Perth-based graduate architect, Johannes Lupolo-Chan won the 2013 CSR Cemintel 9 Dots Award in September last year, scoring himself a 17-day architectural trip to the USA for his innovative yet practical urban dwelling design, the 10x10 The Laneway House.

He shares with us his experiences on and of the tour, revealing the way new and unfamiliar ideas presented by both architects and clients can often create masterpieces.

As a fresh architectural graduate, the opportunities from this grand tour around the United States were limitless. In addition, I had vigorously studied just about all the buildings on the tour’s itinerary during my studies at an American university back in 2011. So to be able to visit each and every one of these buildings would bring intense moments of nostalgia and resolution. Theory and history I had learnt would finally come to life in front of my eyes and all the questions and thoughts I had years ago would be answered.

Tour leader and competition jury member Malcolm Carver introduced this perfectly as ‘the grand architectural tour’ on our first day in Santa Monica. And grand it was – we visited just over 40 buildings and sites, travelling across 16 cities and 10 states in just 17 days, with one-night stopovers and early morning flights/starts to pack in a whole day of visits.

There was a particular emphasis on Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, Renzo Piano, Mies van der Rohe and Santiago Calatrava. They each had fascinating stories with their buildings and architectural careers in the US.

Most architects worship Frank Lloyd Wright – but it wasn’t until this tour that I truly understood why. From his original home and studio in Oak Park – where the beginnings of his obsessive attention to detail and need for control are apparent to the juxtaposition between his Taliesin properties in the west (Arizona) and east (Wisconsin), to the breathtaking beauty of Fallingwater – its cantilevering presence over Bear Run made my heart skip a beat.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image:

His complete control over the design of a house/building, all of the built and loose furniture and even designing a dress for the client to wear inside the house was evident in buildings like Johnson Wax Factory, with the marvellously designed office tables that had pivoting drawers with inbuilt paper dividers, and a custom-made raised bin making it smooth sailing for the cleaners.

The stories of the dialogue between clients and Frank Lloyd Wright were highly amusing, and there was always some evidence of the outcome of disagreements in each of the buildings that produced some quirky details

Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Johnson’s Glass House were great juxtapositions to each other and were great sources of debate amongst the group. Farnsworth House sat so elegantly within the landscape – its white silhouette graceful amongst the fall colours of the surrounding landscape. The idea of ‘universal space’ was explored in the house and subsequently at Crown Hall in Chicago. Meanwhile the Glass House spoke a different language – not elevated but cemented in the ground. Its silhouette not white, but black – the corner detailing less resolved than Farnsworth House.

Philip Johnson’s Glass House, New Haven, Connecticut


Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House

Perhaps one of the main lessons I have learnt through visiting and hearing the individual stories behind each of these buildings is that there is always going to be doubt and opposition to a new idea – its unfamiliarity is supposed to create tension between client and architect, or between builder and architect. Many of these buildings were so innovative and pioneering for its time – today they may not be pristine, practical or relevant but they were trying to push the boundaries.

Today’s technology has enabled us to create – Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Halls extremely complicated stainless steel shell is an example of this. The breathtaking engineering spectacle of the opening of the wings at Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum starts to suggest building as a moving piece of architecture or art.

Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Image:

I have taken something away from every building – some more than others, but all very important. The people I have met on the tour – an eclectic mix of architects (practicing and retired), architectural enthusiasts, lawyers, and doctors etc, made the tour even more memorable. Our nightly discussions over dinner and drinks were lively and passionate, and provided interesting and different viewpoints to each building’s positive and negative points.

As a young architect, the tour has instilled many new ideas and has given me a newfound confidence. These buildings have become great reference points for future projects – both as conceptual ideas and the finer details. I have shared some wonderful memories with some wonderful people, who have become great mentors and friends. In conclusion, it has made me realize how lucky I am to be an architect and to enjoy what I do, and hopefully create buildings that others will enjoy too.