On a February night in L.A., SCI-Arc, the city's uberhip architecture school, is a mob scene of an opening. Architect Patrick Tighe has taken over a gallery — or rather, a parabola-shaped room he designed in collaboration with composer Ken Ueno.
Its undulating, 20-foot-high, teepee-like envelope was formed from liquid foam that hardened as it expanded. Although the installation seems unfettered by practicality, the project is a laboratory for real-world building. In it, Tighe combines breakthroughs in robotic fabrication, computer-generated space and construction materials. Currently, he's trying to gain L.A. city approval to use the foam for housing.
These types of innovations, enmeshed in his architecture, have earned acclaim for Tighe, who at 44 is young for his field. He used computer programming to create a gleaming plastic wall that undulates and appears to curve endlessly in upon itself, unspooling through an editing company's interior, while a fiberglass lattice is the focal point of a courtyard for an affordable-housing project.
Already he's won a slew of prestigious honors on the national and international stage. But, if you're looking for starchitect tendencies, you won't find them in Tighe. In person, he is polite, gracious and so humble that last year, when a local organization phoned him to announce he'd won an award, he called back to make sure he'd heard correctly.
In fact, at one time, Tighe didn't think there was room for him in his chosen field. The colonial brick buildings in Boston, where he grew up, were nothing like his vision.
"It wasn't till I was in college that I saw that I could be an architect," he recalls of being exposed to California's progressive designers. Maverick practitioner "Thom Mayne's work was a mind-blower. I knew that I wanted to come to California at that point. Little did I know that I would end up working for him for seven years."
Tighe launched his own firm in 2001. But for all its forward-leaning technology, angular shapes and sleek creations, like Tighe, the work is not about drawing attention to itself.
"It's more about the experience of being in the space, how the space affects you, as opposed to having a beautiful icon or object as space. Not that it doesn't matter what it looks like — the aesthetics always has a role — but equally as important, or sometimes even more important, is the feeling that you get from being in a certain space at a certain time."
Which is why on a February night at SCI-Arc, the place to be is not standing by Tighe but inside the parabola, where technology merges into place. Extrusions of foam, left in its raw state, contrast with smooth sets of mesmerizing waves that ripple through the wall.
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The project took eight months, spanning a time in which Tighe's father died. During one two-week period, the architect practically camped out at SCI-Arc. Tonight, he is swarmed by well-wishers. But the next morning Tighe will be on the phone, thanking people for coming.