Q&A: Mark Dewalt, Founding Principal

"I think the problem with a lot of architecture in America today is that it’s too pragmatic. ... Our philosophy here is research-based design, but that doesn’t mean pedestrian."   -Mark Dewalt

IMG_5515-Credit Strip_v3 Photo by Chelsea Ross
Mark Dewalt_plans_5533_credit strip_v2 Photo by Chelsea Ross
U2_web U2's Spider Stage
Northerly_Island_01 Northerly Island's venue under construction
Northernly Island_02 Northerly Island's AV control centers under construction
NortherlyIsland_Dula_03_web Northerly Island in action
Wrigley_Web Wrigley Field's temporary stage for Jimmy Buffet
Feb 23, 2016

Q&A: Mark Dewalt, Founding Principal

By admin


Interview by Chelsea Ross

Have you always wanted to be an architect?
I was always very visual and graphically-oriented. Ever since I was a little kid, I picked up a pencil and paper to explain things. My mother kept a picture that I drew when I was very young. I wanted a waffle, but she couldn’t understand me, so I drew a waffle, then she knew what I wanted.

Our world is increasingly more visually-oriented. Maybe the golden age of the architect is upon us…
Maybe. It is one of the few fields that uses drawings to communicate ideas. The drawing is the medium between the idea in our head–about a building, a space, a city–and the actualization of that idea.

How did you link up with Joe Valerio and Jack Train?
I started at Metz Train Youngren right after graduating from UIC. After five years there, I split off with Jack Train to form Train Associates, which became Train Dewalt. I was a principal at 30. Not long after, I was introduced to Joe and we realized we could have a symbiotic relationship. He was heavy on design, but needed more technical capacities, we were heavy on the technical, but lacked the emphasis on design. We thought maybe we could balance each other out. And, well, the rest is history.

What’s your role at Valerio Dewalt Train?
I handle management and strategic leadership. The business side of stuff that often has little to do with design, but somebody has to do it, or we’d have no opportunities for architecture. I’m the Harvey Keitel of architecture. I have the ability to get in and clean things up when people make a mess.

How did you get into building and permitting structures for concerts?
We built a temporary concert venue on Northerly Island about 10 years ago. It was a huge success. In the process I got to know music promoters, which opened up more opportunities. I did a Jimmy Buffet concert at Wrigley Field. It was the first concert there since the 60’s and they needed seating for 8000 people on the field. We worked out the details and engineered a stage that was the height of a 5-story building, and constructed it in three days.

What other artists have you worked with?
Beyonce, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Police, Elton John, Taylor Swift. The U2 Spider Stage at Solder Field was the biggest. It was 15-stories tall.

Do you attend the shows?
I go to some of the concerts, but I listen to music all the time.

What do you listen to?
New music. I don’t like classic rock. I listen to lot of European electronic groups, but not the hard techno stuff.

What’s currently in rotation in your playlist?
Alt J, Mimi Page, Sounds From the Ground, Deep Dive Corporation, Jose Gonzalez, Beck, Chris Coco.

What’s the story with that sculpture? [Referring the a hip-height sculpture in the corner of Mark’s office]
It’s by mixed-media artist John McNaughton. Jack Train met him in Ohio and bought the sculpture for our former reception area.

It’s very Post-Modern. Are you into that?
I never got into Post-Modernism. It’s so distinctive, but sometimes it just seems like ornamentation.

But it’s expressive…
It is. I think the problem with a lot of architecture in America today is that it’s too pragmatic. You look at some of the Dutch stuff and it’s so expressive, cartoonish even.

Does that appeal to you?
If it’s relevant to its function, but I think a lot of it is fashion.

But it’s cultural too, isn’t it?
Sure, culture is established through architecture. It has been for hundreds of years. But there’s been a lot of unfortunate work done by architects for the sake of monumentality that is quickly dated and falls apart.

How does that compare with the work here?
Our philosophy here is research-based design. That doesn’t mean pedestrian, but design that adopts, encourages, and expands the enterprise of our client. Program is a strong driver. We answer programmatic and functional issues with design. We push every edge to make a good building, to close the gap, to do something special with an ordinary budget.

How does that work?
One thing that is important is cultivating a culture of creativity within the firm. Each principal has their own projects, so the projects range in sensibility as the result of the authorship, instead of one singular approach.

What is your approach?
I’m conscious of form and shape to create visual interest. I always start graphically, by picking up a pencil and sketching. I can sketch quickly. Because I’m old school.

Interview has been condensed and edited.