“The first thing I ever did I think was hide a Spider-Man scale figure in the background of one of my drawings just to see if I could get away with it. This of course had no real meaning but over time I have developed a firm platform to advocate humor within architecture.“
When and where were you born?
Where do you currently live and work?
I currently reside in Chicago, IL
How long have you been practicing your craft?
In some ways it’s hard to define exactly. It feels like in a small way, each stage of my life has been integral in forming the next. I’ve always been drawing on and off since a young age, while simultaneously playing with Lego™ or acting out intricate dramas with toys. Those second two things I don’t do anymore but the sentiments I felt in the beginning about creating stories remain almost identical today. The only thing that has changed as I’ve gotten older has been my specific repertoire of skills, which I can use now to produce visual content that I can actually show to other people. Although I’m sure there are still a lot of things that get lost in translation.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration from comic books and movies primarily. The fanatical drawings of Chris Ware, which all too accurately display the intricacies of life, have had a huge draw on me ever since I first discovered them. His page layouts read in an ambiguous way which are less prescriptive than the average comic. I’ve also always appreciated the faith he has in a reader to figure it out on their own. On the movie front, I am like a child when it comes to the whimsy shown in a Pixar™ film; there’s really nothing quite like it. Wes Anderson’s use of dead pan, and Kubrick’s masterful pacing are always in the back of my mind as well. More relevant to my field; the work of Jimenez Lai has been my single greatest influence as shown in his foray of cartoonish architectures and cartoons about architecture. His mere existence convinced me it was okay to pursue a response to architecture that was outside the norm of convention.
How would you describe your style
Probably my greatest strength and greatest fault all in one is the way I can get lost in my own head. New ideas are constantly emerging and old ones constantly developing and combining with the new ones. I often take intricate notes in my phone about ongoing ideas for a story or project or comic, and it is not until several months later I find the time to sit down and draw it. I think this prolonged period of brooding over an idea is actually a healthy one. It definitely heightens my expectations by the time it comes to fruition, but it is also better poised to hit the mark. I should also mention my affinity for puns and dry humor. I think of the dumbest jokes which end up becoming the most bizarre projects. I probably invest way more effort into these things than they are worth, but there is really never a shortage of ideas when you’re willing to treat each of them on a level playing field.
What has been a defining moment in your career?
There was a distinct moment in time when I think I had an “awakening” during my architectural education. This occurred toward the end of my undergraduate stint, and everything suddenly just “made sense”, literally overnight. There was perhaps an unspoken pressure to produce works that were more “by the book” during my earlier years, but for whatever reason I decided I wanted to try to make my academic projects more funny. I was definitely nervous about this at first, and it certainly came about in stages. The first thing I ever did I think was hide a Spider-Man scale figure in the background of one of my drawings just to see if I could get away with it. This of course had no real meaning but over time I have developed a firm platform to advocate humor within architecture. Because I am of the generation whose coming of age years coincided with the events of 9/11, there has been a dramatic trend for architectural design to act in earnestness and to dismiss irony. This has led to a lot of uninspiring work in the world. My particular response to this has been to call attention to the other end of the spectrum, one in which a building doesn’t have to take itself too seriously.
What are your future plans?
I am continuing to develop techniques for representation which combine many formats of drawing; those innate to the field of architecture mixed with those found elsewhere, such as comics, film, web media, etc. Later this year I plan to experiment with toy design, imagining the character-like qualities of a building realized in the scale of a toy.
Can you leave us with some parting words or advice?
Persistence is everything. I think it is the case that mediocrity repeated dozens of times, begins to produce an endearing archive in which the sentiment comes out. Plus you’ll probably Improve your skills over that period of time anyway. I’ve never considered myself to be all that good at drawing, but since I enjoy doing it so much I decided to pursue a recognizable style rather than focusing on a quality of photorealism. In my case it seems to be a blessing that my skills are lacking. This is what caused me to resort to comic drawing in the first place; anyone can draw a comic. This phenomena is probably translatable to other fields as well.
All images copyright Alexander Culler. All rights reserved.