MH+D Inside Out: John Whipple on Timelessness in Architecture

“After 40 years of doing this, I have to admit I’ve matured,” John Whipple tells Maine Home+Design. According to Whipple, a partner at Whipple Callender Architects, trends may change over the years, but when a design evokes an aura of emotion, it never goes out of style.

Q. How do you factor landscape into your design?

A. I’m fond of erosions—juxtapositions of man-made and unmade. For instance, I designed an outdoor patio for the Hyde School in Bath as an incomplete brick circle. The shape goes from perfect arc to seemingly random edge, symbolizing the transition that a student is supposed to go through at that school.

Q. How do you ensure that the style of the spaces you design will still be relevant in ten years?

A. Every architect wants to make designs that are of their time and yet timeless. We’re all looking for that universal truth that makes our buildings appreciated after fashions of the moment go out of style. You start with the way buildings and spaces make you feel. If you can create a space that makes you happy because it has great light, great views, a certain ambience, and a feeling of comfort, mystery, or fun, that feeling will endure.

Q. What’s an example of a building that has longevity?

A. Some buildings that seemed shockingly out of place when they were built have become much more appreciated. One is the Gherkin, Norman Foster’s pickle-shaped building in London. I visited London last summer to see it. There is a logic to the Gherkin’s structure that you can trace in your head. It is a perfect object, and Londoners have voted for it as their favorite building. It passes my main test: it feels good.

Q. How does experience factor into the way you approach your work?

 A. After 40 years of doing this, I have to admit I’ve matured. Experience teaches that there are many ways of doing things. Architects tend to get pigeon-holed into doing what we have done before because a client likes something that we’ve already made.

Q. What would you most like to design in the future?

A. What I would most like to design now is something that I have never done.