The Airstream Life

First came the idea. Then came the late nights of Craigslist searching. And then it happened quickly: a trip to a derelict horse ranch in the Salinas Valley, an exchange of cash in an old barn, and a harrowing towing adventure up Highway 101 netted me my current abode—a 1959 Airstream travel trailer.

Project 
Stavropoulos Residence
Architect 

The metamorphosis, which occurred in a generously allocated space at a friend's Stanford sculpture studio, was an archeological study in all things Americana. Tucked under couch cushions and linoleum panels, I found artifacts—mix tapes, scrawled recipes, and wrinkled photographs—that chronicled the lives of those who had dwelt within the Airstream since some stranger first purchased it in 1959 from Pacific Railroad Sales in Salinas, California. I was participating in American history by unearthing and updating one of its most iconic symbols in order to make it relevant to my age and time.

The renovation was necessarily an exercise in restraint and creativity. With just 150 square feet to work with, I jettisoned the 1950s colors of flesh tone paint and wall-to-wall linoleum, and moved in with cork flooring, track lighting, fresh colorful paint, and custom designed cabinets and furniture to fit the sinuous interior topography. I revealed the beautiful workmanship of the riveted aluminum end caps, and removed sewage facilities completely. I performed the work myself, trying to keep the design in my head one step ahead of the building process of my hands.  

The Airstream now resides in the garden of a co-op in North Berkeley, a few steps from the Cheeseboard and Chez Panisse.  

My obsession with mobility, modularity, and affordability began long before the Airstream and has since extended beyond. As a recently self employed (read: laid off) landscape architect, I have been able to address several of the problems that I see in my field.  Namely, the lack of connection between the LAND and the ARCHITECT. Whereas landscape architects once spent significant time ±on the site, the profession now finds some of the most creative minds shoehorned into cubicles. This seemed like a loss to me, and I wondered how it might be possible to create a space for real understanding within the profession—the kind of understanding that occurs from seeing a day of shadows move across a place, or listening to and observing people in a space. 

With this in mind, and the knowledge that I gained by designing and building the Airstream, I set about creating a mobile studio that could travel to the site and where I could work during the early and critical stages of concept design. The studio had to allow me to be productive, but also put me squarely in the environment.  It also had to be a showcase of my design sensibilities.  

Some potential clients raise an eyebrow at the studio and walk away. Most, however, have been delighted. And those are the people I want to work for: they see the value of process, understand the subtleties that result from deep understanding, and want to engage with a designer as we surround ourselves in the medium.

For more images, head over to the slideshow.

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