When I am not designing buildings, I like to draw, paint, and write. Watercolors, soft pencil sketches, usually of rooms or landscapes, allow me to see the world more carefully–and then to interpret it’s moods and nuances. I am usually reading 3 or 4 books at once, switching between architecture, literature and poetry. Milan Kundera, Tobias Wolf, Richard Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, E.M. Forster, Mark Strand, Billy Collins, Wallace Stevens–these are some of my favorite writers and poets.
My architectural mentors (architects who have inspired me by their thoughts and buildings) are: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Henry Chapman Mercer, Bernard Maybeck, Frank Lloyd Wright, Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahn, Aldo Van Eyck, Herman Hertzberger, Jorn Utzon, Christopher Alexander, and Peter Zumthor
I am a native Oregonian, the grandson of Irish immigrants who settled in the Keating valley in eastern Oregon. I have a deep and abiding love for the Pacific Northwest in general, and for the changeful landscapes of Oregon in particular.
History and Philosophy
I have maintained an active design practice since 1989. During that time I have completed over 95 building projects, mainly residences, whose budgets have ranged between $60,000.00-$3,250,000.00. For every project, I oversee and execute all of the design from schematics to model making to working drawings and on site design during construction. My design process strongly involves the client, is closely tied to the site, and continues fundamentally throughout the construction process. This approach, since it is tied closely to the site and to the reality of the building as it is being built, is an intrinsically different way of designing buildings and one that requires close coordination with the builder. In addition, I do all of the interior design development and macro landscape design. This includes kitchen, furniture, lighting and lighting fixtures, finish surfaces and finish detailing, cabinets, tile design & patterns, colors and materials on the inside, as well as terraces, garden walls, trellis work, fences, paving materials and patterns on the outside. I also enjoy working with interior designers and landscape architects who share my beliefs and are brought into the project early.
James W. Givens Design, Eugene, Oregon, 1989 to present. I place great emphasis on a design process that is closely tied to the site and to the reality of the building as it is being built–a reality that evades the predetermination of detailed working drawings. As such, the design develops and changes as construction proceeds. At each step, I try to do just that thing, that one thing, which will generate more life in what I am designing. Always it is connected to the direct experience of the place itself. Always, it is striving to allow a deeper way of being in the world.
Rob Thallon, Architect, Eugene, Oregon, 1994 & 1995. Collaborated on two environmentally responsible homes: design, working drawings, interior design, construction observation.
Albert Tsutsui, AIA, Agana, Guam, 1991. Responsible for conceptualizing and presenting headquarters for Calvo Insurance Co.
Marshall C. Ricker, AIA, Bend, Oregon, 1984. One man office; assisted in design, design presentation and working drawings for various small commercial buildings.
My work aspires toward the real, the authentic, toward rooms shaped to enduring purpose, that stand quietly at hand, tended by a deep sense of material beauty. My hope is that you find in them a part of yourself: a feeling or a memory, perhaps first awakened by the light on the surfaces of the room. A momentary recognition that precedes the person you will become there.
Places that move us do so precisely because they attend to the small moments, make them visible, and then give them back to us in an unsentimental display of ourselves in their midst. Without fanfare, and with no prerequisite of style, these places hold us in the truth of a moment on the backbone of real materials set to task and configured in the sun.
There are three themes that characterize my process:
The landscape is the one reality which precedes us, precedes whatever we make of it. The land is vast, indifferent, and tough. It has dense physical character and a deeply embedded spirit that asks that what we build call forth its enduring quality. Not because the buildings matter less, but because they are the next most permanent thing that makes the spirit of the land recognizable, in a language that comes from our own hands.
At the heart of architecture is the actions of ordinary living, an appreciation for the deeply recurring everyday moments: looking out a window, mounting steps, and so forth. Repeated as they are over a lifetime, from the first to the last act, the physical settings in which they occur become emblems of our being in the world. And if those settings don’t ring true, if they don’t become the sustaining measure of our presence on this earth, if we look at a door and do not see the moment at which everything may change, then it is likely we may never recognize the transcendent capacity of what we build.
And what we build will outlive us. Great architecture must embody qualities that endure. It cannot afford the ephemeral trappings of fashion, nostalgia, or the inevitable obsolesence of the avante garde. True beauty is timeless. The reason we are moved by ancient buildings in foreign cultures, in the absence of any language we know, without even knowledge of ritual or history, is because they awaken in our hearts the deeper archetypal feelings that unify our humanity. Without language, without special knowledge, or trick of technology, a receptive space of silence is opened inside of us. Stone and wall and ancient dust of light have hallowed the hopes and aspirations of a people not so very different from us, or from what we ourselves seek so many hundreds of years later.
Regardless of the many other reasons why we enclose space, in the end, we build places so that they may become for us a deeper way of being in this world.
Interests and Intentions
My interests in architecture come out of a strong humanist tradition. The venerable writings of John Ruskin and John Summerson, and more recently, Christian Norberg-Schulz, Aldo Van Eyck, Herman Hertzberger, Michael Benedikt, Christopher Alexander, and William Kleinsasser, have all shaped and inspired my own approach to teaching, designing and making buildings. The poetry of Mark Strand, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Wallace Stevens, and the art of Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, and Charles Heaney have reinforced a way of experiencing the world that is entirely relevant to architecture. Great architecture, like great poetry, like great painting, gives human feeling physical form. There are two important ideas embedded here. First: how a place feels, how it is made and what experiences it makes possible are inextricabley linked. Second: anything that is made with deep feeling and humility, will, on its own terms, also refer and connect to something larger than itself, will strive to reach a deeper, more luminous ground. My intention in teaching and in practice, is to explore just how we do this, and to ground that investigation in the physical reality of making buildings.
Master of Architecture, 1989, University of Oregon
Bachelor of Architecture, 1985, University of Oregon
Awards and Fellowships
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2015. First Place, Residential Design: “Mulbry Residence”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2012. First Place, Residential Design: “Mulkey-Claassen Residence”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2006. Second Place, Residential Design: “A Home at Iris Hill Vineyards (Boyles/Frye Residence)”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2005. First Place, Residential Design: “A Contemporary House Set in a Grove of Oak Trees (Ahlijian Residence)”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2004. First Place, Residential Design: “Hollander Residence”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2000. First Place, Landscape Design: “Vizcaya West Gates (Woolley Residence)”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 2000. Second Place, Commercial Design: “Meridian Bldg”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 1998. First Place, Residential Design: “A Hillside House (Tilson Residence)”
American Institute of Architects, Southwestern Oregon Chapter People’s Choice Award, 1998, Second Place, Residential Design: “Craftsman House (Hagen/Pearson Residence)”
Ion Lewis Traveling Fellowship. 1996. Awarded by the University of Oregon School of Architecture and the State of Oregon American Institute of Architects to one recipient who, within five years of completing a degree in architecture, has demonstrated significant potential in the field of architecture.