Thursday, January 31, 2013

No.8 SPECIAL GUEST: Architectural Designer & Author of The Art of Classical Details Phillip Dodd Shares on Artisans, Art & Architecture

Portrait By: Peter Olsen
Who: Phillip J. Dodd
What: Architectural Designer & Author of Upcoming Knockout Publication
When: The book is due out March, 2013
Where: A Native to Manchester, England he now lives and works in Connecticut
We tend to fancy every guest we feature here at Artisanal Specs. quite special indeed. Alas, keeping with our promised sub-series of 'Special Guests', we are honored to share our first very special guest interview and book review with none other than the renowned architectural designer, artist, historian, writer, educator and expert on classical design: Phillip J. Dodd, author of upcoming knockout publication The Art of Classical Details: Theory, Design And Craftsmanship. Aside from giving us a tour behind the scenes of The Art of Classical Details, Phillip also gives us a thoughtful and incisive look into his minds eye. With a passionate take on architecture and a healthy dose of that warm British humor, Phillip shows us how integral it just might be to maintain a well-rounded and all-inclusive discussion of what goes into creating contemporary classical architecture.  
In keeping with Artisanal Specs.' love for and focus on the artisans, trades and specialty craftspeople that work thoroughly alongside architects, designers and builders to bring design to life, there is good reason we were so excited to cover The Art of Classical Details. Unlike many of the other wonderful books out on design, from the perspective of architecture, Phillip has worked with tender and extensive care to curate a publication that tells the story of contemporary classical architecture and design from the in-depth and multifaceted viewpoints of architects, designers, artists (himself), scholars and artisans and craftspeople; an opportune and rich perspective we do not often get to hear. With his own craftsman-like precision, Phillip has carved out a space to facilitate a discourse on design from an elevated and uniquely all- inclusive point of view. He brings to the table a pallet of voices that paint a larger picture of how and why it is worth carrying out the principles and practices of classical architecture in the modern world. Before we totally dive into our talk with Phillip, here's a shortlist of some of the incredible talents and minds you can expect to hear from in this book: David Easton, Henry Hope Reed, Quinlan Terry, Ken Tate, Dinyar Wadia, Richard Carbino, Foster Reeve, Peter Pennoyer, Richard Cameron, Mark Ferguson, Oscar Shamamian, Jeremy Musson, Alain Oliver, Robert Adam, Paul Chesney, Julian Bicknell, Anne Fairfax, Richard Sammons and so many, many more.
As you may have gathered by now, we love to begin by asking our features why they do what they do and what their journey has been in the field. So when we sat down to talk with Phillip we knew we liked him already when he replied to our 'So Phillip, why architecture?' with:
"I saw The Towering Inferno as a kid and wanted to be Paul Newman." Pause. We both laugh. "I love drawing. Since grade school technical drawing was my best subject..." Phillip shifts to sincerity.
"Drumlin Hall, Dutchess County, NY, Peter Pennoyer
Architects" Pg 188, as seen in TAoCD, The Projects.
And therein lay the start: drawing. The Art of Classical Details came to fruition at the hands of someone who began with the arts and was drawn to the space architecture created where both art and mechanics, the creative and the logical minds, were coming together.
"Architecture is a funny subject. It's both artistic, but it's also technical. There's a rigor to it. You have to be very mathematic, to be able to have that kind of mindset- but you also have to be artistic and able to draw..."
Phillip, who hails from Manchester, England, where he attended both the Manchester School of Architecture as well as studying architecture at the renowned Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture in London (and that's just before he came to the States, where he would gain his Master's in architecture from The University of Notre Dame), has spent quite a bit of time studying architecture. If there's one thing he has grown passionate about it is the necessity to have a well rounded understanding of both the fine arts and mathematical/ analytical, to be able to comprehensively create accurate and good architecture.

Fluted Doric column with modillion block entableture by
John B. Murray Architect, Pg 10 as seen in TAoCD.
 Aside from the experience Phillip got in school, especially the Prince of Wales Institute, after being convinced by a friend to travel to the U.S. and just try working here for a while, he got his dose of training at the hands of Fairfax and Sammons co-founder, Richard Sammons. Back when the firm was going by Richard Franklin Sammons Architect, and there were only 5 people in the office, Phillip received dedicated and insightful instruction from Richard each day- an experience well worth the stay. As the firm grew and the tides shifted, Phillip found his way to Connecticut where he joined Dinyar Wadia's renowned team of designers and builders (where he continues to work) at Wadia Associates. After his many, many years of study and exercise, Phillip found Dinyar was glad to let him unleash his talents and practice architecture as he knew it.
"Richard [Sammons] taught me, and Dinyar [Wadia] allows me to practice what I've learned..." Phillip reflects.
What Phillip wound up receiving in his journey, turned out to be something of a rare, modern day apprenticeship in architectural design, an experience that may be leaning toward rarity. Which is not to say, however, that merely having the experience of working with top architects and designers themselves doesn't also offer it's own education. Phillip likes to give nod to this by noting that the realm of designers in each generation come from something of an organic family tree in design, offering an innate 'trickle down of character', each with it's own inheritance of knowledge and then offshoot of new creativity (just have a look at those who've spun from the offices of Parish Hadley or Robert A.M. Stern and how those experiences and teachings of hands on work has informed their disciples...).

Today, with so many leading schools focusing on the use of the computer to design spaces, it has become easy to stray from the importance of spacial interpretation and the focus drawing inherently facilitates, taking away from a building's ability to be a relatable space to the people who use it. (We understand this debate, as per which is more influential, people>buildings, buildings>people, can be controversial, but let us hear out this side for now).
A bespoke fireplace designed by Allan Greenberg, as seen in TAoCD
"I think today, with all the use of computers for design, you have people who would have at one time gone into engineering or computer programming, instead going into architecture. But in architecture you really have to have a combination of lots of both artistic and analytical..." Phillip notes. "When I went to architecture school in England we didn't have computers, you had to take with you a portfolio of your artwork, to show them that you could draw. That was most important for admission into architecture school."
When posed with the question as to whether or not he might consider himself an artist as well as an architectural designer, or if he thought architecture itself to be an art form, Phillip recalls poignantly that during his time at the Prince of Wales Institute one of the widely elected studies that was imperative in the coursework was a life drawing seminar, where the students would sit and draw nudes- twice a week, mandatory. An answer to these questions could simply be yes, but it's not so simple (as the arts never are), and Phillip won't let it go at that, as architecture is multifaceted, and never one-sided. He notes that part of the importance of continuing to develop and nourish those skills cultivated in drawing nudes, is the necessity to understand the human form, in all its "ergonomics" and proportions. 

"Apprentices at SYMM ’s workshop are trained in the traditional
skills of specialist joinery and cabinetry, finish carpentry,
painting, decorating and polishing." Pg 19, as seen in TAoCD
"Buildings are spaces people live and work in, if you don't understand people, how can you have a building that works?" Phillip asks. "A building isn't just a series of details, some of those details have to evolve as you grow to understand what you're creating, the various hierarchies and proportions..." 

A good point. It isn't about producing a series of pretty drawings to then move forward and capitulate into a building, so much as studying potential and then fusing that with a wide range of data, geometry, analysis and technical details. Phillip notes that while yes, architecture is an art form, perhaps architects are more like artisans than artists, in that they maintain that fusion between the two minds to create the real and true finished product that tells a story.

Phillip notes that while he prefers the voice of classicism, it isn't because modern architecture inherently 'isn't' or 'can't be' good, so much as that there may be (or often tends to be) an underlying dissociation between the study of the human experience and form and a building. He notes it is not just about shape or size, but also material, texture, color...all the things that go into shaping a space. Classicism is more about traditions than merely about history, as Phillip likes to emphasize. For him, an ideal experience in designing a house is not about recreating some historical precedent merely to have it spat out of time in a new location; it is about the process of listening and learning and applying traditions of architecture to a customized design.
"I'm not a big fan of telling people what to do, or how to live their lives. I don't like it. I think people inherently know what they want." Phillip notes. "...There's a big difference between liking something and appreciating it."
He goes on to discuss how if you listen carefully to people, they design their homes for you. It shouldn't be a mystery where the rooms are from the outside of a building, and each room should sensically speak to the home-owners life and lifestyle, desires, wants and aesthetic expression. Traditions, he believes, are not to be thrown out, but upheld and learned from along with the new; and in creating The Art of Classical Details, Phillip has gone to great lengths to show a wide range of how Classicism can be applied and utilized to continue to foster innovation. Classicism should perhaps (and certainly could) serve as something of a tool-set for achieving the best outcome.
"There's no work in the [book] that I don't like. Each project featured is a great design- whether it is my cup of tea or not, I cannot sensor based on my own aesthetic tastes... but I appreciate all of it. And that's why it's in the book."
Julian Bicknell stuns with "Henbury Hall, Cheshire, England, Julian Bicknell & Associates" as seen in TAoCD, The Projects

Phillip's own training and insights into creating classical architecture today keenly informs his decision to include essays by artisans themselves within this book. Often one may think of an apprenticeship as a one-on-one training and transferring of knowledge and skills from a 'master' craftsperson, usually with a building material, to another; but as Phillip received something of this kind of training himself in architecture (and art), he understands that the artisans and craftspeople are just as integral in design as the architect. Which may be why there was not a question or moments pause to his desire and feeling that their voices were just as necessary in the chorus to having The Art of Classical Details' ring true in a proper ode to classicism today.

"Fluted pilasters with delicately detailed Corinthian
capitals Peter Pennoyer Architects," as seen in TAoCD
Phillip notes that the reason artisans are so important (just as much today as any other time prior in history) is that they embody the complete fusion of building and art in what they do. Each craft with its own specialized background and palate of materials, provides a highly trained understanding of the smallest of details. Only a true artisan understands the direction, shape and size a single leaf should have in a rinceau as well as the depth, shadow and proportion any one section of ornament with all its parts so that it upholds the utmost artistic integrity but also maintains balance and perspective within architecture. A true artisan has a sixth sense for the process of taking a design from an artistic rendering phase to a sketch with thoroughly plotted out measurements (and their correct scales), and then the artistic mock-up, material selection and fine tuning of a single section of work (for any one single room). No small order indeed... worth looking deeper into, don't you think?
"You know I remember, there was a publisher when I was in school, Andreas Papadakis I believe, yes he published Academy Editions, a series of small architectural monographs by some of the top classical architects around," Phillip recalls, "and you know, they were fantastic. That was in the early 90's... And I haven't seen anything like them since..."
Indeed, these Academy Editions were a rare series of monographs that were wonderful and highly insightful, and at times a bit academic, but were mostly projects and not so much writing. Even these gems were missing the inclusion of the craftsperson.
"Outstanding craftsmanship means using traditional techniques, whether that be hand carving or
forging steel on a blacksmith’s anvil. These are labor intensive and highly skilled processes for
which there is no substitute. Chesney’s" Pg 246 as seen in TAoCD.
"No craftsmen were featured or anything like that. I don't think there's ever been a book actually where the craftsmen have wrote;" Phillip says, "it's always been scholars and architects who have written...but [in the book] I wanted there to be a lot of voices... I tried to fill in the gaps... It really is a great group- scholars, architects and artisans all mixed in. And artisans... artisans, who have never been asked to write anything before."
But Phillip has, and boy to they have some fantastic things to say. We're thrilled. It is a trail blazing effort to fuse the old with the new even in terms of a more traditional formula to creating a book on architecture. What makes the book special is not only the range of experience, perspective and talent in design that shares their expertise, but also the thoughtful lens through which each offers their own personal fondness for this effort and encouragement for the conversation to continue.
"You never see those close ups in books anymore," Phillip says about architectural detailing, "and we need to keep these crafts alive."
Between the countless years of design expertise and personal insight shared in this one of a kind homage to classicism, we believe that The Art of Classical Details may be proving to be an important tool for the new and future generations of designers, artisans, scholars and architecture aficionados alike. The book has just gone and created it's own history simply by providing a space for so many voices to come together and speak. (Who knows what this could mean to a student who didn't even know how a plaster mould was made or what it could be made into? Or if they wanted to find a better way than AutoCAD to approach a building?) All this said, we will certainly be keeping tabs on Phillip as he moves on and continues to discuss architecture in all it's grandeur, but in the mean time, we'd start by just strongly recommending you grab yourself a copy, have your own experience with this wonderfully thorough and incomparably beautiful publication, and find out more about what classical architecture in the modern world means to you.
"Ferne Park, Dorset, England, Quinlan & Francis Terry Architects," Pg 198, as seen in The Art of Classical Details.
"The dining room is decorated with Gracie handpainted wallpaper that compliments the highly detailed door casings and ceiling crown. Eric J. Smith Architect." Pg 12&13 as seen in The Art of Classical Details.
And again we say, congratulations Phillip J. Dodd and The Art of Classical Details: Theory, Design and Craftsmanship, on a job very well done!
Phillip J. Dodd is a Senior Architectural Designer and Marketing Director at Wadia Associates in New Canaan, CT. He is also the author of New Classicists: Wadia Associates, which features a foreward by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and Introduction by Paul Gunther, President of the ICAA. You can read much more about him and his work here. A list of book signings, lectures and events will be posted within the month, and the books official release date is March 16, 2013. You can also connect with Phillip and The Art of Classical Details on Facebook.


  1. Mr Dodd feels like a fresh breeze blowing thru Classicism! An exhuberant voice. After reading this, I am, indeed, curious to hear the artisan's voices, as well as "see" them in what Dodd creates. Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks!