Thom Mayne is an America- based architect. He has designed many architectural marvels throughout his career span and is now involved with many universities as a mentor and trustee. He has also won the critically acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2005. He heads his firm called Morphosis where he works on a lot of residential and public building projects. Being a noted designer and visualizer, he is well known for his philosophies on space designing.

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How architecture can connect us ©TedTalks

Back in 2007, he appeared in one of the TED Talks where he bared it all about his take on sites and building design. To begin with, the talk was a complex one to understand because it dealt not just with architectural vocabulary but also with human emotions. Below is an excerpt of his presentation and a critical review on it.

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How architecture can connect us ©TedTalks

Thom Mayne quotes that “Architecture is the beginning of something.” It is a process of generating something that is much bigger and better than your tangible self. It is a medium to communicate your thoughts, feelings and ambitions to the world. It is more of a declaration! To him, architecture holds meaning beyond making a building look good. It is more meaningful because it has more value addition to our lives than any other form of construction. He explains that, in the formation of things, in giving it form, in concretizing these things, it starts with some notion of how one organizes. There’s been a continual relationship between inventions, which are private, and reality, which has been important to him. 

He is fascinated by the randomness and multiplicity of patterns. He defines every ideal architectural design as a flow of ideas that make people walk down a certain path. This path evokes emotions, relativity and drives their curiosity. It ultimately builds a relationship of the user with the site and the user gets the notion of relativity to its surroundings. The user experience is exploited to the fullest when creating spaces that matter. He does not believe in singular existence. 

As quoted by him, “It’s the relationship — it’s the dynamics between the systems — which have the power to transform and invent and produce an architecture that is — that would otherwise not exist.” And those systems could be identified, and they could be grouped together to form the repetitive pattern. More so, today, with the technology of the computer and with the rapid prototyping, we have the mechanisms to understand and to respond to these systems, and to allow them to adjust to the various accommodations of functionalities. We’re producing spaces that accommodate human activity. And what interests him is not the styling of these spaces, but the relationship of that as it enhances that activity which connects to the idea of city planning.

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How architecture can connect us ©Pinterest

To elaborate on this further, he quotes the example of the Caltrans building in Los Angeles. The building skin or facade seems to have detached from the structure. It gives a very clear notion that the skin is blending into earth. It builds a connection with the site and maintains transparency. He shows an image about the use of light as a medium, that light becomes literally a building material. We could talk about the relationship with a biological sense of the building and ground.

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He then talks about a high school in Pomona which he had designed. An institutional setup demands some sort of notion of inquiry because it’s a system that’s developed not sculpturally. The design has to do with a broad, consistent logic, and that logic could be understood as one occupies the building. The building itself should contribute to a good education setup. He has attempted to develop an overt notion of a building that connects to the land in a very different way because he was interested in a very didactic approach to the problem.

Moving ahead, he speaks about the NOAA- National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency headquarters. Situated outside of Washington in Maryland. They used landscape as a major idea. He wanted to really build this in a fashion of caretaking because the agency sees themselves as the caretakers of the world. He wanted them to look down at their satellite, how they see their own site, that eight-acre site. They played with the greens and kept the site nicely landscaped including three baseball fields. And then that, in turn, propelled them to look at larger-scale projects where this notion of landscape building interface becomes a connective tissue. He ideated it to be an extensive horizontal expanse of landscape that gels with the building and allow it to be its character.

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Lastly, he speaks about his most intricate and interesting project – the courthouse. He designed the Supreme Court of Oregon. As a designer, one could not proceed without making this negotiation between one’s own values and the relationship of the character they’re working with and how they understand the court. 

And he’s a character that’s extremely interested in understanding the nature of that constructed reality.  He designed it keeping in consideration a traditional courthouse and fusing it with the modern design values.

To conclude, his philosophies do connect with me. The ideas of a building being connected to the site forms the very basic of a design for me. There is no other way in which a building can be true to its character. Every client is unique and has an interpretation of what he wants the building to be. Therefore, we need to consider certain notions and build on them to derive a design that is meaningful and true to its surroundings.


Pragya is an innovative, ambitious, fervent, creative and a forward-thinking architect with a flair for writing. She firmly believes that writing is one of the most effective tools to convey about design. Her varied experience in the fields of architecture design, building documentation and creative writing enables her to view the professional through a different spectacle.