all considered together. They are all one thing in the design process. As it is all part of a central design idea. The design develops a spirit of its own and a rhythm is development. All the parts are created into the total. Although a project is usually a collaboration of a number of professionals: architect, engineers, landscape architect and sometimes an interior designer other than the architect; they all need to work together towards the central idea. The central idea comes from the individual architect interpreting a client's program. In the case of the Miyasaka residence, I developed a central idea that included the internal and external character and structural essence. Structural, mechanical, electrical engineers and landscape architect were brought in at the appropriate times to help carry out the design.

SALON - QUESTION #8
There is an illusion that your solutions in different areas (design, architecture...) fully vanish in the style (or one can say, in the main idea): it seems that there is no separated furniture, there is nothing that stands apart from the complex whole, nothing hurts the harmony. Is the illusion that no one additional element will be bearable here - truthful?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #8
The design rightfully appears that way because everything was designed to be in harmony. The central idea set up a rhythm and this rhythm and the modulation of elements always stays in balance. Although the structure might look complex, it has a sense of simplicity in that all the parts appear to be part of the whole. In reality just like people the Miyasaka residence is very flexible. They are always changing and adding to their art collection. They move and change furniture, as occasion requires. And if family programmatic requirements change I would have no problem adding on and remodeling. That would only be part of changing life.

SALON - QUESTION #9
Do you enjoy complicated works? Who do you consider yourself to be? (sentimental rationalist or practical romantic) In the Miyasaka residence, where did the synthesis of triangular and radial forms come from? (Two wings, going to the sides like rays of light from the center of the composition - it makes the house look like a flying bird.)

OSHATZ - ANSWER #9
I enjoy new problems to solve. Whether they are complicated or simple problems makes no difference to me. I try to do the best that I am capable of in a particular movement in time. I do not try to be different for the sake of being different. If I am different, it is to make a difference.

An architect is an artist, creator, logician of evolving aesthetic structures; a designer of not only the visual, but also internal space. I see architecture as a synthesis of logic and emotion, exploring and fulfilling the dreams, fantasies and realities of my clients.

The Miyasaka residence took its shape or form from the client's program and site. The existing trees on the site, the path of the sun across the site and the requirements of different internal functions needing sunlight, determined where functions accorded on the site. The form is a result of the rhythm created to solve the above concerns. The fact that it looks like a flying bird is a coincidence. It is part of the human condition that we find forms and shapes in things. It is like looking at stars in the night, we put a few together in our minds and see the Big Dipper.

SALON - QUESTION #10
The client enjoyed the house: "The soul of this house merges with mine, it makes me feel happy...." There is no better compliment than that. I wonder what the client's parents' opinion is of the house - they live there too. Does this house create an atmosphere of piece and quiet for them?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #10
Mr. Miyasaka has spoken about how the house makes him happy and said that the house speaks to him. His father was looking for a house that would last for years. He is the one who felt the house was very Japanese in the tradition of a Japanese castle. This is why I said "every person will see it through his or her own eyes". This was one of the interesting aspects of the design. The son wanted a western style house and the father although willing to go along wanted a Japanese spirit in the design. Mr. Miyasaka's mother was more interested in the landscaping as the property came down through her paternal line.

SALON - QUESTION #11
There is wide spread opinion in Russia that architecture and interior design are two absolutely separated fields. As Architects are making layouts, they see their aim is uniting functional, technical and esthetic solutions. Interior Designers are working with the interiors. Usually these two works take place without any mutual connection, mutual ideas, and are often conflicting. What are your feelings on the relationship between Architecture and Interior Design?

OSHATZ - ANSWER #11
I make no distinction between architectural design and interior design. An architect, interior designer and other consultants can design a structure in collaboration. Or an individual architect can design a structure. The architect and interior designer both use the same basic elements of design composition, dominance, transition identity, modulation, balance, rhythm, harmony, etc. However for a project to be a unified art form, both architect and interior designer need to be working from a shared central idea. We do not think of chaos as being beautiful. A project needs to be harmonious. Two different rhythms going at the same time will only lead to chaos. The misperception can be made that because Russia has a hash climate there is a definite separation of exterior and interior. This might be true in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense when one is inside their eye and mind wants to make a connection with nature outside. For myself I start designing from the inside working my way out. In my work the inside and outside become one. So it is one central idea coming from my mind. The client or I might choose to consult with an interior designer to select appropriate furniture or fabrics but it is team collaboration with all striving towards the same central idea or concept.

SALON - QUESTION #12
What will roll and stir designs of future? Will it be fashion, the customer's taste, or the architect's ideas? There is an opinion that there should be "more from the customer and less from the designer." Do you agree? Perhaps you will argue with me, but it seems that in your projects there is " a lot of you and a bit of the customer".

OSHATZ - ANSWER #12
I hope that the future of design is not in the hands of short-lived fashion, style, taste or the next popular architectural theory. I hope clients in the future would express their desires and then would desire that their architect solve the problem presented to them in a beautiful way. I feel each of my projects is very different from one and other. There might be a lot of me in my designs but my clients come to me because they want my ideas and what I have to offer. My clients have confidence and believe in me; otherwise they would not retain me for their project.


// BACK TO TOP // RESUME // DESIGN APPROACH // AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARCHITECT //


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