Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is an associate and project designer with Callison in Dallas. He also serves as the chair for AIA Dallas' Architecture Matters, a committee focused on strengthening the community of architects through innovative and engaging events. "It is all about making the AIA fun again," says Friebele, "and who wouldn't like that?"
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in St. Peters, Missouri, about 20 minutes west of Downtown Saint Louis…. There was nothing too memorable about the suburb. However, the times I visited St. Louis proper were a major influence on why I became an architect. Perhaps some of the best lessons in architecture and design came out of that city’s many successes and failures. To be able to have seen, but not known off-hand, the cause made the effects of past decisions more impactful. If it were all to come together in a wacky form, the City Museum would be it — it's a great public space built from bits and pieces of the city’s past, and an amazing experience if you haven't been there.
Pen, pencil, or computer?
I prefer photomontage, but in a very detailed manner.
When I was working on an entry for the Evolo Skyscraper Competition a few years back, the challenge was to create an image that evoked the sense of place without ever having been to that area. Luckily, a team member had grown up in the thick of the Galápagos Islands and was able to give a detailed account of the place. Between his description, images of the actual context, and the desired mood and feel for the design, the final outcome was very compelling and sparked my interested in tackling design challenges through this process.
I have often found that the best way to convey a project, especially in a context like China, is with layers that respond to the client and location using this method. If anything, it teaches you a thing or two along the way.
Where do you find inspiration?
Currently, I am involved with a cultural center in Dallas called "Life in Deep Ellum." In a time when the community was at its lowest point, this place chose to serve as the catalyst for change. Perhaps no other place has taught me more about diversity and community values. I have found inspiration in events I have volunteered for, like DaVerse Lounge, a spoken word and art event that gives under-21-year-olds the opportunity to be a voice for their community, and moderating a closing reception featuring the 598 Artist Collective from Uruguay.
Do you listen to music when designing? What kind?
I listen to a broad range of music. One common thread between the various genres I listen to seems to be that they always feature an instrument that paints a vivid picture for the listener. I enjoy mid-90s Trip Hop and Shoegaze (particularly the band Portishead) because these genres seem to do so much with so little. Today, after some discontent from friends on road-trips, my musical tastes have branched out a bit more, but those genres remain my go-to when I design — that and my Walkman, of course.
What is the one building that you just had to see for yourself?
Without a doubt, the Oslo Opera House by Snøhetta. In a country known for its restraint, the ability of the architect to be reverent of the surrounding landscape while pushing the envelope demands respect. Given the city’s height restrictions at the time, which have now been eclipsed by the adjacent Barcode Project, you used to be able to sit atop the building and see for miles into the fjord — a view made even better at sunset with the lights of the city.
Snøhetta's architecture has this level of quality carried throughout their work. If you cannot make it to Norway on a whim, at least check out the College Park Pavilion in South Dallas. It's a bit of a stretch to say it is similar to the Oslo Opera House, but it does make for a good backdrop. Just ask Willis Winters.
What type of advice would you offer to young professionals?
The biggest mistake I think interns make is deciding on a firm solely based on the images found on its website. Design is important, sure, but great work is not merely defined by the lines put to paper or the complexity of the pattern of an amorphic form. The “About” section is oftentimes more important to the design than the work itself. This section gives at least a glimpse into whether an office is going to encourage the broadest sense of connection with other mediums that shape the work.
A Norwegian professor I had while at Kansas State University, Torgeir Norheim (the one who looks like Mick Jagger) engrained into the studio his own bit of advice: “Never stop playing in the sandbox.” This profession encourages us to "play” more as we strive to open up new avenues for growth and experience. A firm that fosters this atmosphere and inherently incorporates this concept into their design work makes for one of the best experiences you'll have when starting your career.