Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Date Posted: 09.16.2019

By Kelly Rodriguez

Gordon Walker: A Poetic Architecture is a biography about a man; a man who was born in Iowa, raised in Idaho, and who came of age in Washington. Thanks to its elegant and generous presentation—beautifully composed by Ryan Polich and company at Lucia Marquand—upon first glance the book could appear as any other that one may strategically place on a coffee table to demonstrate erudition and taste. But from the first sentence it is clear that this is no ordinary biography, let alone simply a picture book. The author, architectural historian and professor emeritus Grant Hildebrand, and his subject first met when they were each in their 40s—nearly 40 years ago. They co-taught architecture studio at the University of Washington where their mutual respect and friendship was ignited. Soon thereafter, Grant and his wife Miriam became two of Gordon’s many ardent clients, and subsequent longtime friends.

The making of Gordon Walker: A Poetic Architecture was a labor of love. When considering what subject to tackle for his (lucky) 13th publication, Grant ruminated on his admiration and affection for Gordon, and the fact that his work had yet to receive adequate recognition. Grant floated the idea past a few mutual colleagues and all agreed that Gordon’s story should be Grant’s next target. And so it began. Early in the process, Gordon asked me if I would join him at a working meeting with Grant and architectural illustrator (old friend and collaborator) Bill Hook. I did. The next day I called preservation advocate Jeffrey Murdock to assist with the writing, and architect and photographer Andrew van Leeuwen to document those of Gordon’s projects for which there was no existing record (Gordon had a habit of destroying his early drawings). The five of us spent the next two years framing Gordon’s life story, which is indeed a poetic and complex architecture. At some point during this period I was inspired to draw a parallel between Gordon’s characteristics and sensibilities and Vitruvius’s three central design themes of firmitas, utilitas and venustas:

Firmitas (structural integrity)
Gordon Walker’s foundation is comprised of a rich, flinty formula of rugged individualism and independent spirit. His formative years in Idaho played a significant role in establishing this, which included the strong influence of his parents’ work ethics and values, being the oldest of four boys in that environment, and a variety of character-building occupations, responsibilities and experiences.

Utilitas (utility)
Gordon has always had the motivation to invest the time and effort to create things that are appropriate for a given use or occasion—such as constructing a smoke shack on site to house the fish caught while camping; composing a meal that precisely reflects the season; making a table that is large enough to accommodate a holiday feast of family; crafting a stool that’s just right for a house; and designing a home that is suitable for its site and generous for its inhabitants. More, Gordon’s architecture clearly expresses its efficacy amid a quiet complexity.

Venustas (beauty)
According to Gordon, all things—architecture, dance, music, family, food, fashion, flora, fauna…— have an inherent beauty that should be acknowledged, leveraged, and celebrated.

Gordon Walker: A Poetic Architecture is the story of a life lived in architecture—firmly, functionally, and beautifully; yesterday, today and tomorrow…


This article was contributed by Kelly Rodriguez, friend of Mithun and project manager for the new book about the architecture and life of Gordon Walker.