Ben Ledbetter, Architect
Architecture is a moving target.
This is as true for me today as it was when I began my formal study of architecture many years ago. Now, as then, my moments of clarity about what architecture is are in a near-constant flux with moments of doubt. I quite willfully celebrate this flux, and those with whom I have built and will build are, while also necessarily attending their own needs and desires, my collaborators in this search.
Why a search? I began trying to make architecture in the late sixties, at what happened to be one of the seminal moments in architectural thinking. Robert Venturi had just cast his extraordinary book COMPLEXITY AND CONTRADICTION IN ARCHITECTURE as a gauntlet to architects whose ideological complacencies relegated the practice of architecture either to formalist jigsaw puzzles or to the selections of “styles” in which to build, as though the promise of architecture could be easily selected, as from the rack of current fashions at Bloomingdale’s.
Architecture is more, said Venturi. And I attended carefully to his more.
Coinciding with my first reading of COMPLEXITY was another book that was on my mind and that of my peers, one which just as irrevocably motivated me toward my future course. Hermann Hesse’s THE GLASS BEAD GAME fixed in my imagination the notion of, or at least a symbol for, the gathering of the infinite and ever-changing movements in one’s mind toward the task of making buildings. Hesse’s was simply a GAME of thoughts. Of associations that, in our thinking beings, we never can escape. Themes arise in our minds . . . musical, philosophical, literary, visual, unnameable . . . and as the GAME proceeds their linkages become deeper, even more varied. Hesse offers a model of the maker’s mind at work. And speaking to Venturi, this working mind is also an act of synthesis through which the spiritual values of all times are simultaneously present. This synthesis is architecture’s promise, and a reason for making architecture.
As evidenced in the photo to the right, I had actually begun to play Hesse’s GAME at a very young age. I believe I have often deployed the GAME to some advantage over my life. Though the shovel and the hose have probably been used more often, and to greater effect.
I grew up in the South, received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Auburn University in 1972, and after apprenticeships with Harry Wolf in North Carolina and Robert Hecht and Ed Burdeshaw in Georgia, returned to my native Mississippi in 1976 to begin my own practice. I forfeited my aspirations for becoming the William Faulkner of southern architecture in my early thirties (though I always come back to that thought), and left Mississippi for Harvard University, where I received a Master in Architecture degree in 1984. I was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard, subsequently taught for two years at Tulane University, and then until 1994 directed the architectural studies program of the Wesleyan University Art Department, teaching architecture as well as drawing courses. I have lectured and been a visiting critic at numerous schools of architecture, and have been architect of record for over sixty completed buildings.