We are Thomas Chastain and Renee Chow, architects and educators drawing on 30 shared years of looking and working with form. We started this blog as a project to both compile and extend this research. It is a path we began as graduate students on a research trip to western China, off to discover Turfan, Urumqi, and the Taklamaklan desert, and one we have continued to wander and explore throughout our professional and personal lives. On our many excursions to look at places and architecture, we always brought along our two, then young, daughters. We had our notebooks and made sure they had theirs. Looking was a family affair and included the natural, the built, the inhabited, and the generative. For us, observing form is both a critical practice and a pleasure.
We use these experiences in our teaching, research, and design practice. Along the way, we have both been on the faculty at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Cambridge, MA), at ILAUD (International Laboratory for Architecture and Urban Design- Siena, San Marino, Venice), and UC Berkeley. When living on the East Coast, we started our own firm in Newton, MA. We moved west, for the landscape, the weather and to teach at Berkeley where Renee continues on the faculty teaching design and is the Chair of the Department. She is the author of Suburban Space as well has the recently published Changing Chinese Cities a book on urbanism in China. Tom is the managing principal of our practice STUDIO URBIS also in Berkeley. Tom is working on a collection of essays with Renee entitled ‘Designing for Density’ and was a planning commissioner for our town, where the everyday conerns for the form in the environment will hopefully find their way to this blog.
We see this project on form as a part of the larger research we began at MIT. We hope to share things we have seen along the way, but will also include new questions and discoveries. We continue to be drawn to places and landscapes for lessons; and from time to time, we are still joined by our daughters, who now know to bring their own notebooks.
About the Blog
As architects and educators, we have always been drawn to the real -- the material, the experiential, the tangible, and the inhabited -- and in this engagement, a literacy with form is our most valued competence. We look to the world for form to enlighten and inform design and see our designs emerging into that world, taking on their own histories and interpretations.
In this project we will look at the ordinary and, hopefully, the profound. We will talk about compositional issues, systems, light, color, experiences, and theories about form. We don’t hear much discourse about these and think there should be more. Our subjects will be landscapes, urban forms, places, buildings, artifacts, practices and anything else we find interesting. Considering the increasing use of digital tools in design practices, we think there is an ever greater need for this discourse on the knowledge and methods we work with.
We approach this subject from positions of observation and design. For us, these are different modes of the same practice and has led to a habit of observing in the service of making. This blog shares our efforts. We hope that the casual rigor of entries will further what we see in the world and in the forms we make. We plan to share our view of form less as a singular statement and more as a cultivation of values and as an appearance at all scales.