Articles

Center of Theological Inquiry: Meet the Architects

June 22, 2023

Published in the Center’s Fall 2022 issue of its magazine Fresh Thinking, this conversation between CTI Director William Storrar and the architectural team of Kathy Dy, AIA and Tom Rowe, AIA explains the story behind the renovation of Luce Hall.

“Working together with a client that has clear and very well-thought-out ideas for the building and the future of the institution has been very rewarding for us, reinforcing the possibilities of architecture.”

— Kathy Dy & Tom Rowe,
Michael Graves Architecture

William Storrar –

Kathy and Tom, it is a great pleasure to reflect with you on how you have approached the design brief that we gave you for the renovation of Luce Hall. First, please tell us something about the design philosophy of your architectural practice, drawing as it does on the design philosophy of your founder, the late Michael Graves.

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

Design is a way of life. Everything that surrounds us in our daily lives is a design puzzle waiting to be examined—from a skyscraper to a library to a single-family home, to your teakettle, to the route you decide to take to work in the morning, to the way we engage with others in shared experience. Design is a wonderfully endless set of challenges we create for ourselves. Michael had such a strong and very personal design vision, but his true legacy for me (Kathy) personally was empowering and motivating others to engage in the challenge of collaborative design. The office culture he established was that of a family, a safe space for all of us to suspend disbelief and embrace the “why not.” Our colleague Karen Nichols characterizes Michael’s legacy similarly (and more poetically) as the “desire to create joy.” “Telling stories” is another pivotal phrase that alludes to an understanding of architecture and design as a language where communication and connection are paramount to the success of a project. This idea has buoyed the office for decades. It was also the name of Michael’s lecture that he took with him around the globe.

William Storrar –

You have both been central to our design project. Tell us about your own professional backgrounds and roles in the Luce Hall renovation project as the lead architects.

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

We have both spent most of our careers at Michael Graves Architecture working on a wide range of project types, from single-family residences to large institutions and masterplans. Representative projects pertinent to CTI include the Mitchell Physics Buildings at Texas A&M, the Arts Council of Princeton addition and renovations, Alter Hall for the Fox School of Business at Temple University, and the residential colleges and masterplan at Rice University in Houston. This diversity keeps it interesting and helps us to approach each design challenge with a fresh eye. On this CTI project, Tom is the architect who developed the initial design concept and Kathy is the project architect, leading the design process for the client.

William Storrar –

What did you make of CTI as a client?

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

Inspirational! At this very moment in time, when our local and global society is whirling toward extremes and obsessed with mistrust and all the things that divide us, CTI invited MGA to begin a conversation focused on the design of a facility whose singular purpose was bringing people together, an “Environment Conducive to Fresh Thinking,” as your founder James McCord described it. Listening to you (Will) describe for the first time who CTI is, was truly affirmational. That fundamental belief in the desire to create connection and foster collaborative environments resonates very strongly with our own approach to design.

William Storrar –

How did you approach the design brief that we gave you for the renovation of Luce Hall? Tell us about the creative process at the start of a project like this one, developing the design concept.

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

The creative process always begins with listening to our clients and trying to understand their “why.” The client’s “why” is the beginning melody around which the greater orchestral symphony is composed. In this particular instance, CTI has an existing facility in a location of historical significance where regulatory approvals have been known to be challenging. Given CTI’s “why,” along with the programmatic aspiration to stay “small local” and “go global/digital,” the desire to “transform and reimagine” over “discard and start over” seemed natural. Besides, the existing building was in pretty good shape on the whole, just a little tired.

William Storrar –

What were the biggest design challenges in the course of this project and how did you meet them in the final design?

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

It is important to us that the design physically embodies and supports CTI’s mission. The story we tried to tell centers on the representation of discussion and debate. This is most clearly seen on the Second Floor in the placement of the Colloquy Room for collaboration, surrounded by private study rooms and balanced on a bridge between the exterior and interior, between CTI and the wider world. The introduction of natural light and the transparency among the public spaces further this narrative and contribute to a sense of community for the Center.

“It is important to us that the design physically embodies and supports CTI’s mission. The story we tried to tell centers on the representation of discussion and debate.”

— Kathy Dy & Tom Rowe,
Michael Graves Architecture

William Storrar –

I have learned that an important part of your work as the project architect, Kathy, is to coordinate the range of services that go into Michael Graves’ work on the client’s behalf. Can you tell us about this key aspect of the project in realizing CTI’s goals?

Kathy Dy –

It is essential that the spirit of collaboration, envisioned for the finished building and evident in the initial design process, would extend to the entire project team—from our specialty design consultants to CTI’s talented project and construction management teams and the contractor and experienced trades performing the renovation. The thorough integration of the audiovisual and information technology systems into the design is one example of the detailed discussion and coordination necessary to arrive at an appropriate solution.

William Storrar –

Finally, Kathy and Tom, what has given you the most professional satisfaction in working on this renovation project with CTI?

Kathy Dy and Tom Rowe –

Working together with a client that has clear and very well-thought-out ideas for the building and the future of the institution has been very rewarding. Being able to help support these goals and design a facility that both satisfies programmatic and practical needs and expresses the commitment and idealism of the Center, reinforces for us the possibilities of architecture as a collaborative effort that inspires the notion of community both during the design and construction process as well as during its lifetime for the user moving forward.

Kathy Dy, AIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader

Tom Rowe, AIA

Principal, Design Practice Leader