Fritz: A Formal Introduction
September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Fisherman. Visionary. Gnome.
These are just some of the words that describe the man we know as Fritz. Now retired, he is the face that greets us every morning as we walk into work. But he is more than just a mere mascot.
Fritz studied architecture in Berlin and Munich, and in 1908 joined the architectural firm of Peter Behrens. This is where he met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, with whom he developed a fast friendship. (Fritz actually coined the phrase “less is more” – which would later become Mies’ signature dictum and architectural philosophy – while commenting on a woman’s excessively ruffled dress at Oktoberfest!) The two were inseparable and, after a stint at the Bauhaus, Fritz traveled with Mies to America in hopes of learning about a new culture and redefining a new landscape. He worked on Modernist projects and met fascinating people from New York to Texas until Mies’ death in 1969, which is when he was forced to find his own path.Fritz with Mies, 1964
Used to the jet-set lifestyle of a celebrated architect, and missing his dear friend, Fritz found himself at an impasse – the world was not what it once was. Fritz is quick to note that, 50 years ago, there was more emphasis on quality; he often points out that he is ceramic, whereas gnomes these days are typically plastic. But with the advent of cheaper building materials, cookie-cutter tract housing, and an emerging car-centric culture, Fritz had become somewhat bored with architecture. He took up fishing, which led him to California, and eventually resigned himself to a grassy garden in Long Beach where he remained for the next 30 years.
Living on the same lawn for such a long period of time gave Fritz a unique perspective on how the community transformed over the years. He lamented what he called the “lost neighborhood” and mused that, in his younger days, he could stand in his front yard for months at a time, able to talk to passers-by and develop relationships with his neighbors without consequence. According to him, this kind of interaction is virtually impossible today because of our dependence on automobiles, which makes us increasingly isolated and paranoid of everyone outside our “bubble”. In the years leading up to his arrival at Studio One Eleven, the only interactions Fritz had with any regularity were unpleasant and usually involved the tail-ends of the many neighborhood dogs. Fed up with the new status quo, he made it his life’s mission to get his community back.
In 2000, Fritz heard of a new upstart called Studio One Eleven that intended to focus not just on architecture, but also urbanism, community functionality, and the health and safety of its citizens. These people seemed to understand that architects have a responsibility and a power to influence a community for the better, and they did not take that responsibility lightly. They supported walkable neighborhoods, better public transit, and limitless bicycle accessibility while also focusing on the design of sensitive, thoughtful, and sustainable buildings of our time. They realized the potential of their community and they wanted to meet that potential. Studio One Eleven embodied everything that Fritz believed in, and he was located in the same city! So, for the first time in 30 years, Fritz left the comfort of his garden and ventured out to make a difference is his community.
Studio One Eleven was honored that such an influential player in the architecture world would want to participate in its vision, and it welcomed Fritz with open arms. His modernist style, paired with his passion for a better community, made him a perfect fit. He quickly became a beloved mentor and was instrumental in implementing the principles that remain with the studio to this day. In retirement, he continues to be an important influence on our work – from his very own lawn! He now has the best of both worlds, and we couldn’t be happier to have him.