It’s hard to exaggerate the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture’s impact on Austin. Since 2005 – and before that, if you count the designer’s tenure at Dick Clark and Associates – Hsu and the company have been defining and defining the way the city works and looks with an astonishingly large number and variety of major construction and interior design projects from them small, neighborhood-oriented and stylistically unmistakable. Whether groundbreaking developments (Lamar Union, Fareground, Saltillo), innovative spaces for price-conscious creatives (Canopy, Springdale General) or high-flying hospitality projects (Line Makeover, South Congress Hotel) – Hsus projects are usually about collecting and community – Activities and values that are deeply woven into Austin’s self-image.
So what happens when an architect whose work is permeated by these concepts, like most of Austin, has to work in relatively isolation due to the city’s stay-at-home order issued in March due to the coronavirus pandemic?
It should come as no surprise that Hsu responded with typical aesthetic dexterity and created a home office that worked just as well as a video conferencing studio and a display of his finely honed design sensibility. “When I work at home, it’s usually on the couch or in bed and I have a small desk,” Hsu said in a recent phone call. However, when the need for a fully equipped, full-time workspace arose, “I haven’t used any of those areas,” he said. “I ended up using my dining table.” Hsu changed the orientation of the table so that the background looks different and well designed from both sides. He also bought a Loom Cube to control and enhance lighting, which in a living area can change radically throughout the day. It doesn’t hurt that he’s already set up a no-frills, gorgeous dining room that includes Patricia Urquioala chairs that just happen to be suitable for work without being task chairs.
In contrast: Hsu Office of Architecture Creative Office Chase Daniel
While Hsu has designed numerous workspaces, including the company’s creative offices in Austin, not far from his Rosedale residence, he finds various inspirations – and challenges – at home, especially with his children (11 and 14 years old) around the house. “Noise is a challenge, lighting is a constant challenge,” he says. “It was interesting that I didn’t end up in the other areas where I normally work at night. In the end, it was about the lighting and the convenience of being close to the kitchen so I can have coffee or take a break. ”
Hsu has found some unexpected ways that working in his home enables a different experience, such as being close to his records and stereo. “Music was a big deal,” he said. “In my office, I can’t always choose the music. It increases my mood and increases my productivity. I’m an introvert and our office is a big, open space. I find it easier to focus at home. “
Indoor plants – he’s particularly enjoying his spear-leaf ficus and eight-foot-tall pencil cactus right now – as well as candles and non-fiction books that he takes for a short break or while waiting for a meeting to start also enhance his home office experience (the tartine Bread book and the Beastie Boys autobiography are currently available).
“The other thing that’s really amazing is being able to sit at home and have the windows open,” he said, pointing out some more Austin-specific aspects of home work that people can now take advantage of. “My existing area in Austin feels so much like a small town,” he adds. “Areas around my home that I can cycle or run to are my world again.”
As someone whose job already dictates paying tremendous attention to public, private, and intervening spaces, Hsu said, “I fit this kind of voyeuristic notion of looking into interesting houses. I’m curious how people think of their home – do they want to invest more time and money in it, do they want to turn their lawn into gardens, into places where you spend more time? “
“As architects, we work on all types of projects,” he added. “It’s so interesting to see how our world has shrunk into our homes. It’s a resting point. “