Q&A: Wendell Burnette on the Architecture of Place

By Guy Horton
Metropolis, April 21, 2014

Wendell Burnette’s journey through architecture has taken him from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, where he has designed a type of architecture that resonates with the power of natural surroundings. It has also taken him to one of the world’s fastest growing cities, Phoenix, Arizona, where his practice, Wendell Burnette Architects, is based and where he calls home. More recently it has brought him to Los Angeles where he is the current Nancy M. & Edward D. Fox Urban Design Critic at the USC School of Architecture.

I spoke with Burnette about his approach to architecture, the importance of direct experience, and the meaning behind his current USC studio, “Earth Curvature”.

Guy Horton: I’m struck by how your work seems to be defined by a deep understanding of place. How do you achieve this?

Wendell Burnette: “Presencing” program is one way. When a building expresses its mission and engages the street it can be understood even from passing cars, or passing by on foot, as well as from the inside. A project like Maryvale (Palo Verde Public Library/Maryvale Community Center), for example, expresses a spirit of civic engagement. It reveals itself as a place for people, a place people want to be. In this sense, architecture can be inspiring programmatically. It gives something back by honoring the program and making it more transparent to the outside. Maryvale is a case where we re-presented a public program that had been hidden behind block walls. The old community center was like a cellblock. Now it’s a mind-body dialogue with the library and community center/gym both being revealed. This is one way you can get people to understand it’s there for them. Architecture can also embody the remembrance of a site, its history as a place.  More…

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