By day they’re helping design great spaces, by night they’re rocking out in bands. And it’s no coincidence. These three say design and music go hand in hand. By Steve Renzi. Photos by Danni Valdez. Cover photo of Rob Paulus.
Good planning, design and architecture connect us to the world and make it a better place to live. So does good music. You could say that a life without music is as barren as a cityscape without people or a landscape without plants.
We talk to three people who are in the business of planning great spaces by day, and playing music by night. Coincidence? We don’t think so.
“Good design and music go hand in hand.”
The work of architect Rob Paulus of Rob Paulus Architects is well known in Tucson and beyond. Along with his wife Randi Dorman, he has designed and developed several residential projects including Indigo Modern, Barrio Metalico and the Ice House Lofts. He also plays bass guitar and the violin.
How did you learn music? “My grandmother could play a mean piano and was a huge influence on our family of seven. I can still vividly remember her stack of multi-colored vinyl records (78rpm) that she would play on her vintage turntable. My older brother got me playing guitar at age ten, I’ve never had a real lesson and tell everyone that I went to the school of “Hunt and Peck.”
Tell us about you musical career. “My first gig was at a Catholic church in the sixth grade in front of the entire school. My buddy and I deviously brought our electric guitars – it was my first taste of Rock and Roll. I got into bass and jazz in my early twenties playing with Larry Redhouse here locally. I’m currently playing with my long time friend, Marshall Jones in a variety of groups from a string trio to a full on band with our amazing vocalist Genevieve Gaus.”
As an architect, what are your influences? “Much like music, good architecture needs many layers of legibility but with an underlying solid foundation and rhythm. In Europe I got to see the modern work of architects Nicholas Grimshaw, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. Their work was set into urban environments that date back thousands of years. This really blew me away and thoroughly reinforced the importance of creating solid design that looks to the future while integrating and celebrating the past.”
How do your day and night jobs contribute to and influence one another? “Good design and music go hand in hand and ultimately involve a thoughtful approach to composition. There needs to be a balance of solid and void as well as the concept of tension and release that define both.”
You recently visited Cuba. Tell us about it. “Cuba has such an intact and walkable urban environment. Part of the allure was what wasn’t there; no cell phone service, no fast food, no corporate housing tracts…There is a purity in both the music and architecture that I hope isn’t lost as they transition into the modern world.”
“Design and music are both rooted in mathematics.”
James DeRoussel has been a landscape architect in Tucson for 15 years and currently works at ForeSite LLC. He also works at Watershed Management Group, a Tucson non-profit focused on water harvesting and sustainability. He plays guitar and is a vocalist – he considers the voice to be another instrument. He has played in country bands and is currently in the band Latigo.
How often do you play? “My standard answer is that I’ve owned a guitar for 25 years, but I’ve only been playing it for two. It’s only partly a joke. I would play every day for a month and then not touch a guitar for three months. I did that for 25 years. Now I am excited about my new project, a band called Latigo. We rehearse once a week and I try to practice every day.”
How do your two careers feed off and contribute to one another? “Most folks fear public speaking. As a landscape architect, I teach a lot and spend a lot of time doing public speaking, so I got over stage fright a long time before I started performing musically.
“Design and music are both rooted in mathematics at many levels. The elements of rhythm, repetition, balance and variety are all common to music and to design. And all those elements must be present to compose a musical piece or a landscape design of high quality. So understanding these principles and how people experience them is really important to design, composition and performance.”
Your favorite example of local architecture? “I think the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a world-class example of what’s possible when design is rooted in local context, and when architecture, landscaping and engineering are approached in an integrated way.”
Tell us about your music. “I like all types of music, but am singing mostly country music now. My favorite song changes weekly. I am constantly humming or singing a tune and half the time, I don’t know I’m doing it. It drives my wife crazy.”
“The key in music and politics is to be attuned.”
Besides being once voted as “best natural mustache,” in the Rialto Theatre’s Beerd Fest competition, Ryan Anderson is Transportation, Planning & Sustainability Policy Advisor at the Office of the Mayor of Tucson. Specifically, he has worked on the Mayor’s 10,000 Trees initiative, reducing the city’s water and energy consumption, developing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, expediting transportation and supporting legislative efforts at the Capital. Anderson also plays rhythm guitar in the instrumental trio Hey Bucko!
How does music feed off and contribute to your other career? “The key in music and politics is to be attuned. Context defines how a note, policy, or program is received. Either it will play well in context or it is off, and you need to adjust. Sometimes you’ve written the underlying score, or developed the project, and thus have more control; other times you’ve joined something in progress and you have to harmonize with what’s already going on.”
What projects do you most admire in planning, design, or architecture? “I admire smart growth. Tucson’s efforts to revitalize downtown qualify. Generally, I like design that cherishes the quirks that make a place unique. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and my favorite spots around the world are unapologetically themselves, much like Tucson.”
Fave song and why? “The answer depends on my mood at the time. Maybe one of Ennio Morricone’s theme songs to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western films. I’m currently listening to D’Angelo’s new album, Black Messiah.”
At the Pearly Gates, what will you be known for? “Hopefully, I’ll be known for more than my mustache.”