McLeod Kredell: Locavore Architects in Vermont
Based in Vermont, Steve Kredell and John McLeod of the firm McLeod Kredell work in the classroom as well as the studio, combining their practice with professorships. Taking a ground-up approach to building, they consult the land and local building traditions, constructing work that is, at once, modern and bucolic, incorporating the past and present of spaces in structures. Through modern, local design and construction, they seek to capture the ever-evolving identity of a place.
There’s something simple, almost monolithic, in your designs. Why is such simplicity important?
McLeod: Simplicity heightens our appreciation and enjoyment of natural landscapes. A crisp, geometric barn or silo or house contrasts nicely with the organic lines of a field or mountain range.
What about building in New England appeals to you?
McLeod: We’re based in Vermont, which is a small state with a strong sense of place, and much of our work is here. The various parts of New England each have distinct qualities, while collectively embodying a strong regional identity. We engage with the communities of this region by trying to make buildings that belong to them. We became especially rooted in the communities of Vermont and Penobscot Bay, Maine.
Why Penobscot Bay?
McLeod: With our colleague Jonathan Marvel from New York, we run a student design/build program for island communities in Maine in the summer, called Bear Island Design Assembly. This past year, we lived and worked with eight students from three colleges to design and build a farm stand for a neighboring island’s public school community farm.
Where else do you feel connected to?
Kredell: Virginia is special to us because John and I met each other in architecture school at Virginia Tech. New York City is where we both practiced for almost a decade. However, New England is the place I chose to live, the place where I met my wife: the place where my kids were born. If that isn’t enough, it comes down to a true love for the landscape.
Do you dream of building anywhere else?
Kredell: My wife is from the Czech Republic and someday I’d love to have a modern cabin in the woods, near the town where she grew up, so my kids could spend a quarter of the year there. It would be great fun to play a tiny role in the long history of building there.
How does your firm engage with local communities?
Kredell: Architecture is for everyone. It’s of paramount importance to us that we are out there in our communities promoting that. That’s why we our trying to bring design to a farm stand….To celebrate local food and put in the same amount of care [to the architecture] that went into the planting and harvesting of the food.
How do people in traditional areas react to your modern architecture?
McLeod: The communities we work in seem to enjoy and appreciate the buildings we add. Because we approach design by looking to honor the local conditions, our buildings tend to belong to the place in a visceral way.
What locally sourced materials do you use?
McLeod: We use a lot of Eastern White Cedar, Eastern White Pine, various Maples, and Hemlock, all of which are indigenous to our area; an interior wood finish made from whey (a by-product of the dairy industry) by Vermont Natural Coatings; Vermont slate and field stone; concrete with local aggregates deposited by the glaciers at the base of the Green Mountains, and even hay from local fields!
How do you save money on the bottom line for your clients?
McLeod: In our projects, we often work with tight budgets, and that leads to using standard, off-the-shelf materials and forms that are economical to construct. This approach syncs well with our respect for the pure, simple buildings of the New England vernacular.
Which architects have influenced your thinking most profoundly?
Kredell: My list keeps growing. Initially, Alvar Aalto was the architect who helped me understand what architecture was, is, and can be. His architecture was decidedly modern but not the white box in the field—it’s modern, warm, and sensual. So, for now it’s easier to say who starts and ends the list: Aalto and (Peter) Zumthor.
What are the most important pieces of advice you give to students?
Kredell: Most important lessons for students are, number one: Don’t underestimate the importance of bringing an "idea" to a project. Number two: One idea is enough; two is too many.