After graduating with a Master of Architecture degree from Arizona State University in 1991, Eric moved to Denver to apprentice with Urban Design Group. He completed his architectural internship at Blue Sky Studio and participated in Denver’s urban renewal initiative, renovating loft buildings in Lower Downtown. In 1995 Eric returned to his home state to join CLB.
Recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a “Citizen Architect” for contributions to his community, Eric was a founding member and served on the Town of Jackson Design Review Committee for 12 years. Eric chairs and participates in regional design awards juries, teaches and advises students at local schools and lectures at regional design conferences.
The West influences Eric’s work: The power of landscape, the quality of light and the directness and simple honesty of vernacular architecture. He is keenly interested in the relevance of modernism as it is adapted to a particular context. His work is sensitive to place and thoughtful in execution which has resulted in numerous regional and national design awards and publication in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Luxe, and Residential Architect.
Where do you live / work?
My home is Jackson, Wyoming. CLB is also based in the Rocky Mountain West, with offices in Jackson and Bozeman, Montana. Although we have practiced here for 30 years, we are deliberately pushing outward, with active projects on both coasts, as well as north into Canada and south into Texas.
What is your 'why'?
Design is a hugely influential part of our daily lives. As someone who is involved in shaping the built environment, I see my role as playing with that potential influence in each of my design decisions. I am a very visual person, and I’m drawn to beautiful objects – both creating and experiencing them. I enjoy making buildings that are perfectly suited to the place they are situated, and the people who inhabit them.
Why a career in art / design?
I've tried to pinpoint the origin of my obsession, and I think it at least partially derives from my childhood home. I grew up in the middle of Wyoming in the late 60’s and early 70’s. My father had served in the Navy with Bruce Blackburn (graphic designer of the NASA logo and the ‘76 US Bicentennial campaign, among others), and whether through osmosis or direct discussion, he grew interested in the language of design. As a result, our home was chock full of incredible pieces – original artwork, furniture by Platner and Bertoia, Scandinavian Mid-Century designs, and (of course) several of Bruce’s graphic prints. This created an environment in our household that was very different from my friends, and which had a huge impact on me. When my parents hired an architect to design an addition to our home, I was able to mess around on the jobsite and my budding fascination began to pull toward an actual career path.
What makes good design?
This is a bit of a loaded question. I think “good” is subjective, but to me, good design is an integration of beauty and functionality. Whether we consider a spoon, an automobile, or a building, the "good" means the object has qualities that transcend mere function, to resonate visually and experientially on some deeper level. For example: the spoon feels good in my hand, the car ride is more exciting than mere transportation, and a walk through the building reveals how deeply embedded it is in the environment. Although it sounds so elemental, making a design “good” is a struggle even the best designers experience, over and over…and over. You can shovel in cereal with a scrap of plywood but the best spoon is much more than a shovel.
Who (or what) influences you?
My brain works better when I can get outside. I am fortunate to reside in an incredibly beautiful part of the country and these landscapes influence how I think about my work. I love being in buildings that connect me to a place.
Beyond the natural environment, my work draws on a range of other influences. I love art. I love photography and I fuss over the pictures I take on my iPhone far too long. I love automotive design ( the Porsche 911 is an amazing design icon that has been continuously refined for over 50 years –how many objects can you say that about?). I love hand tools and have recently become enamored with a German company, Helko Werk, that makes cutting tools, hatchets, and axes. The heads of these tools are forged steel, the handles are made from various hardwoods, and each component is shaped and finished by a human hand. This is a rare quality in manufacturing today and gives each object meaning.
From within Architecture, I think the most influential figure for me was Frank Lloyd Wright. He was such a prolific innovator at all scales, designing everything from a doorknob to the Broadacre City plan. I think many of us take the expressive design of his Kaufman/Fallingwater home for granted, but in 1935 that project was as daring and inventive as the space shuttle.
What impact do you want to make in the world of design?
I don’t think about it that way. I'm happy to quietly play a role in creating "good" design, as I defined earlier. In practical terms, that means I will continue to build new projects, expand CLB’s portfolio and influence, and test myself and our team with new environments, project types, and scales of work. And I'd like to see if I can design a good spoon one day.
What advice do you have for future creatives?
Developing serious design chops doesn't come easily to most of us. Work your ass off. Be patient. Establish realistic goals for yourself and be selective and deliberate with your career choices. Draw with your hand, NOT just the computer. Don't feel like you have to be the smartest person in the room – listen, learn from those who have more experience, and if you can find a mentor, embrace everything that they can offer.
In Architecture, it's called a "practice" for a reason. I remember thinking I knew almost everything when I left Graduate school, and now, after 30 years of practice, I'm much more aware of everything I don’t know! It’s both humbling and a huge opportunity for growth and learning. I think it's important to understand and embrace that reality.