In our ongoing series, Interview with an Architect, we speak with leading voices in the North Texas architecture community and learn about their work, development issues in our community, and good design practices and principals (you can read the last one here). This column was originally posted on April 20.
In Dallas, architect David Stocker, AIA, is well-known for his residential, commercial, and sacred spaces. He approaches his work theologically, he says, creating beauty in a broken world, one project at a time.
“I see beauty as largely objective—in a sense we are ‘hardwired’ to experience beauty,” Stocker said. “It is a common trait in our humanity. The creative process is really discovering, or in most cases re-discovering, these timeless patterns of what is known as beauty.”
He is a principal at Uptown-based Stocker Hoesterey Montenegro Architects, a firm he co-founded with Mark Hoesterey and Enrique Montenegro almost 11 years ago. As the firm profile states, “We consider ourselves ordinary people who are extraordinarily good at our work. We care deeply about our craft and who it affects, and it is our desire to be always conscious of our design principles and core values, regardless of project type, scope, style, or location.”
Their portfolio on Houzz is a testament to the beauty they create. In fact, they’ve received the “Best of Houzz” design and service awards 2014-2015, and a design award this year. We sat down with Stocker and asked him about his background, philosophy, favorite projects, and more.
CandysDirt: You grew up in Central Illinois between St. Louis and Chicago. How did that influence you?
David Stocker: It gave me great access, at an early age, to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and others and began my love of architecture. I began my move towards Texas by going to architecture school at the University of Arkansas. I was fortunate that E. Fay Jones was active at the school and professor at the time. I loved the school and the program (my daughter is attending now). I graduated in 1984 and decided to make Texas my home and begin my career at HKS [Architects].
CD: What was your relationship to noted architect Victory Lundy?
DS: At HKS, I had the great opportunity to be assigned to Victor Lundy as his assistant architect. Victor is an amazing architect and he really showed me what it was like to be a passionate architect. His buildings, like the US Tax Court Building and First Unitarian Church in Westport, are incredible and timeless. He also helped encourage me to take a sabbatical from HKS and travel the world to see the great works in architectural history.
In 1990, my wife Jennifer and I, as newlyweds donned our back packs and traveled throughout Europe for the year. It was a pivotal point in my career to see great places and spaces. Architecture became more experiential to me. I wasn’t in architecture as a “style.” I was in it as an actual place. I would literally sit, sketch, or photograph the space and think about why I loved the space so much. I really experience architecture as more a series of linked and repeatable timeless “patterns” over some filing system of worldwide styles. It reinforced the work of Christopher Alexander and his book Pattern Language in my thinking and future work. Of course, it was also fun to get to experience all this with my wonderful wife.CD: In 1994, you joined Weldon Turner and Brett Boaz in their upstart residential architecture firm (which became Turner Boaz Stocker Architecture). What was notable about that time?
DS: The experience was great in learning about what it takes to build a firm and do high end architecture. For my ten years there, we were able to do a lot of great projects in the Dallas area and around the country. We were also able to attract really good young architecture talent like Mark Hoesterey and Enrique Montenegro. In 2005, I decided to leave the firm. Mark and Enrique had similar visions and we began Stocker Hoesterey Montenegro the summer of 2005.
CD: What was the motivation to do that?
DS: Our motivation for starting the firm was of course to do really good architecture. It is a lot of architects dream to start something from the ground up. It’s a difficult but rewarding task. We really wanted to make good architecture accessible to more people and have fun doing it on the way. We have been fortunate to grow a firm of outstanding individuals and, after ten years, we still have a lot of fun.CD: How would you describe your personal architecture philosophy?
DS: For me it begins theologically. I like to say, “The world is beautiful, yet broken.” If I think that it is only beautiful, I miss the brokenness. If I think that it is only broken, I miss the beauty. I am not going to create a utopia. It is not something architecture can possibly do. What we do have is a heavy burden of being aware of the brokenness but adding beauty to the world one project at a time.
CD: How has that philosophy of creating beauty in a broken world shown up in the styles you use?
DS: We have easily embraced “traditional” architecture, “modern” architecture and “transitional” architecture. I put quotes around the styles but what is important is the underlying patterns. Yes, we might have a different use of materials or window patterns but it is amazing how the underlying ideas have a commonality. One of the things that we often hear is that people don’t know what to call our work. I take that as a huge compliment because it means our architecture might be changing the conversation away from style towards possibly a more objective idea of beauty.CD: What current projects are you working on that have you the most excited?
DS: It’s been a good year so I have quite a few that I am excited about. We are in the middle of a project on Drane in Greenway Parks. Jay Jeffers, from San Francisco, is the interior designer and Rusty Goff is the contractor. We are close to finished on a project in Vaquero that has been a long project but should be terrific. We have our first project in Montana that will be done this summer. Debra Walker is the interior designer. There are several projects in the Park Cities that will finish this year as well. I am in the middle of negotiating on a project in Connecticut. I am excited about the possibility of expanding our brand to the east—I am sure Mark and Enrique could add their own list of exciting projects as well. All said, it an exciting time for our firm.CD: You have designed several sacred spaces. What draws you to that work and how is it different?
DS: Sketching in Europe was always in the shadow of the immense beauty of some beautiful cathedral built over scores of years. It is an incredible sense of the transcendent. The “otherness” of things that can’t be explained. What was always interesting to me was not the gothic architecture but the weight. Solid stone walls of incredible thickness built on massive foundations. Immense and Immovable.
We were fortunate enough to do a chapel on a ranch in rugged West Texas. It was a wonderful project that only comes around once in life. It’s a simple building made of very thick solid masonry on top of a hill from which you can see for miles. Our office assistant, Emma Hamblen (who is a wonderful writer) wrote a piece for our website journal that I think tells what draws me to the work. She wrote:
St. Francis Chapel in Breckenridge, Texas, is indeed sacred. Not just because it’s a chapel, but because it says something about the world and it says something about human nature. It admits to the imperial loneliness of human existence. Nestled on top of a hillside overlooking the surrounding landscape, everything—even the visible homestead—feels far away. It’s pretty much just land for miles, and that is simultaneously calming and terrifying. And seeing all of that space makes us ask ourselves some intensely uncomfortable questions. Where would we go if we had nowhere to turn? What would we do when we realized we were alone? So the chapel makes us ask the questions, right, but it also provides answers. “You’d come here,” it says. “You wouldn’t be alone here.”
It’s all about the weight.CD: What’s your favorite building in Dallas, residential or commercial, and why?
DS: It may sound a little odd, but I would say Highland Park Village. It’s not that there is some spectacular building or some star architect. It’s the combination of buildings and the spaces between buildings. It’s a suburban space with great urbanism. It breaks the “rules” for shopping centers but commands the highest rates. It’s obvious that it architects, Fooshee and Cheek, thought about the things we like to think about. Mainly what makes great places.
I am sure it has had its swings up and down in its 85 year history but it’s really the test of great architecture that it loved over generations. I have always thought it should receive some 50 year award from the AIA. Instead, those awards go to places like Dallas City Hall (I.M. Pei) and Fort Worth Water Gardens (Philip Johnson). I have never understood why sets for dystopian movies (City Hall—Robocop and Fort Worth Water Gardens—Logan’s Run) get the awards while simple places that are loved over generations like Highland Village are never given a thought.
If you know an architect (or are an architect!) who should be featured in this occasional column, please email Leah here.