The man responsible for the Apple Cube on Fifth Avenue, Bill Gates’ home in Washington state, and the Pixar Animation Studios easily hides in plain sight. Peter Bohlin is the well-disguised mastermind of the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson architecture firm, always opting for a beige sport coat and a pair of casual sneakers amidst an army of dark suits and wingtips. At the age of 83, Bohlin always puts a positive energy into everything he does, from his innovative designs to his attitudes towards life.
Jackie: You once stated that in order to be a good architect, you must be serious and childlike simultaneously. How do you do that? Are there any rituals you partake in? Peter: In the summers we lived in northwestern Connecticut, and a stream ran not far from the house, through a ravine. You could always hear it, and I would escape there, to the for- est, and think, ‘You know, if nothing else works out, I love the idea of fishing all my life.’ When I started in high school I went spelunking a lot, which is a great treat. Then I went to Cranbrook Academy of Art for my Master’s in Architecture, which was good for me. I started drawing differently, less stylized and more like a child. I still grow flowers and stuff when I have time and, you know, I have this great frog pond here, it’s wonderful. You notice how you can’t see how big it is because it goes around corners? You can never tell; I think it looks much bigger than it actually is. But the reason for that was for the mystery of it all; and of course, because I love frogs.
JK: Have you ever been afraid at any point in your career of losing yourself to accommodate the demands of others? If so, how did you reassure or find yourself again? PB: Now and then you meet someone that’s so controlling, and then they have terrible sense, and they almost get pleasure from having it. Steve Jobs was different; they’re all different. When we did about 65 Apple stores, what I found interesting was getting at Steve’s nature. He was almost totally set on symmetry, and then you begin to look at, for instance, automobiles; they look symmetrical, but then you find out that the innards are not, and that’s for good reason. So you’re always looking for ways of making accommodation...and you can find that by going after a person’s nature or a culture’s nature.
As a founder of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which was created in 1965 as Bohlin and Powell, Bohlin was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2010. The AIA Gold Medal is the highest honor an individual architect can receive, given by the American Institute of Architects.
ILLUSTRATIONS Sarah Ditterline & Amanda Lauro PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Peter Bohlin
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