Steve Schaecher made me laugh with a slim volume, Phone Booths by Famous Architects. At first glance it seems like a spoof, with a zany preface by Clare Loose Booth. Twenty-nine telephone booths later, I recognized the seriousness of the message. A throw-away society doesn't stop with merely discarding stuff. We equally disregard history, ideas, cultures and people. Schaecher is hooking us with a seemingly outlandish presentation, telling us things we didn't know we didn't know. Steve Schaecher: fighting for the built environment.
He begins with the Egyptians. How did they communicate along the 900-mile Nile Valley? Tomb paintings reveal a series of hypostyle halls to which couriers delivered messages; human transmission lines stretching along "the valley and in the countryside."
What do you know about Andrea Palladio, born 1508, Padua; died 1580, Rome? When you dream of a villa, you're connected to his Palladian style.
If Frank Lloyd Wright had been commissioned to design a phone booth, what would it look like? Schaecher imagines it. A theorist "included in a group of architects call Deconstructivists," "Ma Bell Fonument," as attributed to Daniel Libeskind, is a Schaecher tour de force.
Steve Schaecher's day job is with Schmidt Associates. He's a registered architect with a degree from Ball State. For years he moonlighted as a cartoonist. Since 2000 he's created three books published by Pomegranate. He works 10-hours Monday-Thursday to have Friday free "to bring attention to endangered species of built environment": telephone booths, outhouses, mobile homes.
Well, maybe mobile homes aren't exactly disappearing, he allows, "but they are definitely on the fringe of society."
We're talking over salad in an eatery along Massachusetts Avenue. Why these books?
"Architecture is a mysterious profession to the public. I wanted books anyone can pick up and read. Each is chronological and interconnecting to show how architecture progresses through time - where it's coming from, how it's influenced by available building materials, art movements, new technologies. In architecture there are always new frontiers. It's exciting."
The contents overlap. Did you know Thomas Jefferson was influenced by the aforementioned Palladio? According to Schaecher, if Jefferson had been challenged to do so, his "Johnicello" would certainly have been a Federal Style wonder. "Thronehenge" is pure Druid. Pick up a copy of Outhouses by Famous Architects. It makes great reading you know where.
Mobile Homes by Famous Architects is particularly notable for Schaecher's glyph on Robert Venturi, the exponent of "building-as-billboard" which created a "Pop-architecture" and made Venturi's mother an icon.
"By the way," inserted Schaecher as we prepared to brave that day's downpour, "could you possibly mention my wife Susie and children Nathan and Lindsey?"
"They deserve the attention."