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May 2008

Charleston Architects and Their Eyewear
Written By: 
Mark Sloan
Photographs By: 
Mark Sloan

Behind the lenses of a secret society

Architects are known for cultivating a look, and one of the first things people notice is the glasses.

Early in the 20th century, high modernist Le Corbusier started it all with his circular, black-rimmed spectacles, which quickly became his signature accessory. Next, Philip Johnson picked up the structural affectation with a pair of circular, black-rimmed glasses made especially for him by Cartier in 1934. In both cases, these specs were intended as an extension of the architects’ practice, signifying their awareness that buildings, like eyewear, are expressions of the ego.

Since then, untold thousands of architects have followed suit, embracing the cult with a reverential fervor. Theorizing that this optical urge goes deep into the core of an architect’s being, local curator, author, and lensman Mark Sloan invited bespectacled local architects and designers to drop by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. There, he photographed them wearing their iconic eyewear in front of a painted backdrop depicting the Taj Mahal—a suitably significant architectural achievement—and concentrated on capturing the über-architect within.

This gathering of spectacular architects is by no means an exhaustive survey from the Charleston area, but one idiosyncratic slice indicative of an international phenomenon. Sloan plans to take this project globally, unless architects band together and pay him not to. Or they may retaliate by doing a survey of curators and their facial hair.

Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston
Spectacles: Francis Klein

"I’ve always been of the mind-set that you can’t be an architect without wearing glasses. It seems all the great ones did."

After losing the rubber-framed shop glasses he had worn for years, Robert Miller, a practicing architect and professor, found a pair of that looked almost the same. As for his work, Miller says he takes a philosophical approach to his designs, determining how the need for a structure came to exist and working backwards to make it a reality.

Intern Architect
LS3P Associates Ltd.
Spectacles: Donatella

"The shape of my glasses is what attracted me to them: they’re a little different."

Abby Freeman’s glasses reflect her belief that, in architecture and design, things should be “of their time” rather than mimicking something that’s already been done. Also, the interplay of different materials and colors—her glasses are black and white—is her key for thinking outside the box.

Studio A-Architecture
Spectacles: Oliver Peoples

"I feel the bronze on my glasses complements my coloring, and the shape is architectural without
being too severe."

Although not quick to say that her glasses are indicative of her architectural style, Whitney Powers does admit that on an intuitive level they connect to her sense of the inventive and creative without being alienated from tradition.

Design Associate
Red Charrette Architects
Spectacles: Converse

"My glasses reflect what I always strive for when beginning a design—a simple sophistication."

With their thin, black frames, Curt Berg’s spectacles represent the designer’s key aesthetic—a simple, unfussy design.

Partner & Architect
Gibson, Thompson, Guess Architecture
Spectacles: An Italian brand that he won’t reveal

"I see my glasses as simple and modern, and they just seem well thought out—a concept that appeals to me."

Like the design of his glasses, David Thompson strives for his work to be utilitarian and not necessarily elegant or delicate.

Carl Janes Designs
Spectacles: Buddy Holly-esque (brand unknown)

"There’s a playful nature to my glasses, and I like that they don’t represent a recurring element in design."

Searching eBay at four a.m., Carl Janes happened upon these “Buddy Holly-esque” glasses, and, being a fan of the late rocker, he quickly snatched them up. As for his design philosophy, Janes spends time listening to what a place is communicating, using that to convey something unique.

Senior Associate
LS3P Associates Ltd.
Spectacles: Alain Mikli

"I chose my glasses specifically because they didn’t look like anything else on the rack, and that really spoke to me."

Scott Sampson’s glasses display a unique layering of materials and colors, which he found tied into his architectural sensibilities.

Spectacles: Wolfgang Katzer, pictured
(Also wears Corbusier Traction and Jean Paul Gaultier)

"My glasses say ‘angry, discontented architect,’ which I find funny because I’m not angry or discontented."

Somewhat of an eyeglass connoisseur, Randolph Martz confesses that his frames have very little to do with his style of architecture, which he describes as neoclassical. “They’re more about fashion and identifying myself as a member of the ‘glasses-wearing-architect class or race,’” he laughs.

JMO Woodworks
Spectacles: Modo

"I like the sleek, minimalist nature of my glasses—they’re not bold and brash but still detailed."

Though an architect by training, David Pastre has been designing and building furniture, cabinetry, and millwork exclusively for the past six years. Of woodworking, Pastre notes that what fascinates him is joinery.

Project Architect
Liollio Architecture
Spectacles: Jean Lafont

"I believe you can look at anything architecturally, and I feel my glasses do reflect a certain intent of design."

Nicholas Winter’s glasses—simple black rectangles—mimic much of his work with Liollio, which often entails poring over construction documents to detail exactly how a building will be constructed.

Retired Managing Partner
Newman & Peterson, PA
Spectacles: Silhouette Titan

"I believe architects should project an image that is consistent with the type of architecture they do."

Michael Newman describes his style of architecture as contextural, meaning the building should reflect what it will be used for. “The architecture I’ve done is consistently mainline, as are my glasses. Rimless glasses appeal to me for their professional look, an attribute that influences my designs.”

Huff + Gooden Architects, LLC
Spectacles: John Varvatos

"I think of my glasses and my architectural style as lean, clean, and nice."

“I think my personal style and design sensibility are one in the same,” says Ray Huff, who is currently in his 20th year of teaching at the Clemson School of Architecture in Charleston, a distinction that will be recognized with a mayoral proclamation on May 6.

Owner/Lead Architect
Stephen Herlong & Associates, Inc.
Spectacles: Rite Aid reading glasses

"I chose my glasses based on the fact that they are classically stylish and not a passing fad."

Steve Herlong believes his relaxed attitude translates into his designs and his eyewear. He decided on his glasses by “looking in the mirror at the reading glasses kiosk at Rite Aid,” he says, “and when one pair was too weak, another too strong, and finally a pair just right, the decision was pretty easy.”

Intern Architect
Thomas & Denzinger Architects
Spectacles: Vera Wang

"I look younger than I really am, so I like my glasses because they make me look more my age."

“I would say that my architectural style is contemporary,” says Michelle Smyth. “I like to create challenging and unconventional forms in my work. I chose my glasses based on the form of the frames and because the material (plastic) is reusable.”

Vice President/Design Principal
LS3P Associates Ltd.
Spectacles: Ralph Lauren

"My style is classically informed, but reinterpreted in modernist vocabulary, which I think describes my glasses pretty accurately."

“Having graduated from prep school and two Ivy League colleges, I think my glasses go along with the classic frame of mind—the opposite of new wave,” says Sanford “Sandy” Logan.

Senior Associate/Senior Project Architect
LS3P Associates Ltd.
Spectacles: Prada

"My personal style has changed over the years. I don’t see myself settling down with any single look anytime soon."

“I strive to be open-minded,” says Sandrine Danielson, a statement that offers insight into both her choice of glasses and her architectural philosophy. “I try not to impose one style on all of my work. It morphs into whatever is appropriate for the given property and its surroundings.”

Red Charrette Architects
Spectacles: Ray Ban

"I chose my glasses because they have the tonal variation I wanted without being distracting. I didn’t want them to define me, but rather just to assist me with everyday living."

For Scott Anderson, glasses correlate to minor building components: they serve a need, but require the rest of the structure to be purposeful. “I like to look to the classics first,” he says of his personal and architectural styles. “Then I modify them and apply variation and innovation as opportunities present themselves.”

Knowledge Studio Architect
LS3P Associates Ltd.
Spectacles: Brand unknown

"Architects try to blend functionality and fashion into their projects, and those qualities influenced my eyewear decision."

“Every project I work on depends on the site,” says Ken Harkins, the 2008 president of the Charleston chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “A school in Mount Pleasant is going to be much different than a building downtown. But all of my projects must be functional.”

LS3P Associates, Ltd.
Spectacles: Reading glasses (brand unknown)

"I just wanted glasses that were a little funky. I looked for the smallest possible frames so that they wouldn’t dominate my face."

As an illustrator, Tony Waters makes the ideas of architects visual through renderings and models. “My style is realistic,” he says. “I want to help people understand the layouts of buildings using all types of media.” When asked if that same style translates to his funky reading glasses, Waters responds, “Not really.”

Principal Partner
MG Architects, LLC
Spectacles: 1930s American (brand unknown)

"I have an affinity for well-made things. I see my glasses in the category of typical things that need no improvement."

Alexey Grigorieff chooses to understand the design of his glasses symbolically: “The development of the structural steel frame and glass technology introduced a new kind of building that was light and transparent, and these glasses remind me of that change in architecture,” he says.

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