Joseph Waltman on Innovation in Architecture

Although Joseph Waltman designs more than he builds, he maintains a deep interest in the process of building and its history. “The origin of the word ‘architect’ is ‘master builder,’” he says. “Drawings were tools for building. That’s still what it’s all about.” When he designs, Waltman relies on history, building science, and his own inspiration to support the next great movement in architecture. Read on for his interview in our MH+D Inside Out series.

Q. Is it important for architects to understand the history of the field?

A. I think of architecture in a grid of time and space that shows how places change. The Old Port, where we are right now, has really evolved. It’s important to know how change has come about if you’re trying to make it come about again. Why not learn from what people did before, from history?

Q. Should architecture push people outside of their comfort zones?

A. Not necessarily. Depending on the client and the market, you adjust your sense of danger. It also really depends on whom you’re working for. I think a lot of architects live in houses that haven’t been completed because they’re busy trying out new theories on their own home. Who wouldn’t want their designs to be cutting edge? Otherwise you’re just doing what’s comfortable. The whole idea of architecture is to explore fun concepts.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. If you write a poem, the words have already been invented. You hardly ever invent a new word. Well, it’s similar with architecture. You hardly ever invent a new kind of brick. But sometimes you can do something new with it. The compilation is important, the way you put it all together. What’s the point of architecture without innovation? Wouldn’t an architect’s work just be a foregone conclusion? It surprises me that someone wouldn’t want to create the next trend.

Q. What keeps you interested in architecture?

A. Spaces interest me, and I’m good at designing those. In life you end up doing what you’re good at and get pleasure and feedback from, and then you want to be better at it. It’s a vicious and wonderful cycle. That’s human nature, isn’t it?


Our MH+D Inside Out series features interviews with creators from our community and gets inside some of the top minds in the design industry. Read on for their stories, tips, and sources of inspiration.