Indoor / Outdoor Space Engineer

“I had always seen architecture as landscaping.”

– Michael Kalil, “Seed Vision” interview, 1990

Kalil’s archive offers up several interesting pieces of evidence that support the fact that he held a long-standing fascination with integrating natural elements (water, fire, flora) and landscapes into his designs. This theme that runs throughout Kalil’s work and can be seen from his earliest design commissions up to his final residential and theoretical projects (not to mention his 1990 Honors Studio class at University of North Carolina at Greensboro—I’ll be writing about that in an upcoming post.) Elements of Japanese garden and interior design as well as more austere, western modernist design tendencies abound.

One of Kalil’s earliest (unbuilt) professional residential plans that incorporated his concept of interior “landscaping” was actually response to a House & Garden magazine design contest in 1977. The challenge put forth was to re-imagine a client’s existing apartment, which had been unceremoniously dubbed as a “decorating disaster.” Suspecting that Kalil could provide a particularly exciting solution, Beverly Russell, whom at the time was the Special Features Editor for House & Garden, personally wrote to Kalil, encouraging him to participate.

She was right—Kalil provided a bold take that was largely inspired by his own home experiments with innovative space reconfiguration and the carefully considered introduction of natural elements.  In an 1990 interview that Kalil did for IS Journal, Kalil recalls this project, noting that he envisioned terraced levels within the living room (covered with an earthy, moss-colored carpet), a small teak foot bridge that would lead to a raised bedroom area that would be planted with irises and ivy. Additionally, he designed a “fire pit” in the floor of the bedroom for candles and sand. If that weren’t enough, in the main living room area, there would be a convertible teak table that could serve both for dining and as a small coffee table, and also a waterfall (a clever meditative device created from a faucet that would be run high up into a wall so that water would trickle down a series of glass block steps.)

Interesting to note is that this House & Garden article is perhaps is the earliest instance of Kalil being referred to as a “space engineer.” Although it is unclear if he coined that term himself, from this point forward, he uses this descriptor to his best advantage in subsequent press interviews to define his approach towards architecture and design.