TerraMai Q&A - Josh Heitler


Josh Heitler, of New York-based Lacina Heitler Architects, has already worked on a number of high-profile projects in his young career. These projects include the W Hotel - Las Vegas and the Qatar Cultural Center. Prior to joining Lacina Group, Heitler worked on renovations at Rockefeller Center and the Grand Central Terminal while at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners. He is a 1997-graduate of Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.   


Who and what are your main design influences? I like to look at all fields of design for inspiration.  Since the process of design is somewhat universal I am just as interested in furniture, product and graphic design as I am about architecture.  I have always admired designers who subtly got more out of the same materials, constraints, and givens that their contemporaries were working with.  I'd include the Eames', Alvar Aalto, Louis Khan, and Carlo Scarpa in this category.

What and where is your favorite space? That's a tough one.  I have been fortunate enough to visit some great spaces and places in my travels - Hagia Sophia, the Louvre, Castelvecchio - and get to walk through the main hall of Grand Central Terminal everyday.  But I think my favorite space that I really got to spend time in was our undergraduate design studio at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was a two-story space built into the upper part of the apse-end of the Frank Furness library.  It had windows and a wrap-around cat walk on three sides with great views and the fourth side looked down over the main reading room below.  

What living architect or designer do you most admire? I am not much of a "hero-worshiper." Rather than focusing on a single person’s work I enjoy watching the trends and arcs of thought moving through each discipline.  I admire anyone who can successfully prove the value of good design such as Philippe Starck, Santiago Calatrava, Frank Gehry at their best. 

What deceased architect or designer is most overrated? It's really sacrilege to say but probably Le Corbusier.  Not that he wasn't a genius and visionary - he was - but that I think that he is over-taught and over-mythologized within the profession.  His revolutionary innovation can only really happen once in a very long while and I think we need to celebrate the genius of reinvention that can happen at any moment.

What is your favorite city or town? Well... as a New Yorker, there is only really one answer to that question. However, I did enjoy the semester I spent living in Florence, Italy. 

What building or structure do you most dislike?  I think Brutalism was a low point in recent architectural history. The dense, concrete windowless building like the Yale Architecture School and the Boston City Hall are not my favorites. 

What is your design philosophy? Not sure if I have a codified one yet but have generally been pretty interested in the ability of design (especially of the built environment) to influence the lives of people.  My design philosophy certainly takes into account the responsibilities and opportunities that are involved in shaping the spaces and places for human life.  I think an understanding of this should inform any design.  

What are your favorite colors? I am a secondary color guy.  For whatever reason I tend to like orange, purple, and green.

What were your childhood enthusiasms? My childhood enthusiasms were so obvious that my fifth grade teacher actually predicted my eventual career.  She was going around the room guessing people's future professions and given my love of drawing and math, suggested architecture. Growing up I was also into sports - baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, etc. But after it became apparent that I wasn't going to make the Yankees, I had to go with her suggestion as my second choice.  

What advice do you have for young people interested in a career in design? It's funny - no architect I spoke to growing up ever encouraged me.  They all talked (with varying degrees of humor) about how tough, demanding and thankless the profession is.  I am generally more positive - I think the design professions are great IF you have the right expectations.  To be a designer you have to love the design process and all of its challenges as much, if not more, than the product.  The celebrations of final products are short lived, and you spend much more of your time in process.  You also have to understand that everyone deserves good design, and that there are opportunities for it everywhere.  While only a few people a generation make it to the public pinnacle of each design discipline, lots of designers do great work all over, everyday.