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This week azarchitecture.com reporter Taz Loomans writes of Architect Will Bruder, to not just consider his significant past contributions to Architecture, but to share insight to what the future holds for this creative and innovative Arizona Architect:
According to William Bridges, an expert on life’s transitions, optimism is when you believe that the best things lie ahead and pessimism is when you think that the best things have already gone by and are part of the past. Architect Will Bruder is an optimist through and through and that is why at the age of 66 he has started a brand new firm called Will Bruder Architects. “We (he and his wife, Louise Roman) wake up to northeast-facing windows and to the sunrise everyday. That sunrise has a very special meaning to me nowadays. I put a lot of value in what will happen in the next day of my life. I tend to live much more in the future than I do in the past,” says Bruder.
Though he enjoys looking forward more than he does looking back, we must first glimpse back at the fascinating journey of Bruder’s work life to understand how he came to start a new firm at this point in his long and successful career.
Bruder harkens back to his elementary school teacher Ms. Tim as a seminal influence on his professional life. She taught him about art, making and seeing and about curiosity. And it helped, he says, that his elementary school in suburban Milwaukee was modeled after Eero Saarinen’s modernist Crow Island school in Illinois. He recalls staring out of the large windows onto midwestern ranch homes while drawing in ink and crayon resist. At the same time as Bruder was making his 5th grade drawings in 1957, Paolo Soleri, who would later become Bruder’s mentor, was using the exact same medium to create the drawings for his Arcology/City on the Mesa publication, that Bruder would eventually contribute to. As if the irony wasn’t striking enough, Soleri’s drawings are currently on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a building designed by Bruder.
Another seminal influence that shaped Bruder’s career was his encounter with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greek Orthodox Church about two miles from the suburban fringes of Milwaukee, which was under construction at the time. He said he would go through the fence once the construction site was closed and wander in “the space and sculpture that would be revealed as the concrete formwork came down.”
With a fireman who liked to make things as a father and a cabinet-maker as a grandfather, Bruder grew up with the craftsman ethos in his blood. In high school he was the chairman of the dance committee and designed the sets for the bands. He recalls, “the bands were terrible, but the set design was great.” He tinkered with industrial design while in high school as well and when he was 15 years old, he got a chance to go to Detroit as the regional winner of the Fischer Body Competition. There, he experienced Eero Saarinen’s General Motor’s Technical Center, which also became an influence on his work later in life.
After high school, he enrolled into the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, but quit after only a semester, deciding that design in the corporate environment wasn’t his cup of tea. As there wasn’t a single architecture school in Wisconsin at the time, he enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) College of Architecture in Chicago, made famous by Mies Van der Rohe in 1938. But he actually never attended IIT as a student. Instead, after being disillusioned with the General Motors Institute, he came back to Wisconsin and landed a summer job with William Wenzler, who at the time was only in his 40s and was doing very progressive work. At Wenzler’s office, Bruder met Michael Johnson, who also ended up in Arizona as a brilliant practicing designer and an educator at Taliesen West. Johnson took Bruder under his wing and made him aware of Bruce Goff and Paolo Soleri.
Because he wanted to keep working for Wenzler, Bruder opted to get a degree in fine art with an emphasis in sculpture instead of going to architecture school in another state. But during his tenure in college, he studied structural engineering, urban planning, art and architecture history and philosophy. When his sophomore year ended, he spent the summer with Paolo Soleri in Cosanti in Arizona. And after another semester back in school in Wisconsin, Bruder returned to Cosanti to work with Soleri in January of 1968 for eight months. There he got to work on Soleri’s career-defining work – the Arcology/City of Man publication. While in school, Bruder said he was lucky enough to get a Bauhaus-quality education in design, covering proportion, scale, materiality, two-dimensional and three-dimensional expression and color theory in the tradition of Joseph Albers.
After he finished his Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture, Bruder put together a portfolio, much like an architecture graduate would, including his work experience, drawings and idea sketches. He called on the likes of Louis Kahn, John Andrews, Paul Rudolph, Victor Lundy and Gunnar Birkerts hoping to land a job in their prestigious firms. Out of the three places he interviewed in Toronto, he got two job offers, but ended up going back to Detroit instead. There he interviewed with Gunnar Birkerts, who was a student of Eero Saarinen, and accepted a job with him. In Birkerts’ studio, he learned about listening to clients and about the value of having a master in the office, in the tradition of Saarinen. During this time, Bruder also got to know Bruce Goff, who taught him about the creative inspiration that’s available when you truly listen to what your clients want. Goff taught Bruder to solve the client’s needs instead of designing from his own proclivities.
After a year with Birkerts, Bruder started missing the sunny weather and the horizon he had found while working with Soleri in Arizona, and so he decided to head west. He knew he would be participating in a long tradition of modernism in Arizona that began after WWII that included the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and others like Ralph Haver, Bennie Gonzales, Blaine Drake and Al Beadle. The modernist architects of Arizona “touched the land lightly, their design was very simple and inspiring, there was a real relationship with how it would sit on the earth and how it would leave the earth and then kiss the sky,” Bruder explains.
He came to Arizona in 1970 with three years left in his eight-year apprenticeship period required to get licensed as an architect. He started in Arizona by working in the offices of Florence and Walling and Michael Kemper Goodwin. And in 1974, he passed his licensing exam on the first try and became a registered architect. Goodwin offered him a partnership in his firm, but knew full well that Bruder intended to start his own practice, which he did.
With an early project, a cabin in Pinewood, Arizona winning a national award, Bruder’s new firm gained recognition early on. His own 845 square foot home on the fringes of the city, in the middle of the desert, was published in Architectural Record in 1977. Within a few years, he had 35 articles published in Sunset Magazine. His first public building commission was the Mesquite Library in Paradise Valley, followed by a number of libraries. His famous Phoenix Central Library, he quips, was job number 317.
In 1987, Bruder applied and received the prestigious Rome Prize and he got to spend 6 months in Rome with the American Academy. He was forty, the same age, he notes, that his mentors, Wenzler, Soleri and Birkerts had been when he worked with them. In a very real way, this time in his life marked a coming of age for Bruder. The 6 month sabbatical in Rome offered him an opportunity to reflect on the things he had done thus far in his life and what he wanted to do going forward. It gave him an opportunity to reassess and become more focused.
And in 1989, Bruder, with a small firm of three people in collaboration with DWL architects and Ove Arup structural engineers, won the monumental commission to design the Phoenix Central Library, a building that today, on a daily basis, touches thousands of people from all walks of life with the power of exquisite architecture.
After the resounding and lasting success of the Phoenix Central Library, Bruder’s office saw many come and go over the years. The office mentored up and coming architects such as Wendell Burnette, Rick Joy, and Jack Debartolo III among others who are now creating great architecture in their own right. In the early 1990s, he won an award for Educator of the Year by the AIA, an honor he was surprised to be recognized for, but later realized was well deserved after considering his work in teaching and mentoring young architects.
As his firm kept growing, Bruder entered into a partnership known as Will Bruder + Partners in 2006. In the Spring of 2012, Bruder and his partners came to an amenable and consensual agreement to allow him out of the partnership.
In July of 2012, Bruder launched a “reborn firm” called Will Bruder Architects LLC and put up a shingle on a 1947 building on Central Avenue, just north of Indian School and across from the Light Rail station. Will Bruder Architects is leasing about 800 square feet in a building that has housed an architect’s collaborative since 2000. The office is about a 10 minute walk from Bruder’s new residence at the One Lexington tower on Osborn and Central. The proximity is no coincidence, as one of Bruder’s intentions is to create an urban scale and lifestyle in the central core of Phoenix, and he is practicing what he preaches.
The new firm got a running start with some very cool projects in the works including transit oriented development projects; a mixed-use apartment building in Central Phoenix with underground parking. Along with these larger projects, Bruder also enjoys doing smaller work like loft remodels and interior renovations.
The launch of the new studio has not deterred Bruder’s firm commitment to education and mentorship. He was named the Morgenstern Chair at IIT last year along with the Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA Chair in Architecture at USC. He is participating at the Design Access/Public Architecture symposium held late February in Sausalito, CA. and will keynote at the AIAS Quad conference at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee this spring. He will also be lecturing this spring at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and at the University of Illinois at Urbana.
“What I’ve been really excited about in the last decade is that I’ve finally come to appreciate the importance, not of a building, but of the spaces in between buildings, the scale and the people. As we look to our future, whether it be about sustainability and walkable cities, or neighborhoods and authenticity, I think that’s what I’ve been living for all of my life,” says Bruder with an optimistic exuberance. We are so excited to see the mature work of this master architect, educator and community leader as the next chapter of his career unfolds.
Check out Bruder’s new website and also make sure to become a fan of his new facebook page to keep up with all the exciting things his new firm is up to!