| Architosh founder Anthony Frausto-Robledo interviewed M. J. Neal this winter about his very exciting work, much of which is highly engaging modern architecture, deeply rooted into the place of Austin, Texas. |
AFR MJ thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First off I would like to say I really like your work and the things you are doing on the Mac.
MJ Thanks very much.
AFR Let me start off with some background stuff so we can get to know you. So you are a native of Texas and went to college there as well. What prompted you to go to Los Angeles after you graduated from architecture school ?
MJ Well...Texas had a huge bust in the mid 80's and there was a mass exodus of architects from here. Some of us went West and others went East. I just happened to go to LA.
AFR When you were in Los Angeles, you worked for a few different firms..did you bring anything exciting back from your 'LA experience' ?
MJ Yes. The first firm I worked for was William Brantley Architects. He really considered himself more of a sculptor than an architect. And so he really dealt with things as a sculptor rather than an architect. He dealt with things in a sculptural way that was really interesting to to be a part of. And then Frank Fitzgibbons..who is just a wonderful architecta wonderful man toohe had actually worked for Meier, Giurgola and Breuer...so it's like he passed on a heritage coming directly from the Bauhaus, just one person removed from Breuer who was actually over at the Bauhaus.
AFR Right, so you are kind of naturally inclined toward Modernism then?
MJ Yes. I always have been, even in school. You know the Post Modern thing was really pervasive when I was in college and I actually thought it was very distasteful.
AFR Can you tell me a little about your fine arts training?
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MJ Well, I actually have been drawing since I was a little kid. I remember asking my Mom as a small kid how to draw people and she'd draw stick figures...I have always been interested in drawing people. So a lot of my artwork deals with the human figure, or more an abstraction of it into some kind of figurative art.
While I haven't done it in many years I was really working with these 16 to 18 feet long by 6 feet high...really large canvases...and really abstracting the body out, trying to capture a sensual quality.
AFR I thought that it was very interesting that you were working with a filmmaker and focusing on restaurant design. Can you talk a little bit about that? What were you trying to accomplish by working with a filmmaker in architecture?
MJ Well, I have always been interested in movie making and have worked in that industry some. For some reason, I have been around a lot of theater people and movie people since college; I don't know why they keep coming into my life!
Restaurants themselves can have a real theatricality to them. They can become an event of sorts, a ritual people don't even realize they are a part of. With Darrell, we wanted to capture the theatrical possibilities of a restaurant setting by combining our talents.
AFR You are not only talking about architecture as stage but trying to arrive at an architecture that raises itself to the level of theatricality in terms of expression.
MJ Absolutely, I think that would be certainly one way to put it. It really does raise itself to theater. But also -- to use a really old cliché -- the 'whole world's a stage' -- and so if we can do these restaurants that really engage your senses, manipulating your whole experience, from the entrance to the food, how you are directed into the space, how you feel where you sit....the way the light comes in, the surfaces of the materials...everything to the flatware, then you are elevating that experience of architecture.
"That's using the term 'vernacular' in its true sense, 'of the place itself'."
AFR How would you describe the architectural culture in Austin today and where do you see your firm's role in that?
MJ Well...I was pretty frustrated a couple years ago by what is going on here. There are some people doing some really nice stuff, what you would term as classical Texas vernacular, where they are using a lot of materials and things and expressing them in a way that is really responding, maybe, to the Texas past.
But a lot of what has happened down here is really bad. And there really isn't a whole lot of modern architecture going on. And I think we can do very vernacular contextual architecture and still have it be very modern. That's using the term 'vernacular' in its true sense, 'of the place itself' .