Profile: Graham Greene, AIA
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Profile: Graham Greene, AIA
Graham Greene, AIA, is one of four partners at Oglesby Greene Architects, an award-winning boutique design firm with offices located on the edge of the Dallas arts district. Greene began his architectural career in Chicago with Lohan Associates, formerly The Office of Mies van der Rohe. In 1989, he opened his own practice in Dallas, with an eye toward urban vitalization and sustainability. Six years later, his firm merged with The Oglesby Group, forming Oglesby Greene. The firm’s portfolio spans many project types, including civic buildings, urban live-work and mixed-use redevelopments, affordable housing, and luxury residences.
At times, Greene works as both architect and client in the development process. He seeks out investment opportunities in underserved populations and situations, striving to find viable and sustainable solutions. His latest venture—Flora Lofts— aims to make it affordable for artists to live and work in the Dallas arts district. The site, which Greene purchased 17 years ago, is adjacent to the Nasher Sculpture Center, Museum Tower, and the Meyerson Symphony Center. The Lofts are targeted for completion in December 2015.
How did the 1995 merger of your office with the Oglesby Group come about?
Coming out of one of the last economic recessions, I was looking for talented people to join our growing practice. I made a list of the best architectural firms in the city, thinking that’s where talent was to be found. The Oglesby Group was at the very top of the list. When I contacted them, we immediately saw a strong alignment of architectural principles and values, and then decided to merge the studios.
Photo credit: Ian Cole
Is there a driving philosophy behind the type of projects you choose to pursue?
We are patient modernists and like to do any type of project that is complex, significant, and meaningful to both our clients and us. So what we’ve been doing exceedingly well is combining views toward the future with of-our-time thinking to achieve timeless results. This challenge of putting it all together while achieving architectural excellence is the thing that makes us most excited about our work.
Tell me about the idea behind Flora Lofts. Why did you take up the cause for artist housing?
It’s a simple idea: having artists actually live in the Dallas arts district. Then the complexity begins in aligning multitudes of divergent values, social and cultural values, economic values, property values … it’s a very complicated endeavor which needs to happen to fulfill one of the prime intentions in the original vision for the district. Over the last 25 years, I’ve invested my time and money in the production of over 300 units of affordable, supportive housing because there are very real unfulfilled needs. A need for affordable artist housing is just like the need for creating housing for the homeless, for students, seniors, the disabled, and workers who can’t make a living wage. Being architects, we have the skills to dramatically improve this situation, and I see it as my unique way of contributing to the betterment of our urban culture.
What attracted you to the development side of architecture?
The attraction has come more from a social investment mentality. I see opportunities that get overlooked by local developers, many of whom are potential clients, and see situations where there isn’t much interest, but there is a real need. I’ve placed some money at risk—where both my mouth and heart are when seeing these possibilities. It was started with a small investment and it has been parlayed into larger ones from the successes of the previous endeavors.
What advice would you give to another architect who wanted to be his or her own client?
First thing, as client and architect, invest your time or money only in what you believe in 100%, no matter how difficult. Second, don’t let yourself get into situations where you must move forward or you will sacrifice your vision. And last, don’t squander your time or money on frivolous indulgences and vain pursuits. Do things that fill a real need and provide both you and society with a return on your investment.
How do you see the Dallas arts district evolving in the next five years?
The Dallas citizenry have so far achieved a vital cultural foundation for the greater vision of the founding stakeholders. Coming soon is a critical mix of other uses, one that includes more residents, retailers, gardens, street life, transportation choices, and connections to adjacent neighborhoods and downtown. The sense is that we have used up most of the available development sites, but I see expanding the development potential of city-owned properties—such as the symphony and Dallas Museum of Art—in ways that public-private partnerships are able to further develop a mix of uses, creating a vital urban neighborhood and funding the arts programming at the same time. In Dallas arts district v. 2—a new development guideline that will supersede the Sasaki Plan—issues of inclusivity need to be addressed before it evolves any further into becoming an exclusive elitist enclave.
If you could change one thing about Dallas, what would it be?
I’d somehow diminish the pervasive infatuation in the idea that everything BIG is inherently better, as in “too big to fail,” and reverse the undercurrent that it instills that smaller enterprises are somehow less worthy.
What do you like to do when you’re not working in the studio?
I absolutely love to go sailing. It is the most incredible feeling being propelled along by an invisible force, the wind, knowing that with the right knowledge and actions you can get to the destination you desire. It’s an incredible amount of work, too, but the sensations give you immediate gratification and keep your focus completely in the moment.
Interviewed by Cynthia Smith, Assoc. AIA, Gensler in Dallas.