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WITH JOSHUA PRINCE-RAMUS

July 08, 2014
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With a life and résumé so full at age 44, there’s no way to briefly introduce this man.
Joshua Prince-Ramus is the Principal of REX, the internationally acclaimed architecture and design firm he founded in 2006 after amicably parting ways with his mentor Rem Koolhaas. Prince-Ramus is a visionary, a pragmatist, an athlete and an artist. He’s a guys’ guy, and he’s seen some things. His teams have overseen the design and construction of some of the 21st century’s most important cultural projects including the AT&T Performing Arts Center Wyly Theatre in Dallas, The Vakko Center in Istanbul and the Seattle Central Library, which TIME magazine named “2004 Building of the Year.” Huffington Post named him one of the world’s “5 Greatest Architects Under 50.” Described by Esquire magazine as the “savior of American architecture,” Prince-Ramus is a member of the TED Brain Trust for whom he has given various talks about the current state of architecture and the importance of process over the divine sketch. We’ve heard through the grapevine that he is one of the most engaging speakers in the industry today. We’re not surprised, judging from the evocative detail he employs to answer just a few questions asked by a little showroom full of big fans.

When I was young, I wanted to be…

Scandinavian. This desire mystified me for years until 23andMe revealed I am not all Slavic as believed, but half Slavic and half Scandinavian. At least my having blue eyes can be attributed to something other than the milkman. I also wanted to be Luke Skywalker.

My very first job was…

working as a fishmonger at thirteen in Beaufort, N.C. My father wanted me to understand the value of education, so he implored the owner of Capt. Ottis’ Fish House to hire me (illegally) to unload, clean, dress, and sell the fish brought in by the trawlers and longliners. Each evening I had to soak my swollen hands in bleach to counteract the venom from the fish and shrimp quills. I must be one of only a few architects in the world who can steak a tuna in under twelve seconds.

An eye-opening experience in my life was…

the attack on the World Trade Center. I lived a little more than a block away, and saw things that were simultaneously horrific and life affirming. I watched a man—in an act of total defiance—leap from the North Tower in an elegant swan dive. Someone next to me mumbled that he was “showing off.” The comment sickened me. His was the purest, most powerful act of self-expression I have ever witnessed.

I start each day…

by waking my daughter to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. I don’t know if she likes it or is just putting up with me.

Three words to describe my creative process are…

challenge with naiveté.

My favorite part of the execution of a building is…

the moment onlookers are overhead saying, “Do you think they know that column isn’t straight?” You gotta love sloped columns.

The best kind of client…

is one who can take educated risks. Prior to commencing design, we work with our clients to establish each project’s core issues, upon which we collectively take positions. These positions empower both client and architect to critique the architectural proposals we subsequently generate. Great clients move forward with the solutions that optimally satisfy our shared positions, even if dramatically unconventional.

The most beautiful shape is…

an awkward, imperfect one. I ascribe to Voltaire’s “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Lauren Hutton would not have been the most successful ‘cover girl’ in history without the gap between her teeth.

Something you might not know about me is…

that I was a competitive athlete. I rowed for Yale, coached the University of Washington’s Varsity Four to a National Championship, made the U.S. National Pre-Elite Team, won the silver medal in the single scull at the American Rowing Championships, and was a semi-finalist in the ’96 U.S. Olympic Trials.

My favorite SUITE NY product is…

Dieter Rams’ 606 Universal Shelving System.

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