Billie Tsien of New-York based architecture practice Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, talks residential and institutional architecture.
July 6th, 2009
In this excerpt from the latest issue of Indesign magazine, Rachael Bernstone takes us into the world of Architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams.
According to New York-based Billie Tsien, “Architecture is an act of physical and tactile experience. Pictures don’t count and renderings most often lie in this age of global images.”
Even if she’s correct, and I think she is, the spirit of the work Tsien produces with her husband and partner, Tod Williams, transcends the two-dimensional representations that are projected for the benefit of the audience. While there can be no substitute for viewing the architecture in person, Tsien’s generous outpouring about their life and work, and lyrical descriptions of the clients and processes that are essential to achieving their extraordinary outcomes, are illuminating.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects was founded in 1986, nine years after Tsien commenced working for Williams at his own practice in New York City. The couple have a 23-year old son, and still live in the compact but beautifully-appointed apartment above Carnegie Hall on 57th Street, where they raised him.
“We are surrounded with a collection of objects that we’ve picked up over the years, that combine beauty and use,” she says. “We live in tight circumstances, but it feels quite exalted, even with the laundry hanging out to dry, because of the light and views. We sleep upstairs under a skylight.”
The pair work on Central Park South, two streets away, in a one-room studio where “everyone is responsible for everything”, Tsien says. Many of their built works are in their immediate neighbourhood.
“We wrote a book called Life/Work where Tod says that ‘everything in the work is mine and Billie’s’,” she recounts. “Throughout the office there is a sense of responsibility for everything and we all try to make it beautiful.”
Williams and Tsien work collaboratively on every project, although they have complementary but overlapping interests. “Over time, we have developed like two separate trees, but below ground, our roots are completely joined,” she explains. “We might have an argument above ground, but we can do that because below ground, we agree.”…
CV Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkely. Photo ©Michael Moran.
Façade of CV Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkely. Photo ©Michael Moran.
Billie Tsien. Photo by Martin Mischkulnig
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