A Conversation with Marianne Cusatocomments (0) September 3rd, 2010 in Blogs
I talked with Marianne Cusato for the Tailgate department in issue #213. We printed 7 questions and answers with her in the magazine; the remainder of the interview is below.
We also interviewed her in 2008 for the HOUSES issue (#195); listen to a podcast of that interview.
Who are your role models?
I love traditional forms, but I don’t believe that every building needs to be 100% historically correct as long as it is based on the principles. There’s a wide range of people I look at. It’s hard to pick out any one.
What types of projects did you work on when you got started professionally?
I got started at Grenfell Architecture in Charlotte, N.C. It was a really fantastic place to have a first job. Milton Grenfell did all classical and traditional work—high-end residential, but we also worked on architecture within master-planned communities and as a consultant to the zoning department. That introduced me very early on to Andres (Duany) and the type of work he does, so there was a balance: the big picture and then the details as well. And it was a small firm, so it allowed me to be part of the whole process of everything and to see a complete picture of what it was to practice. I think I got way ahead in terms of my engagement in things because I was able to see all aspects and also at the range of scales. It was a fantastic foundation for where I am now.
Have you gotten any feedback from people who live in the Katrina Cottages?
The people that we talk to love them. Unfortunately, I feel a little removed from some of the homeowners because we sell through Lowe’s in an automated system, which means that I have less contact with the end users, so I don’t even really know where they all are. We’re in the process of trying to do some outreach and figure out where they are. The people we’ve talked to are thrilled with them and they’re happy. From the sounds of it, they’re doing really well.
You grew up in Alaska, and now you live in Florida. How have these disparate locations influenced your work?
Being from Alaska, I understand the importance of environment. Alaska has an amazing natural environment, but the built environment has never quite measured up, although they’re making some efforts and doing some things that are pretty cool and pretty fantastic up there.
Anchorage as a built city has been the victim of bad timing because it’s a very young city, and so the real money started flowing up there in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s when every built city architecturally went through a very dark period.
When established cities came out of it, they had these old sections to fall back on as the core of the city, but Anchorage didn’t have that core. It was too young of a city to be built when everybody else was building the good stuff. It’s an interesting place and an interesting dynamic, and I think that as even when I was growing up, having no education to explain to me why I felt certain ways, I knew that there were things about that built environment that just were not as successful as they could be: lots of strip malls, lots of sprawl. I took a trip to Washington D.C. when I was in high school, I took a trip to Berkeley, Calif., and I remember immediately feeling that these were great places. I couldn’t articulate why I felt better in an environment where there was a streetscape and where you could walk, where there were street trees.
It was interesting because at the same time that the built environment was so grim in Anchorage, the natural environment—the beauty of the place—is so strong. There’s a huge identity of place that comes with that—something that I understood and enjoyed and loved.
Being in Miami now, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve come to Miami through a bunch of other places. I went to school in northern Indiana at Notre Dame, and Charlotte, N.C., then I lived for quite a while in Manhattan. I personally would find it hard to live anywhere that wasn’t an active, urban environment. It is the surroundings that I feel most comfortable in. It is important for me to be able to walk to my daily needs. This bleeds over into my work because I appreciate this kind of place and want to contribute to places that are authentic and feel right and where people want to live.
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