Architecture with Attitude
Award-Winning Designer Patrick Tighe Struck Gold after Heading West.
At first glance, it would appear that Patrick Tighe’s years as a Lowell youth are light years away from his life as an award-winning architect in Southern California.
Tighe, 50, and his Santa Monica firm are heralded around the world as groundbreaking innovators in building design. He has received more than 50 of architecture’s highest honors, including a Rome Prize fellowship and the American Institute of Architects’ Young Architects Award.
Not bad for a bricklayer’s son who grew up with four brothers amid the historic charm of Lowell’s Belvidere neighborhood.
A member of Lowell High School’s Class of 1984 and its Alumni Hall of Fame, Tighe earned a fine arts degree at UMass Amherst before leaving for California to study architecture at UCLA. He started Patrick Tighe Architecture in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2004, and the firm now has active projects around the world.
Tighe’s innovative work ranges from multimillion-dollar homes for the wealthy to affordable housing that’s stylish and contemporary. The firm’s designs for cultural institutions such as the Guggenheim museum in Helsinki, Finland, are truly one of a kind.
Tighe admits his life today was spawned in part by the contrasts he found after moving from Lowell to California, but he insists: “You can take the guy out of Lowell, but you can’t take Lowell out of the guy.” Tighe and his wife, who is from Lowell, have two children, and his brothers live in and around Boston, so he still has plenty of reasons to return to New England for visits.
Tighe spoke with mvh about his humble roots, his passion for architecture and why his work is less about style, and all about attitude.
Your late father, John, was a bricklayer, and now you create buildings for a living. Did he influence you?
My father was a builder, and I am a builder. They are different angles, but I learned a lot from him. He taught me a lot about life. His work was important to him, and I think that rubbed off on me somehow. I was always interested in building.
At Lowell High, you were known as a talented artist. How did that translate into architecture?
It wasn’t until college that I realized architecture was the perfect combination of both building and the arts. Art was always something I was interested in. It was always a kind of outlet I enjoyed. Later in life, that turned more to architecture — the combination of building and drawing.
How did the kid who grew up with historic Lowell architecture become one of Southern California’s most contemporary designers?
Coming from Lowell, I think I was looking for something very different. Not because I didn’t like Lowell, but I was looking for a contrast. I remember seeing the architecture coming out of Southern California [in the late ’80s] and thinking it was quite different. It was really kind of inspiring. I saw architecture that was much more optimistic. More dynamic. Really different from what I saw on the East Coast. It came through my head — maybe I’ll go West and figure out this architecture thing.
How would you describe your style?
I’m not sure it’s a style, per se. We do have a way of working. We’re interested in expanding new boundaries. Our work is progressive. It’s not so much about style; it’s more about an attitude, about how we attack each project. Oftentimes we take into consideration all of the factors that influence a project, then have our own interests, too, that we want to explore. And through that investigation we come up with something interesting and new and fresh. That’s what I think runs through our work that is consistent.
Why do you choose projects that offer such different challenges?
My work is quite varied. We are based in Los Angeles, but we work all over the world. We do high-end residences for wealthy people, and we do projects for people who were formerly homeless, or have HIV or AIDS, or have disabilities. I like that dichotomy. I like that there is a range of building types [being worked on] in the office.
Why did you decide to work on affordable housing projects?
My interest in affordable housing came from my desire to not only create great architecture for the wealthy population, but also for people not as well off. Everyone can benefit from these designs. I think there are a lot of mediocre housing projects. It’s easy not to take risks. It’s easy to play it safe and stick with the norm. We’re definitely interested in finding new ways to look at things.
You have a long way to go in your career. Are there any projects or challenges you’d like to tackle in the future?
I’d like to do something in the Merrimack Valley. That would be great. I keep an open mind. So far we’ve had pretty good success. I want to keep doing good work, continue to do the work we want to do, and that will lead to more of the same. Not everyone can say they love what they do. I can say that.
What do you love most about your profession?
At the beginning of the conversation we talked about arts and building. I have a combination of the two every day. One day might be more arts, the next day might be more toward building and dealing with contractors. There are lots of different aspects to the profession to learn every day. It never gets boring. That’s wonderful.
I feel like I’m just getting going within the profession, and that’s really exciting. All of that makes it a very fulfilling career so far.
Patrick Tighe Architecture
Santa Monica, Calif.