Jesse Hager, AIA, is a partner at CONTENT in Houston. With more than 13 years of experience in the fields of architecture and construction, he has been involved in the design of a wide range of projects, including affordable housing, hospitals, luxury residences, office buildings, and even a LEED Platinum-certified university campus in Saudi Arabia.
Where did you grow up?
In the woods of Washington state, in a small town called Bellingham, which is about halfway between Seattle and Vancouver. My parents have some acreage on which my mother runs a plant nursery and landscape business. My time was spent primarily playing in the creek, building forts in the woods, and inventing histories about the different areas of the property. I could ride my bike to the lake nearby, or keep going down to the bay, and Mt. Baker is just a short drive for snow.
I spent a great amount of time outdoors. To say I was fortunate would be an understatement, but of course, all I wanted at the time was the city.
Pen, pencil or computer?
Pen, no question. In my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington, all drawings had to be produced with ink and mylar — sketchbooks were a must in every studio. Frank Ching exerted enormous influence on my first couple of years at UW, and I am certain that my preferences are a remnant of habits formed in this period. At the outset of a project, I much prefer pen to work through ideas and initial design concepts. We then move rapidly into computer to ensure the scale is correct, and to see what I got completely wrong, but that's just part of the process. I enjoy the way a pen sketch evolves, seeing the layering of the initial gestures and then how it is corrected and refined as it continues to build upon the underlying idea. To me, it is important that nothing is erased — that all thoughts are on the paper. The qualities of drawing in pen cannot be mimicked in CAD or 3D modeling programs. I've yet to see any output from these programs that has the same ability to gesture or tantalize in the same way.
Where do you find inspiration?
In all of the arts — music, painting, metal work, everything. I tend to find more inspiration in things that people do than in pristine nature. Nature relaxes me, but as awful as it sounds, I don't generally find inspiration in it. Ironically, I am rarely inspired by architecture either. I get ideas, but not inspiration. Instead, I prefer books. My wife comments on how many books are on my nightstand at the same time, but I love finding unintended connections between them.
What community activities do you participate in?
I'm a board member of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which just moved into the old Houston Light Guard Armory Building by Albert Finn.
My wife and I also love to support a couple of local community-based organizations — Workshop Houston and Yellowstone Academy — and we attend their events whenever we can.
Do you listen to music when designing? What kind?
We always have music going in the office; when there is a silence, someone takes the opportunity to fill it. These days, I prefer instrumental metal, classical or even jazz, though that's not a popular one in the office. I still listen to many of the bands I grew up with. Three Mile Pilot is a favorite. Fugazi, Hoover, Hot Snakes — too many to list — but I really enjoy shifting time signatures.
What is the next building you plan to travel to in order to see for yourself?
I'm writing these responses on a plane to New York. I have been wanting to see the High Line and will make a point to return to the Folk Art Museum by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects before its demolition.