Creative Differences - Design Bureau

Studio Tractor

Studio Tractor

Studio Tractor

Studio Tractor

Studio Tractor

Studio Tractor

Creative Differences

Monday, May 16th, 2011

There is a Polish saying that translates to “Strong like bull, smart like tractor.” For Mark Kolodziejczak and Michael Tower, the creative halves of Studio Tractor Architecture, the phrase elucidates the artistic and practical vision that inspires their collaboration. In fact, the friends adapted it for their company’s name. “[Tractors] represent this emblem of utility and simplicity and beauty at the same time,” explains Tower. “It just seemed like a great way to frame our approach.”

Kolodziejczak and Tower met as as classmates at Cooper Union in the early ’90s, enjoying a mutual respect for each other’s architectural strengths. They decided to mesh their talents in 2004 with the launch of their firm, but as Kolodziejczak readily admits, he and Tower rarely agree on every aspect of a project. “I always tell my clients they’re getting two for the price of one, because we don’t always agree with each other, but we’ll hash it out until we have great ideas to present to them.”

We sat down with the former classmates and current business partners to find out how two distinctly different people and personalities can come together to create a clean and cohesive style.

Did your upbringing in Detroit influence the way you approach your work?

It influences me quite a bit. It was just about being surrounded by a lot of people who were hands-on and mechanically oriented. That really framed my view of the world and the way I approach architecture.

Who were some of your early influences?

Music had a big effect on me when I was younger, especially the emergence of electronic music. It was a very immediate kind of way to engage in artistic expression.  But I would say the artist Gordon Matta-Clark had the greatest influence. His work reflects so much of what I was interested in back then. The decay of the buildings in Detroit, the exposure of structure and the interior, the literal deconstruction of space was critically important to me as a young architect.

[Mark and I] have always shared a common language… we have this amazing ability to be arguing with each other and realize we’ve been arguing the same point.

Why do you think that you and Mark work so well together?

We’ve always shared a common language. In terms of design, we are very collaborative; we push each other, we trade off ideas and we make concessions and formulate a vision together. We have this amazing ability to be arguing with each other and realize we’ve been arguing the same point. I’d say we disagree as often as we agree and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it makes for a better kind of design.  It’s less polemical and more
what’s appropriate.

Studio Tractor is a big proponent of prefabrication. Why?

Prefabrication is something that has always been interesting to me as an extension of my interest in manufacturing and what would seem to be a kind of logical transition into the production of architecture. It offers a certain economy of production; thermal and structural efficiency. It’s harder to put your finger on what’s prefabricated or not anymore, and I think that’s the success.

What inspired you to look artistically at the world around you and who were some of your early influences?

Growing up where I did [on the south side of Chicago], I was aware of the city’s architectural tradition. But it was in high school, when I first took up photography, that I really started looking at the city in a very particular way. As for influences, I’d say the there are two people who also happen to be very tied-in with Chicago; photographer Aaron Siskind and also Richard Nickel, who photographed all the demolition of Louis Sullivan’s buildings. He actually died in one of Sullivan’s buildings on the same day I was born. [Nickel died in April 1972, when a staircase fell on him while he was attempting to salvage part of the interior of Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange as it was being demolished.]

Tell me about your working relationship with Michael.

Michael has a very linear way of thinking and a particular methodology that I find inspiring. I am a little bit more of an elliptical thinker; I always have two points of reference. I have my own trajectory. Usually in partnerships everyone has a job to do, but when it comes to design there is typically only one strong voice, but I feel that doesn’t apply here. We both look at a project and the solution we come up with is the one that’s the right one for that project. I think that’s rare and I think that’s why we are where we are today.

You’ve used the term “poetry of materials.” What do you mean by that?

I think that people tend to have a limited conception of materiality, and the sense of value of material is not really apparent to people. We’re trying to be experimental about our materials. I think when you are presented with limitations, it’s a testament to how creative and how ingenious you can be with the simplest means. It could be something as simple as wrapping a door handle with leather or changing the tone of a room by simply changing the temperature color of an LED bulb.

Does your experience with photography influence your architecture?

Photography still plays a big role in how I approach projects, because it’s about framing the experience: what you see, when, and who sees it. To some degree, you’re really controlling the experiences; it’s not unlike how you crop a photograph. But as a photographer you either have it or you don’t. I mean you can look at an image and say whether it works or not, but architecture is outside of your realm, and after you’ve walked away from it, it may age with time gracefully or not.

If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be?

Walter Pichler, who is a great sculptor/architect from Austria; or I’d love to sit down and have a great conversation with [artist] James Turrell.

Tell me something about you that our readers may not know.

I’m married to sculptor Veronica Frenning, and, as an undergraduate, I designed a house for a blind photographer.

What single word best describes your architectural vision?


By Christopher Moraff
Portrait by Eric Luc


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