Rice Design Alliance is holding its 2018 architecture tour April 7-8 and publishing this series of edited interviews on the theme "Balance: Celebrating Women in Design." Vivi Nguyen-Robertson is a featured architect on the upcoming tour for the design of the 2 Courtyard House at 1531 Milford. She is Principal of Robertson Design with her husband Christopher Robertson.
Cite: Vivi, tell us how you came to architecture.
Vivi Nguyen-Robertson: I immigrated from Vietnam to the United States when I was 21. In Vietnam, I studied fine arts and, when I came here, I started pursuing a degree in fashion design. After completing that, architecture felt like a natural next step given my love for working in the creative fields.
Cite: The theme of the tour is “Balance.” What does that word mean to you?
VNR: Balance is very important. All projects have competing requirements that must be reconciled. In the two courtyard house, it is about balancing the desire for privacy and enclosure with the desire for light and views.
Cite: That sense of balance is evident at 2 Courtyard House with the strong cantilevered form up front and, as Stephen Fox writes, in the "serene courtyards" and the "spatial calm and tranquility."
What else does "balance" mean to you?
VNR: As a young professional and a young mom, I know that the balance between work and life is important. I have the flexibility to work and take care of my family. Having a home office for me is really important. It allows me to maintain a balance between my professional and my personal life.
Cite: Could you talk about the partnership you have and the roles you play?
Christopher Robertson: We both play almost every role which is really good. In the beginning of the design process, we are both working together. I’ll work on the physical models, on the digital models. Vivi does the same thing so we are bouncing ideas back and forth constantly at the initial phases. It is worth noting that this is the case for anyone that happens to be in the office at the time. Michael Viviano was working with us on the Two Courtyard House and was highly involved in all of the back and forth as well. As we get into the more detailed work, Vivi takes on a bulk of the construction document preparation as she is much more efficient at it than I am. During that phase, we are still bouncing ideas back and forth constantly. What that means is that we never stop because we are both there as sounding boards. She’ll make a decision and I’ll question it. I’ll make a decision and she’ll question it. It creates an environment where we are constantly questioning the design and constantly evolving it, which is good and bad because we never stop.
VNR: I think we are lucky to work well with each other. I know it is difficult for a lot of couples to be in the same field, especially in the same company. For us, the contributions are spread evenly. We constantly work together and there is a never ending conversation between work and life throughout the day. It can be hard for other people, it just seems to work well for us.
CR: We were at our son’s soccer practice. He’s only three and he’s in a little soccer club. When we were watching the soccer practice, we were discussing different appliance selections. Is the gas cooktop better for this space? Should it be recessed in the countertop? What about the down draft unit? How does that all play into the countertop color? This was the discussion when little Topher was kicking the soccer ball. There is never a true separation between work and life but it also allows us to continually reexamine all the decisions we make in any given project.
Angie Chen and Brenda Cruz-Wolf contributed as interviewers for this series.