Wallance Builds ‘Things’ His Way

Event: New Practices New York 2008, David Wallance Architect: ‘Thingness’
Location: Hafele New York Showroom, 02.12.09
Speakers: David Wallance, AIA — Principal, David Wallance | Architect
Organizer: AIANY New Practices Committee

Proposed residence using the shipping container as a module.

David Wallance | Architect

Elements of architecture are not typically referred to as “things,” but David Wallance, AIA, one of the 2008 New Practices New York winners, titled his recent presentation “Thingness.” A phrase coined by philosopher Martin Heidegger in his essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” “thingness” refers to the essence or fundamental nature of a thing, rather than the perception of it as simply an object. Similarly, Wallance considers buildings not as physical objects, but things that occupy their own rightful place. “Ideas are inseparable from things,” he said.

After attending Cooper Union, Wallance spent a number of years as a “journeyman,” learning how to design and develop drawings. He worked for a series of large firms; however, he was uncomfortable with thinking “outside of time” and decided to learn how to build. Wallance spent his free time designing and building a spec house in Upstate New York. The simple box features a unifying central fireplace and bookcase that spans two vertical floors. He and his family lived there for several years before selling the home. Wallance then designed and built a home specifically for his family — a one-story structure integrated with the landscape at grade. Organized by a series of modules, the house provides privacy for his teenage daughter who has her space at one end, while the master bedroom is situated at the opposite end. Glass walls maintain a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, and the landscape becomes “living wallpaper.”

After growing increasingly frustrated with large drawing sets and the disconnect between designer and those actually building the projects (“craft is a mentality, not a tradition,” he stated), Wallance left his day job to pursue his private practice. Two entrepreneurs had approached him to design residences in downtown Manhattan using the dimensions of shipping containers as a module. The project, which is currently on hold due to the current real estate market, features an exposed structural frame enclosing the ground floor that supports the containers above. The containers themselves can be quickly installed by crane. Wallance designed four prototypical apartments with limitless combinations for the building.

Shipping containers — useless things that have seemingly served their purpose — find a new life through Wallance’s practical adaptation. He likes to quote Frank Sinatra when talking of his work: “being modern’s not about the future; it’s about the present.”