Architect in the community

Bruce Lindsey works to bring people together

“Sustainability is a term with growing momentum,” says Bruce Lindsey, dean of the College of Architecture and the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, both in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Bruce Lindsey (right), dean of the College of Architecture and the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration, discusses a project with Jonathan Ammon and Rebecca Rowney, both graduate students in architecture. “Bruce has a real track record of bringing people together,” says Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts. “As an artist and a practicing architect, he in many ways personifies the mission of the Sam Fox School.”

“But there’s also growing misunderstanding,” adds Lindsey, the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration. “Ultimately, the environmental problems we face will not be solved through technological solutions alone. They will require a change in values, where architecture’s capacity to connect us to our environment and to each other becomes imperative.

“They will require new environmental ethics, interdisciplinary perspective and radical innovation,” he says.

It’s a combination that in many respects mirrors Lindsey’s own career. Part architect, part educator and part social advocate, over the past two decades, Lindsey has been a leading voice for modernization within the architectural profession as well as a major proponent for engaging communities within the design process.

“Bruce has a real track record of bringing people together, both in his own work and as former co-director of Auburn University’s acclaimed Rural Studio,” says Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts. “As an artist and a practicing architect, he in many ways personifies the mission of the Sam Fox School.”

‘It just lit me up’

Born in Geneva, N.Y., Lindsey was raised in Nampa, Idaho, a small city on the Snake River near the Bitterroot branch of the Rocky Mountains. He credits his grandfather, a Montana forest ranger, with introducing him to concepts of environmental sustainability.

“I remember him discussing managed forestry, which at the time was pretty radical,” Lindsey says. Also influential were summer trips to an uncle’s ranch and the raw beauty of the Pacific Northwest. “About 10 years ago, I realized how much I missed that long horizon and expansive landscape,” he says. “I think the landscape of your youth becomes increasingly important as you grow older.”

Lindsey began college at Boise State University, traveling the country as part of the ski team. He also developed an appreciation for the fine arts. “I’d never had art class in high school because it met at the same time as football practice,” Lindsey ruefully admits. “It just lit me up.”

Still, after two years, Lindsey left school to work as a carpenter. “At that point I just didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” he says. He soon found work with Bonneville Investment Co., a Salt Lake City firm planning to build modular homes from foam-injected plywood panels. Though his only architectural qualification was a single drafting class, Lindsey was hired to design the prototype.

“We built about 300 ranch-style houses, a lot of them low-income, and I also designed the very first actively heated solar house in the state of Washington,” he says.

After two years with Bonneville, Lindsey enrolled at the University of Utah, earning a bachelor’s degree in art in 1976 and master’s degrees in sculpture and photography in 1979. He then joined R.W. Cummock & Associates, a civil engineering firm, and later collaborated with architect Scott Muir and artist Stephen Goldsmith to develop ArtSpace, a renovated Salt Lake City warehouse now housing studios and galleries.

Yet, Lindsey realized that becoming a licensed architect himself meant returning to school. In 1983, he traded in his Porsche 914 for a used pickup truck and packed his bags for Yale University, where classmates included Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“I helped her get through structures,” he quips) and Peter MacKeith, now associate dean of the Sam Fox School.

During his final semester, in the spring of 1986, he was recruited to Virginia Tech by legendary educator Gene Egger. Yet before heading to Blacksburg, Lindsey spent the summer back in Nampa working construction. He also met — or rather, became reacquainted with — Marilee Keys, a painter and high-school classmate of his sister’s then living in Seattle.

“We’d grown up in the same small town and both studied art at Utah,” Lindsey says, though Marilee also worked with Russian artist Sergei Bongart in Los Angeles. “She even caught a ride home with me one Christmas, though we’d never really hung out. Our parents actually set us up.” The couple was married in December and, the following spring, moved to Pittsburgh, where Lindsey joined the Carnegie Mellon University faculty.

In Pittsburgh, Lindsey soon began an ambitious project involving the university’s College of Fine Arts, a handsome Beaux Arts structure designed by architect Henry Hornbostel. Though the facade was intended to accommodate six large ornamental niches representing different periods of architectural history, only one niche was actually constructed. Lindsey, along with architect Paul Rosenblatt and art historian Richard Cleary, was chosen to complete the other five.

“We worked for two years with stone carvers from around the world,” Lindsey says. Yet the project’s real significance lay in its pioneering use of digital-aided manufacturing. Stone carvers typically create full-sized drawings that serve as templates; Lindsey’s team was able to plot digital templates onto thick Mylar sheets. In 1991, the project was named one of the year’s 10 most influential by Engineering News-Record.

Lindsey also began overhauling Carnegie Mellon’s first-year architecture program. “The biggest challenge was integrating computers,” he says. “We wanted to bring digital tools into the studio, alongside drawing and model-making.” In 1992, that integration earned a New Faculty Teaching Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).

All the while Lindsey continued practicing professionally, designing the Piers Project, a tall viewing tower overlooking Pittsburgh’s “golden triangle,” and major renovations to the Society for Contemporary Craft.

Bruce Lindsey

Education: B.F.A., 1976, M.F.A., sculpture and photography, 1979, University of Utah; M.Arch., 1986, Yale University

Selected awards: 2005: AIA Top Ten Green Project Award, AIA Education Honor Award; 2003: AIA Design Honor Award; 1993: Young Architects Award, Progressive Architecture Magazine; 1992: ACSA New Faculty Teaching Award; 1988: Crafts Fellowship, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; 1983: Special Award for Urban Design, Salt Lake City

Selected publications: Re-envisioning Landscape/Architecture (2003), edited by Catherine Spellman; Digital Gehry (2001)Family: wife, Marilee Keys

Family: wife, Marilee Keys

In 2000, he partnered with Davis Gannon Architects for the 17,000-square-foot Pittsburgh Glass Center, which encompassed a school, gallery and studios. Their design incorporated a number of “green building” strategies — recycled materials, natural light and ventilation, and the use of an existing structure — and earned a rare gold rating under the industry’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) later named it a top 10 green building.

In 2001, Lindsey was appointed head of Auburn University’s School of Architecture and the next year became co-director of its celebrated Rural Studio following the death of co-founder Samuel Mockbee.

“The Rural Studio was based on a radical yet simple idea: that students would build what they designed,” says Lindsey, whose duties included operations, planning, fund-raising and “the maintenance of subversiveness.” During his four-year tenure, the studio worked directly with local communities and residents to complete more than 35 projects, ranging from single-family homes to the country’s tallest birding tower.

The environment also came to play an important role in Marilee’s work, which has been exhibited at galleries and museums across the country. Using natural and recycled materials — ranging from leaves and grass to stacks of junk mail —she has created large three-dimensional “drawings” as well as site-specific installations. In 2004, she received an Individual Artist Fellowship Grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

“Marilee’s work,” Lindsey says, “constantly reminds me that beauty, which is a natural resource, is a part of the environment that we all share directly, and without pretense.”

Building community

Lindsey arrived at the Sam Fox School in fall 2006. “The idea of bringing art and architecture together really intrigued me,” he says. “We also have a strong emphasis on quality design instruction, with an eye toward students becoming effective professionals.

“A number of faculty are already doing sustainable work, though we need to gain a greater depth of experience,” he says, noting that despite technological improvements, buildings still account for about half of U.S. energy consumption.

“Architects need to articulate what sustainability really means,” he says. As a school, “we want to become leaders not just within the academic community, but within the professional community in St. Louis and beyond,” he says.

In Lindsey’s view, such leadership requires education and innovative building practices, but it also means addressing the social conditions in which architects work. “As long as we’re not dealing with the inequitable distribution of resources, we’re not really dealing with the core problem of sustainability,” he says. “Architecture is about building community as well as buildings.”

That principle is at the heart of several ongoing studios, including a student-designed chocolate factory in Ecuador and a farmer’s market in North St. Louis’ historic Ville neighborhood. Last year, Lindsey and Gay Lorberbaum, affiliate associate professor, launched The Alberti Program, which introduces K-12 students from nearby Wellston, Mo., to issues of architecture, design and the environment.

“We wanted to present architecture as a kind of framework in which they’re able to address larger issues of community,” Lindsey says.

“Young people benefit from beginning to understand how the world around them is constructed.”