Michael Hughes and Selma Ćatović Hughes do not run a traditional architecture office. There are no other employees, no marketing strategy or receptionist and little conventional business acumen. Instead there is passion, rigor and conviction. We simply want to make great architecture for the people we work with regardless of size, program type or cost. And we want to do it ourselves because we love doing it.
As a result, each project represents our singular involvement in the sense that we typically work with one client at a time and we devote our full attention to that client’s project for the full duration. It also means that If you call our office one of us will answer the phone...or call you back. If you send an email one of us will reply. We will be the ones you talk to throughout the project, we will do all of the design work and we will do all of the construction drawings. We work with consultants and collaborators as the project scope and complexity require, but our direct engagement and focus remain constant. This somewhat unusual format allows us to remain intimately involved with, and responsible for, all phases of every project.
It also means that we are slow. We take our time. We want to get it right. If you contact us in March and hope to be in your new house by New Year we will say “Yes”, but which new year will be the question. A bespoke suit takes longer to make than one purchased off the shelf and good BBQ takes longer to make than a burger at McDonalds.
Even with ‘small’ projects there are opportunities that only reveal themselves after exhaustive study, long conversations with clients and ample day dreaming. Complexities, in terms of scale, budget, detail design, specification, and construction coordination, demand attention over extended periods of time. For example, from the initial client meeting to move-in, the Moreland Residence in Baton Rouge, LA required two-and-a-half years of focused work and consultation with the clients and contactor.
While unconventional, the strategy has met with some success. Catovic Hughes Design has been recognized with 4 state AIA Design Awards, two Gulf States Region AIA Design Awards and the ACSA Faculty Design Award. Their work has also been published in Architecture Record, Metropolitan Home, and Dwell magazine.
Our first completed project, begun in 1993, had a significant influence on subsequent selection and career path. After six years of architecture school followed by internships with some highly regarded architectural firms Michael was given the opportunity to design and build The Home, a retirement house for his parents in Eastanollee, Georgia. Faced with the mutually exclusive variables of a restricted budget, expensive ideas, and no prior construction experience, engaging the project relied heavily on curiosity, hands-on experimentation, and exhaustive on-site implementation.
Over the course of three years spent designing, detailing and actually building this house with a small construction crew composed of Michael and two outstanding senior citizens, (his father and uncle), the project highlighted the importance of engaging the physical and material realities of construction. In light of this experience, our approach to the practice of architecture combines conceptual design work with the tactile knowledge gained from direct exposure to materials and making.
Our fascination with building significantly influences the full-scale community projects we do with architecture students in the academic realm. In contrast to traditional design education this type of teaching seeks to combine multiple areas of knowledge in order to expose students to a complete educational experience that integrates the art and craft of architecture with issues of civic outreach and social responsibility. The embedded process of collaboration between faculty member and student blurs the boundaries between teaching and professional practice.
Reflecting on our work to date there is a clear, ongoing and intentional shift toward a more explicit embrace of the experiential, or phenomenological. Early preoccupations with formal exuberance remain, but they are tempered, or augmented, by material and climatic lessons discovered through extensive, first-hand study of modern, pre-modern, and vernacular paradigms. Specifically, we are preoccupied with the capacity for architecture to celebrate specific site conditions while elevating and enhancing the rituals of everyday life. Implicit to this approach is an ongoing fixation with landscape and climate. We are drawn to projects that engage the extremes of wet and dry climates and the blunt requirements they impose on architecture.
Pronounced conditions of weather, topography, and geography exert unique, often uncompromising, demands that define site specific inventions that have resulted in some of the most inventive tectonic and typological vernaculars. Dogtrots and Shotgun houses in the South, cliff dwellings, adobe, and evaporative cooling in the Southwest are inexorably linked to the specifics of a particular place. When it is 98 degrees and the humidity is 12% or 90% you cannot be ambivalent about shade, orientation, or breeze. When it rains 10 inches or 120 inches a year you cannot be ambivalent about water. Influenced by our experience in the humid American South and the arid desert our work celebrates the unique contextual conditions imposed by the specifics of a given place and challenge contemporary trends toward universal, often generic, form.
Selma Ćatović Hughes grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia. After receiving a scholarship to study in the U.S. she left her war-torn country to earn degrees in architecture from the University of New Mexico and the University of Colorado. Selma is currently an adjunct faculty member at American University of Sharjah where she teaches in the first-year Foundations program.
Michael Hughes attended architecture school at the University of Virginia and Princeton University. Michael Hughes is a professor at the American University of Sharjah, (AUS) focused on a collaborative form of full-scale, hands-on teaching known as 'design-build'. Design-build engages students in a complex educational experience that integrates the art and craft of making with issues of civic, ethical and social responsibility. Located in the boundary between architecture, interior design and landscape these projects seek to create experiential delight out of small-scale design opportunities.