From a Bowmen House to London City Hall
When Tyler Thayer worked on the second Bowmen House as a junior at Sherwood High School a few years ago, he probably couldn't imagine where his newfound interest in architecture would take him.
Thayer, now in his fourth year as an undergraduate at Portland State University, remembers having a bit of curiosity about architecture in middle school — but that spark didn't turn into a flame until he took engineering classes in high school. One of those classes included working on the second Bowmen House, an annual project in which Sherwood High students design and build a home that is later sold by the high school.
"The main thing I learned from that was the real-world application of it," Thayer said about the Bowmen House. "Even though it was a small house that any developer could put together, and it was extremely simple in a lot of respects, it still showed me, 'OK, if I want to do this in real-life, what does it take at a basic level?'"
That line of thinking led Thayer to major in architecture at PSU. And last September, it led him on a tour around Europe, exploring some of the most important architecture from recent decades.
The tour was funded through a PSU undergraduate architecture scholarship, which Thayer applied for last spring. He was up against 12 other students, and assumed he hadn't been awarded the scholarship when the announcement date came and went and he didn't hear anything. When the architecture school named Thayer the recipient at its end-of-the-year awards ceremony, he was a little taken aback.
"I never really saw myself as a strong writer, or a person who could articulate what's going on in my head," Thayer said. "To put together this travel document and this conceptual narrative and beat out 12 other people was kind of surprising to me."
Though Thayer may doubt his writing ability, his passion for and understanding of architecture is clear when speaking with him.
"Architecture has a way of affecting everybody's lives, whether you think about it or not," he said. "For the places that we live, the places that we work, the places that we recreate, it's impactful on so many different levels. That's really how I got interested in it.
The Mount Angel Library, outside of Woodburn, is one of Thayer's favorite architectural pieces in the Portland area. Designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the library is circular and offers views from many different vantage points.
Thayer said he admires "the way that Aalto uses material in many different ways, and his use of space and using views to his advantage. So, placing windows so that you have this little nook area where you can look at a specific view. I thought that was really cool, and it was the first architectural building that I studied in-depth."
But for his trip to Europe, Thayer wanted to study global contemporary architecture, which tends to incorporate dramatic shapes and is often designed by large, multinational architecture firms. He found Foster and Partners, one of the most prolific global architecture firms, and decided to visit the firm's works in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Barcelona. He brought his girlfriend Britta Bauer, a second-year advertising student at University of Oregon and member of Wilsonville High School's class of 2016, with him.
"It wasn't necessarily about the city in particular — it was about the architecture in the city," Thayer said about the cities he picked.
Thayer studied nine Foster and Partners buildings, including London City Hall; the Reichstag, which houses the German Parliament in Berlin; the Torre de Collserola in Barcelona; the Vivaldi Tower in Amsterdam; and the World Port Center in Rotterdam.
The architecture student approached his mammoth, imposing subjects with skepticism — "They just put these buildings wherever without any relation to context," he said — but "When I entered the space, there was something about the special quality with each building on a multitude of levels that was really successful," he added.
Ultimately, Thayer came back home with the idea that while there's nothing wrong with grand, dramatic architecture, but that it ought to reflect the history, culture or politics of the people that use it, or of the land it's on.
"Architecture is such a fundamental part of how we interact with the world," he said. "So architecture in a way reflects something about us, and I think that's something that's lost in global contemporary architecture. So I'd really like to see architecture that reflects the values of a community."
Now back in Portland, Thayer is planning to attend graduate school for architecture in the fall. He's applied to Texas A&M, the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and is waiting to hear back.
"I've lived in Oregon pretty much my whole life so I thought it was time to spread my wings, and I couldn't really see myself living on the East Coast," he said. "So the Midwest it was."
To learn more about Thayer's trip, visit his travel blog at http://tylertthayer.com.
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