A Design Master in Conversation
When meeting Richard Beard for the first time one perceives a sense of calm and good humor. Recently visiting his new Dogpatch offices, it is clear why, as we peruse high-caliber past projects and current visions underway that cast light on a creative talent at the top of his game. With his substantial body of work, Beard shows his understanding of the ability of truly listening, deftly assessing a site, and creating an interactive approach with his discerning clientele which engages and always inspires. After working at BAR Architects and heading up their residential design department, Beard decided to open up his own shop, Richard Beard Architects, in 2014 to create a smaller studio environment specifically focused on residential design. We found him in good spirits over lunch as he shared some personal insights on architecture and beyond.
CaenLucier: When did you first realize that you wanted to dedicate your career to architecture?
Richard Beard: That’s easy: I was a teenager, working for a bricklayer in Houston, under the hot Texas summer sun. It was a very Ayn Rand / Fountainhead moment. Think about when Gary Cooper is looking up out of the stone quarry at Patricia Neal, and you’ve pretty much got it.
CL: After working at BAR Architects as a senior partner for many years and heading up the custom home residential design group, how are you now enjoying having your own firm?
RB: I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m happy to have been a part of BAR’s growth and success over the years—they’re up to about 85 people now I believe—but it was time for me to take a new tack and move on to a smaller studio of architects primarily focused on residential design. The size is great, as is my staff, and I’m most happy that we have a roster of great clients and projects.
CL: What architecture around the world inspires you?
RB: Wow. That’s a big one. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled quite a bit for work and pleasure. It’s not always just the architecture, but how the community of design and culture develops with it. From my own home state, Texas, there is Marfa, and all of Donald Judd’s work. Completely amazing. Visit his former studio in New York (soho) sometime, too. And Renzo Piano’s Menil collection—one of the most beautiful yet understated museums in the world. The Kimball in Fort Worth. These were all early inspirations. Houston when I was growing up was a big boom town and still is to a degree. Gerald Hines was bringing in great architects for commercial projects—it was inspiring.
But further afield, have you been to the Amalfi Coast and Naples? While it’s full of tourists much of the time, there are amazing places there that really impress on quite human scales and emotions: in Naples, the Certosa for instance. Sublime. And on the coast, the San Pietro Hotel, sitting on an unbelievably steep bluff, not entirely “designed” but more accrued over the years, is really great. And then there’s Ravello, the Villa Cimbrone and gardens. No wonder Gore Vidal lived nearby for so long.
I’m also a big fan of Japan. In particular there’s a wonderful island, Naoshima, in the Seto Sea, that is magical in many ways. Art installations and Tadao Ando’s architecture really amaze you, and the juxtaposition with the little fishing village’s indigenous architecture makes for quite a place. I’m glad it’s so hard to get to, otherwise it’d be over-run.
CL: That’s interesting that you mentioned Japan. I notice that you’ve had some multi-family projects over a long time in Japan. How is working over there, versus here, for instance?
RB: Well, there’s quite a difference. My client in Japan values quality, design and operations to an amazingly high degree. For over twenty years I’ve been working for them, with the exact same team of interior and landscape designers. They’re an inspirational group, challenging and rewarding. Japanese contractors are amazing. I was visiting a recent project under construction—I couldn’t believe how clean everything was. On each floor are two rolling carts that contain fire extinguishers and five or six brooms. That should tell you something. The workers practice group supporting drills every day.
CL: This all sounds pretty great; what would you like to do if you were not an architect?
RB: Hah! Concert pianist, but I’m a terrible player. Ditto tennis. Rock star? But then Paul said I’d look like Keith Richards. Writer was and is always an attraction, both fiction and non-fiction.
CL: What are your reading now?
RB: Apart from keeping up with the ever challenging stack of New Yorkers, I’m currently re-reading some of Truman Capote’s early essays, profiles and observations. He was a great writer back then. Also Haruki Murakami, “After Dark.” And “Rendez-vous with Art” by Philippe de Montebello.
CL: What is your favorite project that you have completed recently?
RB: I think the Cole House project in Calistoga is a favorite. It’s a historic farmhouse (late 19th century) complex we’ve completely re-done, while keeping all the historic exterior historic pieces in tact. Great clients. And the project includes a historic, commercial chicken coop. Try that one.!