Justin Oscilowski, Assoc. AIA, Contributing to the Craft

Justin Oscilowski, Assoc. AIA, of PageSoutherlandPage jumped at the chance to volunteer for our 2013 Convention Committee and played a key role in transforming the ideas for our Craftsmen's Square into reality. Texas Architects' Robert Bennett interviewed him about his experiences.

Justin Oscilowski, Assoc. AIA – photo by Acme Brick

How did you first get started as a volunteer with Texas Architects?

Well, I started working for Larry Speck in May of 2012 at Page Southerland Page, and he’d mentioned to me that he really wanted to see the young architects at the firm get more involved in the community — to start volunteering more. So I asked him if he had any suggestions for getting involved.

Why the Convention Committee? That’s one of our most active and rigorous committees, so in a way it could be a bit like being thrown in the deep end.

It was one of the first ones he’d put forward. I think he definitely had an interest in having a young voice on the committee. I thought I could make a valuable contribution and was excited by the challenge.

How did you get assigned to the Craftsmen’s Square?

There had already been a lot of discussion between Larry, TxA, and Acme Brick about what to do with the Square, but to be frank, they needed someone with a lot of time to work on the drawings for cheap. I could sort of do the grunt work and produce the drawings for everyone to review.

The 2013 Craftsmen's Square – photo by Acme Brick

 

How did that work?

Larry would come in on the weekends and sketch something up and give some rough dimensions — similar to the day-to-day operations of the firm. Then I’d draw it up, and we’d review it.

What personal touch of yours did you see in the final iteration of the drawings?

Well, there were a bunch of different visions for the Square, and it became clear at one point that the one we’d been pursuing wasn’t something we could realize. So we kind of went back to the drawing board, and the idea we’d had so far — building something to reference Louis Kahn — made me suggest that we do something to reference Mies van der Rohe. Then Larry brought up O’Neil Ford, and it kind of grew into this whole aspect of referencing other architects' work with brick.

The Craftsmen's Square banners 

What were you trying to achieve with that?

We really wanted to remind people what could be done with brick. We wanted to remind people that there had been these great historical architects who had made these amazing buildings. Today, we tend to gravitate toward modern products, like steel and glass, but there’s still so much that has been done, and can be done, with brick.

What was it like working with Acme Brick?

It was really humbling. It was humbling to be talking to these guys and have them be listening to me. In the beginning, the Convention Committee was kind of a conduit with them, but as things went along, Rusty Haile at Acme Brick had to have someone give him something to bring before his subcontractors. So I had to send him a lot of stuff directly.

Oscilowski with the Acme Brick team – photo by Acme Brick

It was the first time I’d ever been in the driver’s seat on a project. I’d done things like this in school, but never anything someone spent money on. It was a real trial by fire, and a great and amazing learning experience.

Were there any obstacles or issues you had to resolve in your designs?

The really hard work was pretty much done by the brick guys. But, the main issue I had was how to make it feel like one solid wall, rather than something made in 6-ft intervals. There was a lot of brick coursing I had to do, a lot of math, and a lot of design to figure out how the blends could fit together and still keep to the spirit of what Aalto did.

The Craftsmen's Square wall inspired by Alvar Aalto's Experimental Summer House in Muuratsalo, Finland – photo by Acme Brick

What was your reaction on seeing it?

It was overwhelming! I’d never seen anything that I’d designed or worked on completed, and to see that come together was just really, really cool.

Any idea what’s going to happen to the brick pieces afterwards?

Acme joked and said they’d send them to my house. But I think they’re looking at a lot of options.

How will this affect what you do in the future — in volunteering and in your professional life?

Well, I’m definitely looking to be involved more. This was a great experience for me, and it was really exciting to have my work out there in front of people, with some of them asking me questions about it. The team aspect was really rewarding. But really it inspired me to volunteer more and to try to contribute more to the architectural community.