In the beginning: James Biber

James Biber Founder Biber ArchitectsIn the Beginning” is an ongoing series dedicated to providing snapshots of how different designers got their start in the creative industry. James Biber is founder and principal of Biber Architects.

1. What is your earliest design inspiration/impression?

I grew up in Rob and Laura Petri’s town, New Rochelle, at precisely the time the Dick Van Dyke Show was on the air, in a thoroughly Danish Modern suburban home. I knew we had a Womb Chair before I knew what a womb really was. And even though my father owned an office supply store, they designed some of the furniture in our home. It was this slightly arty, slightly boho, slightly naïve and very suburban sense of design that I remember best.

I hated the furniture in our house, the dominance of olive green, ochre and orange, the slightly African art, the way nothing was normal. But now I realize that it made me a designer and now, as then, nothing I make is normal.


2. What was the first project you worked on as a professional designer?

I usually worked during the summers between my college semesters with a landscape contractor. The pay was fantastic, it was outside and it did keep the weight off. But one summer I worked for a Japanese-American architect and landscape architect in my hometown. On the first day of work Kan asked me to draw an elevation of a house he was redesigning, and the landscaping involved a particular kind of wind swept pine tree, a black pine, I think. I had never drawn any particular kind of tree at school, just the “generic” kind, whatever that is, but for this drawing he had something very specific in mind.

When I wasn’t getting it right he pulled out a huge book called The Tao of Painting. It was a sort of Zen instruction manual for art. The advice from the book was:

“when drawing this tree one must think of a lion”

This was surely the oddest direction I had ever gotten, but it worked. I can see the drawing on that graphite-wrinkled, overworked, yellow tracing paper sheet, as clearly as I can see the sketch I made yesterday.

3. What is the most memorable/meaningful project you’ve worked on to date?

The first _____________ I designed.