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).
Thad Reeves, AIA, is a co-founder of A.GRUPPO Architects, an office positioned as a vehicle for collaboration between themselves and other designers, architects, fabricators, and most importantly, clients.
He received his Masters of Architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1997. During this time, he studied in Spain and traveled widely in Europe. His interest in the influence of historic European architecture on contemporary design has led him on numerous architectural pilgrimages throughout Western and Central Europe, Australia, and the U.S.
After graduating, Reeves began his career with RTKL Associates in Dallas, where he was part of both local and international award-winning projects. He later worked with Oglesby Greene Architects, where he honed his skills on well-crafted, smaller-scale projects.
In 2003, Reeves went entrepreneurial, helping to form the offices of Thomas Krahenbuhl and Truett Roberts Architects, continuing to work on commercial and residential projects at all phases of the design process.
It was in 2005 that Reeves began teaching at his alma mater, UT Arlington, where he taught for ten years (he is currently taking a break, as his business has really taken off). This was also when he co-founded A. GRUPPO.
CandysDirt: You have an interest in the influence of European architecture on contemporary design. How do you see that happening—or not—in Dallas?
Thad Reeves: My interest in European architecture, both historic and contemporary, has to do more with ideas and where they come from. In Europe, they’ve been dealing with buildings in the urban context for far longer than we have. I think there is a lot to learn from how the Europeans approach issues of density, transportation, and public space.
I’ve realized that I’m not as excited about a lot of new buildings. Many are very nicely done, but lack something that I haven’t quit identified yet. A few years ago in New York, I realized there were a lot more things to learn from how someone (probably not an architect) resolved a gate or connection between two buildings rather pragmatically than something considered “high design.” Ideas are all around us, so it’s fun to catalog those and see where they will pop up in our work.
CD: You co-founded IPB LLC in 2005 as a way to purchase and develop projects, like the restoration of a historic 1920s residential complex where you acted as developer, designer, and contractor. What appeals to you about a restoration?
TR: IPB was an interesting venture for a specific set of buildings in the heart of a high-crime area at Fitzhugh and Capitol in East Dallas, the epicenter for a lot of the drug dealing and violence in that neighborhood. It was interesting to see how much the pedestrian traffic changed after we got it cleared out and started work. That area has really transformed in the past ten years. I like to think that we really helped start cleaning up that area in some small way and that’s pretty satisfying.
I think restoration in general makes a lot of sense, especially if you have something good to start with. On the other hand, in that neighborhood, there were a lot of old buildings that needed to be torn down, and it made sense to do so. Renovation is a lot more challenging than new construction because you never know what you will uncover along the way that you will have to either fix or readjust your initial assumptions.
CD: What’s your perspective on the preservation climate in Dallas? What would you change?
TR: I think there are a lot of people interested in preserving the history of Dallas architecture. We’ve seen a lot of vocal opposition to tearing down (many illegally) of some great old buildings in this city—that’s a good thing. We need to keep speaking up because once they are gone they are gone. The real weak link here is the city.
Dallas has long been a city where developers do whatever they want to do that’s nothing new. My hope is the city really puts some measures in place to keep these things from happening. That still won’t guarantee that they won’t happen because the repercussions of tearing down a building aren’t prohibitive enough to deter developers from doing so.
CD: I love your firm’s profile on architizer.com, where it refers to “attaining the transcendent experiential quality of architecture.” How beautifully put. What projects have you worked on that you feel achieved that? Speaking theoretically, what does that take?
TR: I’m not sure I’ve ever worked on a project that has achieved that—I think it’s an ideal that architects are always searching for. You can see in in the work of the masters, architects like Louis Kahn, Alvaro Siza (Tavora before him), and Carlo Scarpa. I think it takes a full complement of site, materials, client, architect, and contractor to achieve that. On every project we work on, we try to push our boundaries and our clients as much as possible. Those limitations are often opportunities if all the parties are on board.
CD: What work of yours has been the most satisfying to you and why?
TR: The most satisfying project I have worked on was the Dallas Police Memorial. I was working at Oglesby Greene Architects and we were the architects of record. I was the job captain for the project and it was one of the most rewarding projects because of how personal it was for the families of the fallen officers. I like to think that all of our clients are happy with the end product, but I don’t think it can compare to how meaningful the memorial was for the families.
CD: You worked as a professor for 10 years and plan to return. What is your impression of the young architects joining the field today? What do you predict will be the big issues they face in their careers?
TR: I think young architects today are bright and are very proficient with technology. One of the struggles throughout architectural education is that there are a lot of instructors that have no practical experience and know very little about the practice of architecture and how things get built. That’s not to say that these instructors don’t bring a lot to the table in different areas, however I personally think that if you have too much of that you end up with students that enter the work force very unprepared to engage in practice.
CD: What’s your favorite building in Dallas, residential or commercial, and why?
TR: This might change depending on the day you ask. I think the best space in the city is the Hall of State at Fair Park. The Key Vision Center on Lemmon by Joe McCall at Oglesby Greene is a fantastic building that I think has a timeless quality and is very understated. My favorite new project is Max Levy’s columbarium at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church—it’s fantastic in every aspect. The scale and materiality are perfect. I think it achieves that transcendent quality mentioned above.