The UT Austin School of Architecture spring commencement ceremonies took place on May 17, 2014.
Dean Fritz Steiner welcomed all those in attendance in Hogg Auditorium with the following remarks.
COMPETENCE / CONFIDENCE
At an alumni reception in Brooklyn during spring break, one of our graduates who had gone on to Harvard to continue her studies said to me, “At UT, I became highly competent. At the GSD, I became really confident, maybe even over confident.”
This observation has stuck with me. Partly, her competence/confidence evolution, no doubt, tracks her maturation process. I can certainly identify with this trajectory as I moved as an undergraduate from a strong public university to graduate school at an elite Ivy League institution.
I have shared her observation with my UT colleagues, who generally agree that it reflects her maturation. However, as odd as this may sound, because the stereotypical Texan is not lacking in confidence, I believe we could do more in this regard.
One of my colleagues noted, “If we are to err on one side or the other, I think we’re better to lean toward competence, because with competence comes confidence.”
I agree, but a university of the first class, which is our constitutional mandate, should instill confidence. Having participated in the advanced studio juries last week, I can state unequivocally: You graduates of the class of 2014 who go out into the world should be confident. You, indeed, are highly competent.
Confidence will grow as you gain greater mastery of your professions: when your first building is built, when your first park hosts a wedding, when you preserve your first historic structure, when you design your first office interior, or when your first plan is adopted by city council.
You have the skills to do so. Now, you need to muster the courage to do so at the highest possible levels. I am confident that you will succeed.
And with that, it’s my pleasure now to introduce our keynote speaker, Mickey Klein of Austin.
A graduate of UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, Mickey worked as a petroleum engineer in the oilfields of West Texas before returning to study law at UT. He became a successful oil and gas lawyer and spent most of his career in Houston.
As you will learn in a few minutes, Mickey is passionate about art, architecture, and landscapes. He and his wife Jeanne, a graduate of UT’s College of Education, are widely recognized as some of the world’s foremost collectors of contemporary art.
Over the past several years, I’ve had the great privilege of building a friendship with Mickey and Jeanne. We always enjoy an enlightened conversation about art and design whenever we are together. They are truly lifelong students and scholars of the built environment.
I invited Mickey to give your commencement address for several reasons. Certainly, his keen understanding of design and its power to shape human lives is appropriate for this audience. But it is his abiding sense of service and spirit of generosity that was most appealing.
The Kleins are deeply committed to the University of Texas, its students, and its future. In fact, one of the reasons the Kleins moved to Austin from Houston was to become more engaged, active participants in the life of the university and our vibrant community—whether it is at the Blanton Museum, the College of Education, the University of Texas Press, the School of Architecture, the Waller Creek Conservancy, or The Contemporary Austin.
One observer has noted that at any gathering, Mickey can always be found talking with the youngest person in the room. I was most touched to learn that of all his involvement at UT, Mickey’s favorite activity is volunteering weekly at the UT Elementary School. I knew he would enjoy this opportunity to share some thoughts with you today.
Please welcome my friend, Mickey Klein.
COMMENCEMENT KEYNOTE SPEECH BY MICKEY KLEIN
Thank you, Dean Steiner. Distinguished members of the faculty, graduates, proud parents, families, and guests—good afternoon and congratulations to the class of 2014.
Fifty-six years ago, I graduated from UT Austin with a degree in petroleum engineering. After working in the oilfield for several years, I returned to the university and received a law degree in 1963. I’ve spent my career in oil and gas exploration, production and law, first with a major oil company, and for the last forty-five years as an independent operator.
So where does this leave me in talking to a group of young, resourceful architects, planners, landscape architects, interior designers, and preservationists?
I’d hoped that I might receive some input from my omniscient wife, Jeanne. I asked her if in her wildest dreams, she could ever imagine my giving a commencement talk at a school of architecture. She responded, “Mickey, I don’t want to disappoint you, but you’re not in my wildest dreams.”
After much thought I realized that I had been given a gift—the unique opportunity to share some of my experiences in a life lived with an intense passion for art, architecture, and the land, and hope that some of these experiences might inspire you scholars of the built environment.
I’m often asked how I developed these passions. Exposure and curiosity were key. I grew up in a family with absolutely no interest in art, architecture, or the environment. At the age of ten, much of my spare time was spent engaged in sports. But in those days I had a secret, one that most of my friends wouldn’t appreciate. I loved art, buildings, and gardens.
On weekends, I would hop a bus and sneak off to the Nelson-Adkins museum in Kansas City, where I’d spend the day, fantasizing in the armor room, immersed in the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton or fascinated by the paintings of his student, this guy who with his paint brush flung oil on a canvas lying on the ground, Jackson Pollock. The museum became my refuge, a place where my imagination ran wild. Through this exposure I learned at an early age that art aroused feelings of happiness, curiosity, discovery, and challenges like nothing that I’d ever experienced. I learned as well that the physical structures strongly affected my feelings in many of the same ways, and that the environment in which the structures are situated completed the experience.
At the recent “Nature and Cities Symposium” organized by the School of Architecture, landscape architect Carol Franklin wisely pointed out, “For the building to work, the landscape has to work.”
My art and architecture education has come from exposure, rather than formal schooling. I read ten different art and architecture magazines monthly, visit museums, galleries, art fairs, gardens, homes, churches, and libraries at every opportunity, and I attend every lecture by artists, curators, and architects that I can.
Like so many of you, my passion for the arts was sparked by great teachers. In Houston, I had the good fortune of forming a close association with the great art and architecture patron, Mrs. Dominique de Menil, who was my greatest teacher. I vividly remember standing in front of a Mondrian painting at MOMA and asking her if she saw the influence of Mondrian on Brice Marden, a contemporary painter I admired. Her answer was simple, yet so profound. She said that every artist influences everyone else, a point that I’ll return to in a moment.
Architecture occasionally makes front line news. A recent panel discussion was held to analyze MOMA’s controversial decision to raze the critically revered American Folk Art Museum designed by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien to make way for a MOMA expansion. Glenn Lowry, director of MOMA made his position clear, saying “we don’t collect buildings.” These remarks stand in stark contrast to a decision of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, to acquire Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman House, a 1954 example of his Usonian Houses, with the intention of disassembling it and rebuilding it on the museum’s one hundred twenty acre campus. This move emphasized founder Alice Walton’s mission to preserve and honor art in all forms.
At the risk of being presumptuous, there are several things I would urge you to remember throughout your careers. First: always keep in mind your client’s personalities, objectives, and values.
This point was made by UT Department of Psychology Distinguished Teaching Professor Sam Gosling in his recent book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. Dr. Gosling discusses the need to identify people’s emotional and psychological associations as a vital component of the design process. He suggests that architects should deeply consider people’s personalities, let me repeat that, people’s personalities, in the earliest stages of the design process to insure that the structure fits the occupants and users, not the other way around.
Let me share some experiences I’ve had in choosing an architect to design our Santa Fe home, and what it’s like to be on the other side. Jeanne and I set out to find an architect to design a contemporary home that would be surrounded on three sides by national forest as a showcase for the art that we love. It was vital that the home be built with a respect for the land and that it take advantage of the infinite variations in the natural light of Northern New Mexico.
We had the privilege of speaking to two prominent architects and an artist before we made our choice.
I first spoke to Phillip Johnson while visiting the glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, where I told him about the project. Mr. Johnson, who was then a spry ninety, jokingly said, “I can do everything at ninety that I could at fifty, which shows just how pathetic I was at fifty.” Then he said he wanted to design the house, and the process was very simple. He proposed that I fly him out to the site where he would spend just one day and then design the house, with no further input from us.
The next person we spoke to was a prominent New York architect who wanted to build a monument to himself, with little regard for the land or art. He didn’t ask us one question about ourselves.
Then, the artist James Turrell from whom we had purchased a sky space, which was to be the centerpiece of the house, called saying that he wanted to design the house. He proposed that the only art in the house would be his light pieces, which he would give us, and he suggested that the house be called the “House of Light.” Jeanne thought this might be interesting, I didn’t, but to preserve marital harmony, I relented. We spent a year working with Turrell, to no avail.
The problem was that none of the three listened to us. Then we spoke to a young, early career New York architect, Mark Dubois, who had very little experience in residential design. He took a week to come stay with us, to see how we lived, observe our personalities and psychological needs—and become familiar with our art collection. We decided to take a chance on this young man. Not only did we share sensibilities, principally on the use of light and color, but his abundant talent was evident. Further, he was willing to consider some of the elements of the work of two architects whom we admired, Tadao Ando and Peter Zumthor.
Before we began construction, the major works of art were placed—rooms were designed for Ellsworth Kelly, John Chamberlain, and Richard Serra sculptures.
The building site was on a ridge at the highest point in the area. Frank Lloyd Wright said, “No house should be on a hill, it should be of the hill, belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.” Following Mr. Wright’s advice, although I didn’t appreciate the reason at the time, Mark excavated seven feet of dirt from the building site, so that the house could grow from the land, not loom over us from the ridge.
Of crucial importance was our architect’s on-site presence for two to three days per month for the three and one half years of construction. He not only got to know our personalities, but those of our general contractor, and every carpenter and stone mason, relaying his vision for the project—and importantly, exchanging ideas with them in a true collaboration. The home, completed ten years ago, has won several architectural awards and has been a delight to share with others. It is a seamless extension of our personalities and our lifestyles.
We are now considering the future of the house. Our hope is to add two cabins and leave it to UT Austin as a study center, where scholars of all disciplines can gather to pursue their work and freely exchange ideas, if this is feasible from the university’s standpoint.
I mentioned Mrs. de Menil earlier. She made psychological and emotional associations in another way. She often expressed the idea that the art people collect gives insight into their personality. I have no creative ability, but have come to realize that the art that I collect is a way that I express myself.
Second: a common criticism in the world of art is that the work is “derivative.” But that misses Mrs. De Menil’s point that I referred to earlier, that every artist influences everyone else. She would tell you to look at the work of Shigeru Ban, Larry Speck, Juan Miro, Elizabeth Diller, Billie Tsien, Laurie Olin, Douglas Reed, or Susannah Drake. Learn from it. The message is—to be influenced or inspired by their work is not copycatting or being derivative.
Third: much of what I learn comes from children. When I go to a city, my first stop is a museum. I always try to follow a school group, preferably an elementary school group, listening to the observations and questions of the students. They see everything so openly and clearly without preconceived notions or filters. They ignore the often mystifying labels and don’t care about who owns the work. For most children, the art simply exist,s and they respond to it at an emotional level. At the “Nature and Cities Symposium,” esteemed landscape architect Laurie Olin put it beautifully saying, “my litmus test must be: does it work for children?”
This brings me to my fourth point: as architects, remain flexible, but don’t compromise your core principles.
A few years ago I found myself on the losing side of a battle for the design of the Blanton museum. In my view, the museum as it is now configured, and from an aesthetic standpoint, is not as successful as it could have been. As some of you may recall, after a worldwide search, the prominent Swiss firm Herzog and De Meuron was awarded the commission. After submitting several proposals, all of which were rejected by the two members of the Board of Regents assigned to the project, Herzog resigned the commission. The ostensible reason given by the Regents was that the building didn’t conform to the master plan. In my opinion, this was a huge missed opportunity that we are now trying to correct. We did make a positive change in the entry atrium space, that was previously a cold, sterile, and unwelcoming white box, by commissioning Teresita Fernandez, a New York artist, to create stacked waters, an installation of tiles inspired by a Roman bath and Donald Judd’s stacked sculpture.
What observations did I draw from this experience? First, the board, as client, failed to acquit its responsibility to the students. Second, in contrast, Herzog correctly and courageously acquitted it’s professional responsibility: they refused to compromise their core principles and resigned a very high profile commission.
The power of the built environment is that it affects our mood and state of mind. Think about how you feel when you enter Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, the Renzo Piano Menil Museum in Houston, the Ryoan-ji gardens in Kyoto, or a simple well-designed garden in a residential setting. The artist Ed Ruscha, with his 1960’s photographs of gas stations along Route 66, reminds us that even the most modest structures can have charm and character.
Both art and design have intimate transformative effects on our thinking, creativity, and well-being. How much comfort and challenge a structure, a garden, or a public art space can elicit requires great skill in reading the souls of the people who inhabit them. The human element is always present. In your work you will likely make some mistakes along the way, but remember that is how we all learn. Again, as my favorite humorist, Frank Lloyd Wright said, “the physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines,” or as Dean Steiner offered, hire a landscape architect.
In Sir Winston Churchill’s address to the British Women’s Temperance Union in 1953, he was introduced by the chairwoman, who said, “Mr. Prime Minister, we have estimated that if all the wine, whisky, and brandy you have consumed in your life was poured into the ballroom, it would come right up to your chin.” In answer, Churchill said, “Madame President, I accept the accuracy of your calculations, but as I look at the high ceiling of this room and ponder my seventy-eight years, my only thought is this—how much left to do and how little time to do it.”
Unlike Churchill, you have the gift of time. Don’t get frantic, but don’t waste it. The happiest people I know are those doing what they’re passionate about. We all have to pay bills, but my unhappiest acquaintances are those who are caught in ruts, going through the motions and marking time in jobs that don’t interest them. There is so much left to do. Dare to take risks and make interesting, fantastic, and inspiring mistakes as you explore the infinite possibilities available to you—and take some time each day to enjoy every moment of the ride. Congratulations, class of 2014!
2013-2014 STUDENT, FACULTY, AND STAFF AWARDS
The UT Austin School of Architecture recognized the following award-winning students, faculty, and staff at the May 17 commencement ceremony. Congratulations to all.
American Institute of Architects Awards (presented by Philip Keil, AIA, President, Austin Chapter AIA) — Awarded for scholarship and professional promise to graduating students in first professional degree programs.
First Award: The Henry Adams Medal
Madison Alexandra Dahl, Bachelor of Architecture
Benjamin Jacob Morris, Master of Architecture
Second Award: The Henry Adams Certificate
Matthew Blake Dubin, Bachelor of Architecture
John Patrick Cunningham, Master of Architecture
American Society of Landscape Architects Awards (presented by Tim A. Bargainer, President Elect, ASLA Texas Section) — Awarded for scholarship and professional promise to graduating students in landscape architecture.
Certificate of Honor
Bailey Diane Rankin, Master of Landscape Architecture
Certificate of Merit
Yishuen Lo, Master of Landscape Architecture
American Society of Interior Designers Awards — (presented by Shellee Anderson, Allied ASID, Austin Design Community Chair, ASID Texas Chapter) — Awarded for scholarship and professional promise to undergraduate degree candidates in interior design.
Certificate of Honor
Meredith Marie Watson, Bachelor of Science in Interior Design
Certificate of Merit
Elizabeth Ashley Thompson, Bachelor of Science in Interior Design
Recognition of Academic Achievement — Awarded to degree candidates for outstanding scholastic achievement (4.0 grade point average in all coursework leading to a degree).
Laura Margaret McGuire, Ph.D. in Architecture
Alpha Rho Chi Medal — Awarded to a graduating student in architecture who has shown ability for leadership, performed willing service for the school, and has promise of professional merit.
Hellen Rose Awino, Bachelor of Architecture
Outstanding Professional Report/Thesis/Dissertation/ Master’s Design Study
Samuel Tommy Dodd, Ph.D. in Architecture
Na Fu and Kathryn Koebert Vickery, Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning
Samuel Noah Gelfand, Master of Science in Sustainable Design
Kathryn Leigh Howell, Ph.D. in Community and Regional Planning
Tamara Alexandra Kinney, Master of Interior Design
Amarantha Quintana-Morales, Master of Science in Historic Preservation
Community and Regional Planning Outstanding Student Award
Jeffrey Adam Carrillo, Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning
Landscape Architecture Scholarship Award
Stephanie Nicole Baltodano Kopplin, Master of Landscape Architecture
Landscape Architecture Design Award
Michael Henry Steinlage, Master of Landscape Architecture
Community and Regional Planning Design Award
Rachel Cathryn Tepper, Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning
UTSOA Outstanding Staff Award — Amenity Applewhite
UTSOA Teacher Award (lecture) — Richard Cleary
UTSOA Outstanding Teacher Award (studio) — Matt Fajkus
UTSOA Graduate Research Assistant Award — Clifford C. Kaplan
UTSOA Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award — Morgan Lindsay Parker
UTSOA Outstanding Scholarship Award — Rachael Rawlins
UTSOA Outstanding Service Award — Jason Sowell