Injecting Creativity: Bringing Architectural Imagination to Life
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Jonathan Tate (OJT - Office of Jonathan Tate) and his colleagues gradually relocated their office from Memphis to New Orleans to focus on rebuilding. Amidst a global economic recession, a few years later Jonathan decided to go off on his own.
His traditional architectural practice "Office of Jonathan Tate" was income generating, but he made time for speculative development projects on the side. He and his business partner(s) took an interest in small and affordable parcels of land to develop Starter Homes.
While maintaining his architectural practice, jonathan has turned to alternate financing models for future development projects. He led the first equity crowdfunded project in the U.S. and he continues to use this model to develop artists bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), where resident artists contribute to a running the B&B in exchange for room and board.
Through his work as an architect and developer, Jonathan demonstrates how designers can “inject creativity” and create new and meaningful opportunities in the built environment.
Could you tell us a little about your background? What made you decide to found OJT (Office of Jonathan Tate)? Was there a particular moment that sealed the decision for you?
I was in undergrad in Alabama, my home state, and working with a professor Samuel Mockbee at the Rural Studio program. From there I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, working with his office and his partner, and then that turned into a 14-year engagement with that firm or the second iteration of it. We were in Memphis at the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and we tried to do what we could to help out and do work down here in New Orleans.
Our office was slowing down a little bit, and we were retooling in some ways. We were just trying to do some work in the city, and part of the office relocated to New Orleans for a Tulane University faculty appointment. After a year we decided to relocate the whole office and stick to New Orleans.
In 2011, the principal for my office decided to leave New Orleans for a fulltime faculty position in Austin so that’s really what started my practice. I made the decision not to leave New Orleans, and since I had to do something and I wasn’t going to be able to work with someone else, I had to start a practice.
When you start an office, you have the opportunity to focus on the things that you believe in and really want to work on. It was 2008, post-recession, and we were a city that was trying to figure out how to put itself back together. The design professionals—but everybody in some ways—were just rethinking how we were working.
We all wanted to be here and to work on urban issues generally, but specifically, rebuilding one of our great American cities. That ethos formed the practice as well. That was the environment and the climate we were in and so it made perfect sense to have that kind of an office.
I was also teaching at the time and there were things that I loved about teaching—the research and the investigation—that I wanted to incorporate into a functioning office and not just as an academic exercise.
Did you set up your office before you had clients or did you also have clients at the time? Or did you start the office by developing your own projects?
I had practiced in one place for 10 years but had only been in a new city, New Orleans, for three or so years at that time. I had made a number of helpful contacts but there really wasn’t much going on. The economy sucked. Thankfully, I was teaching, but I wasn’t a full-time faculty member, it was a part time thing. We had a project and some opportunities for one or two more, but generally speaking, we were starting fresh.
The Starter Home* is a project you developed with your office. So, in a way you are also acting as a developer. What is the projects background?
We started off with focusing on a couple of things. One focus was just getting work from normal clients. We needed work and income, so we did traditional architectural projects for a client. They had a program, and we designed the project for them.
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