The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning
We Are Powered By Sunlight

The question waits between two benches. Matt picks it up and pauses, reflecting. The benches are situated in the corner of the brick courtyard adjacent to the architecture building, perpendicular to each other. It is midday in April and cold. Matt is seated, framed by a mass of hedges which are newly green. He squints when the light brightens and responds:

“I made this board that was educational and explained the path sunlight takes through plants and how that energy gets transformed until we eventually use it. That’s the source of the energy for everything that we do.”

The board is an element of an outdoor installation that Matt has recently completed in Salt Lake City. Each spring the Downtown Alliance sponsors an event called Downtown Garden Stroll. Artists and designers submit proposals to install and build a pop-up park on Main Street. Eight proposals are chosen from the applicants. Selected artists build up from a 8’ x 20’ platform, creating a small garden that  incorporates seating and some element of landscape.

As Matt discusses his background, a sustained interest in plants and gardens surfaces. His experiences in both work and education are layered. As he explains the project, it becomes clear that his curiosity extends into multiple fields. He shifts his posture so that he faces out of the direct light and begins unpacking his history.

“I got an associates degree at SUU. I was actually studying biology and agriculture… I just dropped out of school for a while because I [thought], this isn’t working.” Eventually, Matt “came back to Salt Lake and applied to the University Utah. At the same time he had also “applied and was accepted to go take [the] test for the Electricians Union.”

He met with an advisor at the University of Utah. She looked at the breadth of his prior coursework and recommended that he consider the design program. At her suggestion, Matt looked into it. A quiet smile moves across his features and he laughs, opening and closing the lid on his thermos of coffee. He explains his reaction to what he learned about the program:

“I [thought] ok, that makes sense. That fits. Probably, if it wasn’t for this program, I’d be doing an electrician’s apprenticeship right now.”

The Design Program is a container that allows Matt to bring the diversity of his interests to the table. It is a place to which he can bring all of his experience and insight, from his knowledge of plants, to his coursework in history. The design coursework is built upon a process-based approach, a way of thinking through a problem that equally applies to the most pressing concerns of our culture as it does to studio practice.

“That’s another thing that’s been good about the program, [it] is just forcing you to create. It’s really safe to let an idea just live inside of you because it’s perfect. But before you make something or put it out or try it it’s perfect and you never have to worry about the flaws.”

Matt doesn’t have to leave anything out. He found an environment where the texture of his experience is valuable data, informing and directing his process as he approaches larger issues. Issues that range from understanding material ecologies to designing an intimate, growing space in an 8’ x 20’ rectangle on a downtown street. His education has guided him into the role that he would like to fill professionally. A role that, in his words, positions him as “a valuable resource wherever [I] am without narrowing [my] options.”

In talking it becomes clear that Matt’s design process is fluid and adaptable, characterized by an ability to remain open that really energizes his work as a designer. He explains the intention that structured the design of his garden.

“I wanted to make it an intimate space… I kind of went into it with no ideas and just started sketching and what came out of that just started to be [the idea] of using trellising as [a] way [to] create that closure, rather than like having it be solid features all the way around. So I just went through a few iterations of that. There are clematis vines growing up trellising that’s just cotton twine.”

His choices in material and arrangement are as thoughtful as his observations. The flowers, a product of vine’s intrinsic impulse toward expansion find a necessary support in the string framework. Together they form an enclosed space. It offers to the curious person a moment of quiet, an opportunity to appreciate what is there, growing.  

Images: Matt Briggs 

Author: Sayde Price