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Interviews

"Architecture is rarely the work of a sole author, teamwork is essential to success" says architect Russell Gilchrist


Gensler architect Russell Gilchrist shares 3 books that have influenced his life in architecture.
"Architecture is rarely the work of a sole author, teamwork is essential to success" says architect Russell Gilchrist

Each week GoArchitect interviews one person with one question: What 3 books have impacted your life in architecture and why? 

The books may be from childhood or just yesterday, what's important is that they helped define their personal or professional life. Want to be considered for an interview? Please fill this out.


Russell Gilchrist

Tall Buildings Leader, Principal at Gensler

Russell is a Design Principal, Global Leader for Tall Buildings and a co-leader of the Lifestyle Co-Lab Leader in Gensler’s Chicago office. With over thirty-five years of design experience, he has amassed a portfolio of high profile, architecture and master-planning expertise across multiple practice areas in the USA, Europe and Asia. He formerly worked with SOM, AS+GG, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (formerly RRP) and Foster & Partners. Completing award winning projects including: 1MP in Shanghai, ‘Pearl River Tower’ in Guangzhou, Protos Winery in Northern Spain, Glyndebourne Opera House in the UK, ‘Reichstag’ Parliament Building in Berlin. and 88 Wood Street for Daiwa Europe Properties in London UK.

He has published and lectured internationally on low energy, high performance high-rise buildings, and is a former Advisory Board Member for the Council for Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH). Russell has a Master’s degree from Oxford Brookes University (UK) and has been a registered architect since 1988.


What 3 books have impacted your life in architecture and why?

The Story of Western Architecture

Bill Riseboro, 1979

I first came across this book very early in my architectural career, this book is a combination of a very rigorously researched, judiciously edited, and incredible pen & ink drawings. As a budding designer I was immediately captivated by the beautifully drawn plans, sections, and perspectives. An exemplar piece of graphic communication conveys exactly the essence of each building despite the historical span of 1,500 plus years across Western Europe.
Upon reading and using this book it immediately made me want to draw and sketch myself and I was particularly thrilled to see that Wells Cathedral in the UK was featured not once but twice in sketch form. This familiarity with my home town Cathedral gave me confidence that all the other buildings contained within, were probably equally accurately captured in this economic graphic representation. I still regularly consult this book today when I am preparing drawings for a project presentation. It usually results in me spending yet more time leafing through one of the most delightfully recorded, architectural history of European architecture, in a very easy accessible way.

The Complete Works of America's Master Landscape Architect

Dan Kiley, 1999

My awareness of Dan Kiley's work came relatively late in my architectural career, however, his modernist approach to landscape design was immediately appealing to me. Typically on most architectural projects the appointment of a landscape consultant is not given the priority that it arguably should. Most, if not all, architectural projects have a site context; so the idea of orientation, siting and positioning of a project within the site/landscape is of very lasting impact. However, this is quite often left to the architect without too much consideration for its eventual lasting effects.
I've become familiar with the range of project work that Kiley has undertaken. Their is an obvious appeal of Kiley's abstract and somewhat graphic arrangement of landscape design and his ability to mediate between architectural forms and nature in a seamless and effortless way. I have used this book to form and reinforce design intent from the built to the natural on numerous occasions; quite often to convincing effect whilst waiting for the eventual appointment of a landscape professional to realize and develop a design intent. This book is not only a beautiful compilation of a preeminent landscape designer it continues to be a day-to-day reference for my own personal forays into the integration of project work in a natural context.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown, 2013

The book opens in 1933, a young man named Joe Rantz enters the University of Washington and tries out for the rowing team. Joe, who has grown up in poverty, hopes that a spot on the rowing team will keep him in school and give him a chance to prove that he belongs at Washington. His coach, Al Ulbrickson, hopes that the new freshman recruits will give him a shot at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Meanwhile, in Germany, Adolf Hitler and his advisors are also preparing for the Olympics; they plan to use the games as a PR exercise to show the world their true power and sophistication, making it that much harder for the world to challenge the Nazis once they begin their plans for invasion.

Despite punishing workouts in freezing weather, Joe makes it past several cuts to the freshman boat. At the first race against Washington’s rivals, Cal Berkeley, though the JV and varsity boats fail to win, the freshman boat exceeds all expectations, setting new records. The freshman boat performs similarly well at the Poughkeepsie Regatta in New York and Ulbrickson begins to see that he has some talented rowers he can cultivate for the upcoming Olympics.

The following year, Ulbrickson makes serious changes to the lineup, shifting the talented sophomores to the varsity boat. However, Joe and his boat mates struggle in their new position, and Ulbrickson eventually rescinds his decision. Meanwhile, Joe struggles in his personal life. Though he is deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart, Joyce, his father and stepmother, who abandoned him as a child, still shut him out their lives. The varsity boat suffers a series of defeats. When Joe is coached by George Pocock, Washington’s master boat maker, he sets aside his hard exterior and finally connects with his teammates; they work together for a common goal. Joe finds himself in the first varsity boat again as the rowing team heads first to the Poughkeepsie Regatta, then the Princeton Olympic trials. Washington wins both and so Joe and his teammates travel to Berlin to represent America in the Olympics.

The boys explore Berlin and take subtle stands against Hitler and the Nazi party. On the day of the Olympic race, the American team is at a serious disadvantage. They have been placed in the worst lane, the weather is poor, and one of their team members, Don Home, is seriously ill. Nevertheless, they step into the boat as a team. Despite a difficult start because of tricks played by the German officials, Joe and his teammates come from behind, pulling ahead of Germany at the last second and win the gold medal. They return home. Joe graduates from Washington, marries Joyce, and raises a family. He and his teammates get together for informal and formal reunions until one by one, they all pass away. Their story is still told, however, to each new group of freshman rowers at the University of Washington.

This book really resonates with me, not that I suffered anywhere close to the hardship or rejection that Joe did, however in my school years and post high school I played football (soccer) to a fairly serious (semi professional) level usually as team captain. I do believe that sport and perhaps team sport in particular is excellent preparation for an architectural career. Architecture is rarely the work of a sole author, teamwork and knowing the project team is essential to success.

As a senior leader at Gensler I am grateful for my formative experience in organizing, participating, and having success in a sporting context. It is a perfect preparation for the more cerebral and professional setting of architectural design, this book was a perfect reminder of the importance of personal ambition matched by team ethic.


Have any of these books influenced your life or career in architecture? Leave a comment below and tell us how.

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