Timberlake, who is a founding partner of high profile practice KieranTimberlake, underscored the importance of curiosity and discovery, commenting that the buildings his practice designed “are really experiments.”
“Yes, we have models,” he told an audience of 500 in Auckland, but the process of assembling and experiencing a new building was always intense and educational. Timberlake was in New Zealand as the international guest judge in HOME New Zealand magazine’s Home of the Year award sponsored by Altherm Window Systems.
His three public lectures in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch attracted large audiences, who were taken on a pictorial and oral tour of some of Kieran Timberlake’s more noteworthy projects, including the planned new US Embassy in London, the Brockman Hall for Physics, Rice University, in Houston, the “Cellophane House” prefab project at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Loblolly house, in Chesapeake Bay, and affordable homes for New Orleans flood victims.
The latter project, executed as part of Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation design exercise in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, gave Timberlake a greater sense of personal satisfaction than some of his firm’s more publicised commissions, he said. The personal contact with clients in the Lower Ninth Ward and the small scale achievements that were obtained had a special dimension. This project’s focus on energy efficiency and the consequent savings that were obtained were a recurring theme for all of Timberlake’s projects.
For all the projects that were featured Timberlake dealt in depth with the questions of sustainability and energy efficiency that were explored, not just in planning and design but in the learning environment afterwards. Once completed, projects were subjected to detailed monitoring of thermal performance to ensure that the company’s knowledge base was enhanced.
Nowhere was the practice’s commitment to project-centred research more in evident than in the submission that won them the competition to design the new US Embassy in London, due for ground-breaking in two years time. Timberlake’s account of the historical, visual, landscape and climatic research that influenced their proposal gave designers an insight into what it takes to win a plum commission in a fiercely competitive profession.
In his presentation, Timberlake said that the building’s form and surrounding environment required that contradictory priorities of stringent security be balanced with cultural ideals of transparency, openness and a welcoming entranceway. Kieran Timberlake’s competition entry was one of 37 submitted, and they survived a final round tussle with four other competitors including Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Richard Meier & Partners.
In addition to his architectural practice, James Timberlake teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. He has held visiting professorships at the University of Washington, Yale University, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas at Austin, among other institutions. He lectures extensively in the United States and abroad.
HOME New Zealand’s Home of the Year award will be announced in August.