In the Gallery | Judith Chafee: Framing the Desert
Associate Professor of Architecture Christopher Domin and Tucson Architect Kathryn McGuire Showcase the Work of Judith Chafee
Judith Chafee defined her path in architecture as an unrepentant modernist, environmental steward, social justice advocate and demanding University of Arizona professor of architecture. As Powerhouse: The Life and Work of Judith Chafee portrays through rich essays, photographs and drawings, her architecture combined sensitivity to place with an uncanny ability to employ brutalist materials with sophistication, grace and indigenous influences.
In support of the book and Chafee’s work, authors Christopher Domin, an associate professor of architecture in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Arizona, and Kathryn McGuire, a former student and colleague of Chafee who lives in Tucson, have created an exhibition in CAPLA’s Sundt Gallery on display through February 4, 2020. Chafee’s work—her translation of architectural concepts inherited from sources preceding her, as well as from her contemporaries—has now been entrusted to future generations through the book and exhibition both.
The exhibition includes a reception at 5 p.m. Monday, January 27, in the Sundt Gallery, followed by a lecture by Domin and McGuire at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Center for Creative Photography, next door.
Though Chafee (1932-1998) spent much of her life in the Sonoran desert, Domin discovered her designs as an architecture student at the University of Florida. “I remember first seeing her work in a history seminar reading, ‘Recent World Architecture: The Search for Substance,’” says Domin. “I saw a house she designed in the Sonoran desert and it just hit me. I tucked that photograph away because the hair on the back of my neck stood up—there were things I found familiar and unfamiliar, shocking, fascinating.”
He moved to Tucson and the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2000 in part because Chafee had been here. When he interviewed, he asked, “Where is the Judith Chafee archive?” It was locked in an old school building on the south side of Tucson.
Today, Chafee’s archives are maintained in the University Libraries Special Collections, and play a critical role in design and research for faculty and practitioners alike. The archives were also critical for Domin and McGuire in crafting the exhibition, which spectators praise as “light and airy but also content-filled, effortless for the space” despite being designed as a traveling exhibit, already visiting museums and other architecture schools.
The exhibition of Chafee’s practice is bolstered by Tucson photographer Bill Timmerman’s exceptional photographic representation of the work, as well as architecture lecturer Trevor Cordivari’s stunning scale models of her residences.
Timmerman photographed nine houses on weekend excursions, pacing out a few projects each year over several years’ time. Some of the houses had been well-lived-in for 30, 40 or 50 years, with significant changes made in furnishing and adjacent landscaping, providing challenges in accessing views of the exteriors. “His discerning eye and positioning were in sync with Chafee’s work as he followed the paths she designed for the natural lighting of the spaces,” says Domin. “His photographic records of these houses are a soulful treasure for which we are sincerely grateful.”
The exhibition itself is more than the work of Domin, McGuire, Timmerman, and Cordivari, however. CAPLA Dean Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, School of Architecture Director Robert Miller, Materials Laboratory Manager Paulus Musters and IT and Facilities Director Lucas Guthrie all played a pivotal role, as did Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Laura Hollengreen and Associate Professor of Architecture Beth Weinstein. Many others, from photography volunteers to Special Collections staff, assisted, as well.
And what about the lecture following the reception?
“This is our second joint lecture,” says Domin. The first was during Tucson Modernism Week in October 2019. “We’re cognizant of having every lecture, whether in Tucson or elsewhere, very different. Even though we’re covering some terrain that may be similar, the content varies.” Domin will speak for 20 minutes on the topic of framing the desert as it relates to the first half of Chafee’s career, from which his essays stem, and McGuire will follow for 20 minutes related to the second half of Chafee’s career. Expect a fascinating, image-rich lecture.
There’s no RSVP necessary to attend the exhibition, reception and lecture. Please join us.