Lonnie Hoogeboom, AIA, a TAF scholarship recipient himself in 1991, established a scholarship award through TAF seven years ago in order to pay it forward. This year, his scholarship was awarded to Monica Burckhardt, a fifth-year architecture student at Rice University. Recently, they had a conversation about Rice, architecture, and how she put the scholarship to use.

Lonnie Hoogeboom: The goal for the scholarship is to build a corpus of 50,000 dollars to be able to award more than we currently are. At this point I’m paying $3,000 dollars a year, of which $750 is a scholarship and $2,250 goes toward building an interest-earning $50,000 corpus. That’s the financial background on the scholarship. I’m an architect, in Texas. I work for Central Houston, the Houston Downtown Management District and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority as the Director of  Planning & Design on large scale urban projects. I’m going to let Monica talk for a little bit, maybe just give us a little bit of background: where you’re from, why you chose Rice, maybe a little bit about your school and studio experience, and I think also your preceptorship experience.

Monica Burckhardt: I’m a native of Chicago, born and raised in the northwest suburbs. Growing up in an architectural city — the birthplace of the American skyscraper —  from an early age, I was surrounded by masterpieces, or a lot of building culture. That was where my initial interest in architecture began. My parents did a remodel of their home when I was a child as well, so by the age of six or seven I was already exposed to the architectural process. I actually met the architect and got to sit in on some of the meetings. And then growing up in that home gave me a pretty profound perspective on how architecture can inform the everyday. Having an uncle as an artist provided an additional outlet for creative experience as well as different exposures to design through many lenses. I think from a very early age I knew I wanted to be an architect.

 I chose Rice in particular because of its professional program, and the preceptorship experience that it offers, which I completed at NADAAA in Boston. So, working in a small firm of only 20 people was a really rigorous and intense year. But I think that it has additionally given me quite a bit of learning opportunities that I can capitalize upon now that I’m back in school for my remaining year in the BArch program. Having a chance to study for four years, go out into the workplace, apply what I’ve learned in school but also get a better opportunity to see where I may want to fill in some gaps in my final year was a great way for me to not only get a professional degree and some exposure to the discipline in a professional way but also to build upon my education.

LH: So, you graduate in May with your second degree from Rice. What do you think is next in life?

MB: Right now I’m considering moving out to Los Angeles where there is quite a bit of architectural interest but also an art scene that is really vibrant. And I think being able to plug into several design communities is best for me because of my interests in industrial design, graphic design, art, and architecture. So, Los Angeles is sort of calling at the moment. But more of a long-term goal within the next five years, I’m hoping to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree, perhaps in industrial design or an extension of architectural education. But I love school and I have a passion for being in the classroom, as well as potentially teaching in the longer term.

I’m a teaching assistant here for a studio of non-architecture students that  focuses on elementary design principles. Working with students or working with non-architects is a really rewarding experience and can help produce better architects because it’s a way of learning how to communicate complex architectural concepts to people who don’t necessarily have that background. At the end of the day, architects are striving to improve the lives and lifestyles of everyone. So, being able to communicate design ideals and educate those who don’t necessarily have a design background is a really important thing to pursue.

LH: It seems like the immersion into architectural thinking and then architectural production through this architecture for non-architects class, if nothing else, gives people an experience of what architects do, how architects think. And it’s multidisciplinary, all undergraduate students, right?

MB: Correct, yes.

LH: So, since it’s all undergraduates coming from different disciplines, for them to be exposed to architectural way of thinking can’t help but be a rewarding experience for them. But for you as one of the co-instructors of a class with faculty and your other classmates, what’s been the biggest benefit or value, things of interest to you in terms of teaching architecture?

MB: I think it comes down to getting out of the lingo, the jargon that becomes so entrenched in our minds in school. Oftentimes I find myself using vocabulary that just doesn’t translate and I think it comes off as either pretentious or a bit unapproachable. So, being able to talk to someone in an intelligent way but also one that recognizes that there is a disciplinary difference is important. I believe in tapping into what everyone can relate to, whether it’s a furniture design or a large-scale master plan. For me exploring everyday banalities or historical precedent and trying to engage them with either curiosity or novelty that everyone can recognize produces a visceral experience that can appeal to people of all backgrounds.

So, that’s why I like to focus on deadpan or even awkward scenarios, either formally or programatically. There’s a bit of an eclecticism or wittiness that I think should be inherent to architectural design. Architecture can and should be humorous and whimsical by producing intimate urban spaces and engaging interior spaces for people to use.

LH: Okay. Good. Just a couple of simple questions to get to know you a little better. What’s your favorite city?

MB: I have to say Chicago because it’s still my home.

LH: Yes, it is still home.

MB: But I think apart from somewhere that I know very well, Berlin is at the top of my list just because it’s a city with such history embedded in the urban fabric. You could read the city’s tumultuous past in the buildings that remain or the new ones that have emerged. And I think it’s a really exciting place to be because of that chaotic deployment of history.

LH: At an enormous scale or an intimate scale, what’s your favorite landscape?

MB: I have an affinity for the American southwest. I’ve taken quite a few road trips through that area. I think that it’s appealing to me because it is somewhat architectural. You have this vast open space punctuated with land forms that are just out of this world, literally otherworldly. Most recently I’ve been working on a a project that focuses on mud construction. So, I took a road trip to west Texas and eastern New Mexico that I found incredibly helpful because you can find rock formations that resemble buildings in a certain way. They can sort of provoke architectural ideas because of their formal profiles and massive imposing structures. And the colors are even better.

LH: And there’s just something about the expansive sky in the southwest.

MB: Mm-hmm.

LH: And like you said the vibrant color. To me it’s always been west Texas, New Mexico, southwest Colorado kind of thing. This expansive feeling that’s almost spiritual, though I don’t know if that’s the right word, but this thing that just moves you. The fact that historically people have settled in those places and found just incredible rock forms to live within. And then how to deal with what otherwise is also a somewhat harsh environment. It’s really incredible. I love the southwest.

MB: There’s a bit of manifest destiny there as well. There’s almost infinite possibilities of what could take place. In addition to that, there are circumstances in the desert that you wouldn’t encounter in other parts of the world. So, attention to ecological constraints as well as the lack of resources out there provide additional parameters around which an architect could begin to engage that landscape. And the architecture of that area is really fascinating as well. I took a trip out there a few years ago as part of my having won the Rosemary Watkin Barrick traveling fellowship when I graduated with my BA. With that funding I went and explored the non-architectural structures that a lot of communities have produced themselves, and there were typically no architects involved or even contractors.

These are communities where school buses are converted into makeshift homes or coffee shops. And shipping containers are prevalently used as well. So, again, I’ve had an interest in tapping into everydayness or banalities. Going out to the desert and the American southwest to learn from these communities where there are economic, ecological and resource constraints, to see what non-architects are doing with their own built environments, I think is a valuable experience to see as well. How can I, as an architect, tap into some of those tendencies and then try to engage those ideas through the design of more formal built structures.


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