Portland Architect Robert Thompson is a Featured Speaker at the Portland Creative Conference

August 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm 1 comment

Robert Thompson– Founder, Principal & Design Director, TVA Architects–is a featured speaker at this year’s Portland Creative Conference.

Robert’s buildings are featured around the world (including headquarters for Proctor & Gamble and Sony Ericsson) and his most well-known Portland-area buildings include the Nike campus (he has designed over 30 buildings for Nike), the Fox Tower, the John Ross condos and the Umqua Bank Store in the Pearl. One of his most recent projects is the Matthew Knight Arena on the U of O campus. TVA Architects has won more than 55 awards for excellence in design including 42 local, regional and national awards from the American Institute of Architects. In anticipation of his upcoming appearance at the Portland Creative Conference, I recently interviewed Robert at his office in downtown Portland.

Robert is a native Oregonian, so we spoke for a while about his choice to live and work here:

Oregon is beautiful, and offers the ocean, mountains, an urban center large enough to attract rich culture, and is wonderful from the standpoint of raising a family. Portland is scaled in a unique way, and people just fall in love with it.

Portland is one of the world’s leading cities from the perspective of industrial design. We have world-class footwear, apparel, advertising, architecture firms all working here. There’s a wealth of creative professionals for design at all levels. It’s attractive to young people who want to be part of it. Portland supports and nurtures the creative economy, supporting young, innovative, entrepreneurial people, although of course they could always do more to support clean, green businesses. But look at the food carts: a lot of cities would have gotten rid of them. Portland nurtured them, embraced them, and now uses them as a marketing tool.

We also discussed his early creative history and decision to pursue architecture:

From an early age, I had a proclivity for drawing, painting, and building things. My parents supported and inspired me, enrolling me in just about every kind of fine art class that ultimately led to the decision to be an architect. I’m really fortunate in that respect; it allowed me to live an inspired life, doing what I want to do. I have an enormous passion for the creative process, and the busier I am, the more work there is to do, the happier and more fulfilled I am. It’s harder to be not busy.

Robert is inspired by all kinds of design:

Cars, boars, sailboats, the sculptural aspects of finely designed objects, of things that are thought through to the finest detail, the minimal number of moves. Things that are elegant, things that are graceful.

At the conference, he’ll talk about his creative process in the architectural world:

It’s all about design, from the macro to the micro level. The evolution starts on day one, at your first meeting with the client, and doesn’t end until the last contractor pulls off the job a couple years later. Architecture is a fine art, it’s all about creative problem solving. We’re designing the whole spaces, buildings, furniture, light fixtures, down to the napkins on the table. It’s holistic, creating entire environments from thin air, all the way down to the silverware in the restaurants we design. It’s not phased, it’s an ongoing engagement for years on any one project.

Architecture is a lengthy process. If you’re sculpting or painting, it’s just you. But architecture happens within constraints: the client, the jurisdiction, the code, schedule, budgets. But really, those things aren’t constraints. They define and frame the solution.

Good projects depend on good clients, clients who are emotionally engaged in creating good work. Engage clients in the design team as a participant, and then they can share in the authorship of the work. You are building a relationship, you aren’t just hired to complete a job. TVA has some of the greatest clients in the world: Apple, Nike, Eriksson, Nike, and we’re engaged with the highest level of leadership, people who want to create environments that reflect the brand strategy and support their internal creative process on a daily basis. Clients bring their own ideas to the table; the ways they’ve thought of to solve their problem, and then we pose creative solutions that they haven’t thought of before, solutions that solve their problem in an enlightened way. Architecture, all design really, is about solving the problem in ways they haven’t thought of, showing them many ways to solve the problem.

It was a fascinating interview, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say at the conference in September.


Entry filed under: Events, Portland Creative Conference.

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