Stories from V1: Interview with Chris Pritchett

Have you always been interested in architecture? Or is there a specific time you remember becoming interested in architecture?

Not really. As a kid I liked to make things and I liked to draw. When I was a senior in high school, I thought that college wasn’t for me. High school was really easy for me, and I didn’t try very hard. So I ended up joining the military, and I think four and a half years out in that world, seeing people that had it much worse off than me, made me have an appreciation for education. I met my wife when I was getting out of the military. It was me throwing a dart at a dartboard choosing what I wanted to do. I chose architecture over art because I assumed art majors weren’t going to make any money and architects were. It was the absolute worst reason to choose a major. But within the first two weeks I fell in love with it, as a profession and as an idea.

How did you end up coming to teach at Virginia Tech?

I was probably four months from finishing up my masters, my wife was going to get a postdoc, and Scott Poole, then director of the school, saw that I was really interested in teaching printmaking. I was helping out with a second year class as a graduate student, and I just enjoyed working with undergraduate students. Scott saw that and asked me if I wanted to come in and teach second year studio, and my wife really wouldn’t let me turn it down.

What is something you really enjoy about being a professor?

It’s about getting to know people who have the same interests I have, and then watching them blossom. That sounds really cheesy. It’s about watching them grow as designers and grow as people. I remember me between eighteen and twenty-two. These years are a meaningful part of your life. It’s where you’re really becoming an adult, and for me to expose people to certain things, to my passion, and watch them grow, that’s absolutely fantastic.

How did you become interested in screen printing?

It was when the fourth year Chicago studio first started. I went up and we had this class “What makes a town,” and you would go in and you would evaluate, you would pick little aspects in a neighborhood. You would be an observer, and choose what made one particular area different from another particular area. I chose graffiti. I came back and I had to document this graffiti somehow, and I even plotted off some posters in the print room, and I felt like it was too easy and it didn’t give justice to the media that I was looking at. There was this fifth year and he’s the one who taught me the technique. I fell in love with it after that. I got pretty good at it, and I started teaching first year and second year students how to screen print, and after I graduated the college asked me to make it into a class.

How would you say graphics have changed the way you look at or think about architecture?

It’s hard to say that it changed the way I design, because I’ve evolved as a designer with it. It made me more aware of process, and I think there’s a relationship where process can create a graphic and process can create a building.

What has surprised you in your time of teaching screen printing?

Oh, the graphic abilities of students. There’s a bunch of students who are way better graphic artists than I am. I feel like they’re teaching me sometimes.

You went to Sweden recently. What can you tell me about going there?

We went because my wife got offered a really amazing post-doc after my first year teaching here. They asked me to stick around, but there was no way I could do that. I would never be separated like that from my wife. I think Sweden’s an absolutely amazing place, but I don’t know if I would chose to live there because I like the rowdiness of Americans. Swedish people aren’t rowdy.

What place has influenced you the most?

Here. When I say here I mean Virginia. Appalachia. Growing up in rural areas, and growing up very blue collar, very working class, I think that’s influenced the way that I look at life, the type of architecture I am drawn to, the type of people that I’m drawn to. It’s Appalachia.

You have sheep. And you built a barn for them. How was that experience?

It’s fantastic. You know, while we were in Sweden we fell in love with these sheep they had there, called Gute sheep, and we wanted to bring some back. We bought a farm, and we’ve always been interested in having some livestock, but it’s really difficult to get the Gute breed here. So we researched these sheep, and we found there’s this breed called Hog Island sheep. It’s the only sheep native to Virginia, and they’re endangered. So we thought it would be really great to be a part of preserving them as a breed. And, in a way, it’s this separate thing from design that I can escape to. I also think it’s part of being a designer. Designers are really good people watchers, that’s why we travel. We go and we absorb other people’s cultures, we absorb other people’s habits. At some point we have to become those people and I think we can learn a little bit more. So I know that I’ve learned a lot, as a designer and as a person, just in the past year of taking care of animals. And I’ve always wanted to build a barn. The barn is as done as it’s going to get right now. One door is not painted, but I think once that door gets painted I’ll be happy with the barn.

What are other things you do to continue your interest in design?

I love films. My wife and I try to watch good TV, and we both really appreciate good films. I try to talk about directors instead of actors because I think the directors are the architects of movies. Instead of focusing on the directors we focus on how pretty Ryan Gosling is, we should talk about the people who are building movies.

Can you name any designers or works that you think will be remembered in the future?

I think Olson Kundig is making huge contributions, and I think they’re making them at a small scale. They’re focusing on residential, for the most part, and I think the moves they make at that scale will be remembered.

Why do you teach first year studio?

I was given a choice and I actually asked to teach second year, because second year would have been easier to teach for me. It really focuses on architecture and the students are more mature. I’ve been amazed at the level of maturity between eighteen to nineteen. First year is a little
harder for me, however, I really like it. If I was asked now to go to second year it would be a tough decision because I get to experiment with first year a lot more. By not having to focus on strictly architecture, I can give projects that are a little more experimental, and I enjoy that.

What do you hope for your students to take away from this year? What do you emphasize?

Work ethic and observation of their environment. Work ethic is huge. Most eighteen year olds in the architecture department have a really bad work ethic because they’re so smart and everything has been relatively easy for them. They haven’t pushed themselves as hard as they could or need to. So I try to push them and get them to have a much better work ethic. 

What responsibilities do you think this generation has in terms of design?

I don’t know. I don’t know if I buy into your generation being that much different from my generation or my generation being that much different than my parent’s generation. Time Magazine is really good at it, at naming generations. I don’t know if your responsibilities are
any different than mine. Just be good citizens. Do good work. Use your tools properly.

Finally, what are your favorite things about Blacksburg?

The Cellar. That’s probably one of my favorite things about Blacksburg… I really like the small town atmosphere, being able to walk around and see familiar faces, at least people in the stores, and the residents. And being close to nature. I like being able to be around people and then be able to drive for ten minutes and not be around people.


Interview conducted by Becca Good

Photos by Luisa Lacsamana and Austin Ledzian