CATHY SCHWABE ARCHITECTURE
The emotional power of a space, inherent in all built form, is something I experienced profoundly early in my architectural education while visiting two early-1970s buildings on the Phillips Exeter campus in New Hampshire. One building made me feel insignificant and increasingly angry and alienated as I walked through it; the other – just as tangibly – inspired a strong feeling of centeredness and balance. At the end of that day, I thought, “This is what I want to do” – create buildings that move people emotionally, that elicit and inspire a sense of well-being, serenity, and wholeness.
In 25 years of practice, I have worked in both small and large firms and have designed single-family residences, libraries, museums, aquaria, classrooms, and student and multi-family housing. I had the good fortune to work with Joe Esherick (EHDD Architecture) for many years at the end of his career, and that experience influenced me to begin my own practice in 2001 and to focus exclusively on residential design.
The design of a house, or part of a house, in a solo practice, allows me to be what I think of as a specialized generalist; “specialized” in that I enjoy a focused attention on one type of building, and “generalist” because the scale of a house allows me to do all phases of a project, from inception through move-in. Architecture, even in a solo practice, is always a group effort, and in addition to the builder and, of course, the client, I work with a team of consultants – so my role increasingly includes considerable coordination in addition to architectural design, detailing, and construction administration.
My work follows and builds upon the work of many others who have been influenced by that special blend of the Craftsman and the Modernist, linked with a clear response to site and climate, that has resulted in the Bay Area Modern Tradition. Each of my projects has “green” features and strategies that I believe occur naturally with all designs that seek to achieve a fit with site and local environment. The great challenge and, in my mind, opportunity, of recent years is that the energy crises of the past decades, coupled with an awareness of global climate change, have deepened the inquiry that first began with questions about local “fit” and appropriateness and that now includes questions about how decisions made at one site, for one client, for one project, affect us all.